You Don't Own What You 'Bought': Disney And Amazon Play The Role Of The Grinch In Taking Back Purchased Film

from the ownership...-wazzat? dept

We’ve discussed many times before how, in the digital age, you no longer really seem to own what you’ve “bought.” Instead, you’re getting a temporary license, and at times that means that the copyright holder and partners can remove it. In a story making the rounds this week, it appears that Amazon pulled the film Prep and Landing 2 just in time for Christmas! The issue came up when Bill Jackson settled down to watch the video — which he “bought” last year — with his two kids, aged two and eight. It didn’t work and he contacted Amazon to find out what was up. Despite the fact that when he paid the $3, he was told it was to allow him to “watch and re-watch as often as you like” Amazon told him that Disney had asked them to pull it, and they did so:

Amazon has explained to me that Disney can pull their content at any time and ‘at this time they’ve pulled that show for exclusivity on their own channel.’ In other words, Amazon sold me a Christmas special my kids can’t watch during the run up to Christmas. It’ll be available in July though!”

Amazon did give him a $25 credit as an apology, and then when the story started making news, Amazon changed its story claiming it was something else:

Amazon blamed the removal on “a temporary issue with some of our catalog data” which it says has been fixed, adding that “customers should never lose access to their Amazon Instant Video purchases.”

“Should” never lose access is quite different from “will” never lose access. Just the fact that Amazon has the power to take back what you’ve bought should be a pretty big concern for those who think that they’re actually buying what they’ve been told. As some have noted, Amazon’s terms of service appear to give it the right to do exactly what the original version described:

Availability of Purchased Digital Content. Purchased Digital Content will generally continue to be available to you for download or streaming from the Service, as applicable, but may become unavailable due to potential content provider licensing restrictions and for other reasons, and Amazon will not be liable to you if Purchased Digital Content becomes unavailable for further download or streaming.

While it is true that buyers can download copies and this only impacted the streaming versions, it still seems rather troubling that people who thought they were buying something found out that they weren’t. This is one of the many reasons why people are so concerned about these kinds of offerings. They know that you’re no longer really “buying” anything, but getting a (very) limited license.

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Companies: amazon, disney

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Comments on “You Don't Own What You 'Bought': Disney And Amazon Play The Role Of The Grinch In Taking Back Purchased Film”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The only issue I had with Steam is when the game is produced by someone else and has additional DRM. Didn’t know one game was by Ubisoft. Bought it on sale on Steam but the Ubisoft DRM didn’t let me play it for two weeks. Ubisoft only cemented the reason why I don’t buy from Ubisoft.

Reality Check (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ve had one significant issue with Steam.

I used to be a huge fan, then one day I logged in and received a big message telling me I was permanently banned.

I created an inquiry with their help desk and they were completely condescending and rude. They implied that I had hacked some players accounts and that they might press criminal charges.

I kept pressing the issue, trying to at least find out what I was actually accused of. They were inconsistent with their reasons, but consistently acted like I was a criminal dirtbag, and said that I would never be un-banned.

After a few months of re-opening the case and asking for an actual explanation, and quoting their own previous replies (and EULA) back to them to contradict their latest replies, they rescinded the ban with no explanation.

The ban wasn’t from playing all my purchased games, but it was a ban from some of the multi-player and trading functionality.
The things that really burned me were:
A blinking red icon every time I logged into Steam, reminding me that they considered me a criminal.
I had done nothing wrong, and deserved at least an explanation.
Once I had asked for an explanation, the nasty way they responded.

I might buy a steam game in the future, but I haven’t bought one for over a year now. And I used to recommend them to everyone.

beltorak (profile) says:

Re: Re:

sure, a lot of sane people who think for themselves about most things in their lives don’t care about exclusivity. we’ve heard about this story, and some people got burned by amazon on this, but disney is going to be advertising to millions of people “we have lots of your favorite holiday movies and no one else does!” who don’t know about this. This drives some additional sales which disney can predict with marketing and advertising research which leads to much more money (not just in subscriptions but in selling more eyeballs to advertisers) than would be lost from few thousand pissed off people who swear off disney.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

That works the first time. But what happens the next time, when Disney pulls content out from under those new people? And what happens the first time they talk to one of their friends who got caught before and hears “Oh yeah, didn’t you know about that already?”? The only thing that makes people madder than being scammed like this is finding out that the scam artist is well-known and everyone else knows to avoid him. This is one of those things that sounds like a good idea short-term but will blow up in your face long-term.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And why would anyone actually pay again for something they already paid for?

