In order to establish whether or not a person’s social media account qualifies as an ‘asset’ in terms of South African law, it is necessary to examine the definition of asset and examine the sub-categories of tangible and intangible assets. Thereafter, the applicable law will be discussed and its application will be contextualised within our current societal norms in order to analyse whether or not a social media profile may be inherited, sold or assigned.
Definition of Asset/s
The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary(1) defines an asset as “a person or thing that is valuable or useful to.” The definition is elaborated on to include “a thing of value, especially property, that a person or company owns, which can be used or sold to pay debts.”
In addition, the South African courts have, over the years, developed the legal definition of assets specifically.
In the judgment of Ex Part Collins(2) , assets were deemed to mean “any assets which can be applied to the payment of debts”. This definition is still applicable.
Given that the definitions of asset and assets are fairly broad, it is important to examine the differences between Tangible and Intangible assets in order to establish whether or not a social media account falls into either of these subcategories.
Tangible versus Intangible assets
“Tangible Assets” are referred to in the definition of Tangible in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary(3) as “a company’s buildings, machinery etc.”
The word Tangible itself is referred to as something “that can be clearly seen to exist” or “that you can touch and feel.”
In contrast, ‘Intangible assets/property’ are referred to in the definition of Intangible in the same dictionary(4) as “intangibles such as staff morale and goodwill”. The word Intangible is referred to as something “that exists but that is difficult to describe, understand or measure” or “that does not exist as a physical thing but is still valuable to a company”.