When you purchase music, movies or books from Amazon or Apple’s iTunes store, you might be under the impression that that material is yours to enjoy forever; that’s how CDs and paper books work, after all. Why rent You’ve Got Mail for $4.99 every few months when you can “own” it and watch it whenever, forever, for $14.99?
But you’d be mistaken. Anything digital is temporary, even if you clicked “purchase” rather than “rent”. One unfortunate side effect of that you won’t experience with a physical book or record: Your purchases may just disappear if licensing agreements change.
Me: Hey Apple, three movies I bought disappeared from my iTunes library.
Apple: Oh yes, those are not available anymore. Thank you for buying them. Here are two movie rentals on us!
Me: Wait... WHAT?? @tim_cook when did this become acceptable? pic.twitter.com/dHJ0wMSQH9
— Anders G da Silva (@drandersgs) September 10, 2018
As outlined in the Twitter thread, Apple states the content provider of the movies in question removed them from the store. And that removed them from the user’s library, even though he had paid money to buy them. It’s easy to see why that’s frustrating (especially since Apple wasn’t willing to cough up a refund for the purchases he no longer has).
“This wouldn’t happen in the physical world. No one comes to your door and demands that you give back a book,” Aaron Perzanowski, a Case Western Reserve University law professor, who studied these digital purchases, told the LA Times in 2016. “But in the digital world, they can just go into your Kindle and take it.”
It isn’t as though the companies are hiding this fact, though the “buy” buttons may confuse consumers.
For example, Amazon notes in the fine print that “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider. The Content Provider may include additional terms for use within its Kindle Content.” You also can’t sell or redistribute your ebooks, as you might with a physical copy.
Apple’s fine print states that the licensor “reserves the right to change, suspend, remove, disable or impose access restrictions or limits on any External Services at any time without notice or liability to you.”
There’s no simple way to keep the content you purchase from Apple or Amazon “forever”, though there are some shortcuts. For example, you could try converting Kindle books to PDFs (details on that here). You can also download music you buy onto your computer.
The best option? If you can, buy a physical copy of a movie or TV show that comes with a digital download. At least you’ll have a backup in case your digital copy disappears — assuming you still have a player to watch it on.