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CHICAGO (Reuters) - You succumb and buy your kids "Let it Go" on iTunes to play over and over on your phone - but are you thinking about what happens when they get their own devices? Even though you bought and own it, you can't pass it along, transfer or give it away because of the way digital purchases are structured.
As parents come to realize the limitations of their Apple ID and Google Play strategies, they are frustrated. All the apps, songs and movies they've purchased are quarantined in their own accounts. When the kids branch out to their own devices, they pretty much just have to start over, with limited workarounds.
"It's a pain," says Carmen Rivera, a publisher's assistant at Chicago Magazine, who is trying to figure out how to share her digital content with her 18-year-old son, Neiko.
She handles the situation the way many parents of teenagers do: He has his own Apple ID and the freedom to download any free content he wants. He can also listen to his mother's music - everything from Jeff Buckley to Beethoven and Mozart - on her iTunes account through home sharing.
But he can't take any of it into his account permanently, and whenever he wants songs or apps of his own that cost money, he has to clear it with Mom first, because he needs her credit card. If she uses her ID, that new material belongs to her. She can also buy directly for his account, but that means she has to watch that he doesn't sneak purchases.
"It's extremely frustrating to casual users and advanced users alike," says Mike Wehner, a writer for The Unofficial Apple Weblog (tuaw.com).
"It's an opaque system and, goes against Apple's message - it's not very intuitive. And there's really no built-in solution, which is what everyone is looking for."
Apple spokesman Ted Miller says that while you can have up to 10 devices on the same ID: "You can't transfer between Apple IDs and you can't merge Apple ID accounts."
The issue is largely "a technical question," and policies regarding Apple IDs and transferring are laid out in the company's terms of service.
Experts have their own theories, though.
"It's partly a technological issue but more significantly a licensing situation," says Eric Slivka, editor in chief of MacRumors.com. "On the topic of simply merging two Apple IDs, Apple CEO Tim Cook and his representatives were telling customers two and a half years ago that Apple was working on a solution. But so far - nothing."
As for how Google handles things, it's pretty much the same.
A spokesperson for Google confirmed that, "for everyone who has a Gmail account - which is what you use when you use Google Play - all your music and apps are associated with that email address."
Ditto for Amazon.
"They don't own the content they're selling, they're simply acting as the middle man," TUAW's Wehner says.
One way around this dilemma is to separate the IDs of family members as early as possible and to share anything desired through iTunes.
For Lisa Buckser-Schulz, an attorney from Westchester, New York, she switched her son to his own Apple ID shortly after he turned 12. He can still share her music; they know each other's passwords (which is non-starter for many parents).
And he can get his $20 allowance in an Apple gift card to buy his own apps and music - necessary because he doesn't have his own credit or debit card. Lately, he's been purchasing classic rock such as Journey and Foreigner, along with blues and jazz.
But the process is not always perfect. Even though they can share, there have been times when they've both had to purchase the same songs separately, Buckser-Schulz says.
For music and movies, another way to go is old school - buy hard copies, digitize them and upload them to the desired devices. Or you can purchase the content from third-party sources and access it via cloud players.
Apple has a resource link for how to share music between different accounts on one computer (support.apple.com/kb/ht1203).
Also, you can easily log into a different Apple ID on an iOS device to download previously purchased content, but as soon as you switch back to your own account, that content cannot be updated or re-downloaded.
"It's more of a trick than a fix," says Wehner.
It's not just families with kids who have this dilemma. Shared content under an Apple ID also comes up in divorce proceedings.
That may sound trivial, but the content could be a significant asset in some households, and in community property states, the question of how to divide a Taylor Swift album in half presents all sorts of problems.
"Our concept of property is expanding, because 15 years ago, we didn't really have any idea of what property was on the Internet," says attorney Bruce Givner, a partner at Givner & Kaye in Los Angeles.
Until the rules change, most families are just stuck with the system as it is.
Rivera says her son knows he can't keep her music when he gets older. "What's mine is mine," she says.
Editing by Beth Pinsker and Bernadette Baum