Reminder: You Don’t Own The Music And Books You ‘Buy’ On iTunes And Amazon

Reminder: You Don’t Own The Music And Books You ‘Buy’ On iTunes And Amazon

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.

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.


  • Good luck with them pulling that stunt in AU. Australian Consumer Law will force their hand the moment they try this.

    Oh and waving the fine print in the EULA won’t work either. Australian contract law is pretty clear on the fairness of contracts. Not a single one I’ve ever seen would stand up in court as enforcable.

  • Reminder: If you ever get fucked on losing access to something you bought, it remains incredibly easy to pirate it.

  • Consumers universally understand a button that says ‘buy’ or ‘purchase’ to mean that it’s theirs to watch indefinitely. This is reinforced when it’s presented alongside a ‘rent’ button. Other restrictions, like onselling, are more defensible, but this is straight up false advertising, plain and simple.

  • Not that I would do this but if I were so inclined I would buy a book, use Calibre to remove the DRM and copy to my HDD so that I never had to worry about this.

    You know, if I were so inclined

  • And young people wonder why I continue to buy physical media.

    There should be explicit legislation against this “rental” attitude. No problems with streaming, that’s a different beast, but removing something you “buy” should be an absolute no-no. I don’t want to rely on existing legislation that *might* cover me and would likely require an expensive court battle over $30. We already have the inverse legislation protecting companies, give us specific, targeted legislation that protects the consumer.

    • And young people who just download whatever they want to watch whenever they want wonder why old people would pay for an inconvenience.

      • Which is fine until it’s removed from the Netflix library or Apple loses the license and you suddenly no longer own it. Just like the article points out…

        And on a side note, I have no problem with watching a digital movie by streaming if it’s something I’m only watching once. But if I want to OWN a movie I’d much rather have physical media rather than rely on a company to (a) continue to exist, and (b) that they’ll be “nice” and never remove your access to it.

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