That’s what has made Disney into the mega-Goliath it is today. Disney Vault, Disney DVD, Disney Channel, Disneyland. They have gotten people to buy the same characters and movies over and over and over again, making billions in the process. They don’t see any reason to change what’s worked before.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Indeed, I only ever buy DVD copies of movies, never online copies that can be taken away at any time.

I also don’t watch movies in the theater for similar reasons, I pay to watch it once, instead of being able to watch it again years later if I want to.

What’s most ironic about the pricing scheme is that Hollywood loses out on money from me, because I often get DVD copies of movies as gifts around Christmas or my birthday after it’s been out for months or a year.

For example, on my gift list this year is a DVD of The Hunger Games, which on Amazon is 50% off since it’s been out for almost a year. I’d have put Catching Fire on my gift list to, which undoubtedly would have been full price this close to the release, but it’s not available on DVD. So I’ll probably get it for Christmas next year, at half off again, losing Hollywood more money.

out_of_the_blue says:

So don't deal with Amazon. Problem solved.

And HEED this: “you’re getting a temporary license,” You do NOT own digital content, kids. Sheesh. How long will it be before you learn that? A digital copy IS, as you kids use when suits you, nothing but a few magnetic domains, so you get NOTHING when pay out money EXCEPT license to have those magnetic domains streamed. Having paid for nothing, you have nothing to complain of when lose that ability for any reason, including mega-corporation Amazon taking it away.

This is how teh internets works, kids. It’s a NEW corporatized world where YOU own nothing, and have NO rights, you’re a mere “natural” person. — And as you in your stoopid millions keep giving money to those who’ve taken your rights, all I can write is just: BOOHOO.

Think the Internet means more competition? Take a look at the graph here:


ethorad (profile) says:

Re: So don't deal with Amazon. Problem solved.

Agreed, having paid for a temporary licence you shouldn’t complain when it’s revoked.

The problem is most people don’t realise that they’ve only bought a temporary licence.

Partly because they’re used to buying physical goods and partly because the online provider makes statements such as “watch and re-watch as often as you like” rather than “watch and re-watch as often as we like”.

I’d like a magnetic domain though, where can I get one?

Nick (profile) says:

Re: So don't deal with Amazon. Problem solved.

Actually, I’m with OOTB on this one. I know, I know, VERY odd. But, if we don’t like this, we need to not support it. If we keep buying digital goods because it’s the ONLY choice, we are reinforcing the companys’ decisions to screw us over this way.

Until we can get the content that we pay for guaranteed access to forever from the very beginning of a transaction, we shouldn’t ask for anything less.

The problem is that OOTB is being rude as always and not being sympathetic to this. The ability for Amazon to revoke licenses IS in the terms, but as always nobody reads them (and they shouldn’t HAVE to). But now that we know, everyone should stop buying, and let Amazon and the content publishers watch as their sales in this format drop to nothing.

It worked for iTunes and other music distribution options. When you can buy a song that CAN be downloaded at will and has no DRM, yes it can lead to piracy. But people accepted nothing less and we got DRM-free MP3s. The files could be copied and pirated, but guess what? People still bought them. It wasn’t the end of the world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Well, at least he got his money back. I was one of the happy Slum Dog Millionaire purchasers:

IMHO, if a company does this, it should void all distribution rights and allow people to freely download the titles without recourse. In other words, you should be pirated… Argg!

Anonymous Coward says:

and the other problem is, what else does this sort of action apply to? is there anything else that a person can pay for, ie, buy, only to be told later that the item hasn’t really been bought, it has just been ‘licensed for viewing/access as long as no one involved in the copyright industry decides to take it away. you buy something, you hand over money and in return you should get the item you paid for. if you dont, it’s surely either fraud or at least taking money under false pretenses, isn’t it?

RonKaminsky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Try software

I’m sure they have considered that feature for
> copies that fail their legitimacy check.

Considered? Yes. Conclusion? It’s better that home users pirate our stuff, so we maintain market dominance. Gates once admitted that MS greatly preferred that the Chinese pirate Windows rather than them adopting/developing a replacement.

Geno0wl (profile) says:

And my friends call me crazy

I personally buy all my own physical media then rip those to a 6TB RAID5 NAS I have on my home network.
My friends say that in this day of streaming media what do I need my own personal collection for?
I told them a couple years ago this would start to happen, and verily different studios have started to pull their content off of Hulu/Netflix/Amazon in favor of their own crappy inconsistent services.
You will only see the streaming market become more fragmented as time goes on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not that I am a fan of lawsuits

… but I wouldn’t complain too much if someone tried suing them for having a ‘Buy Now’ button when you aren’t actually buying anything.

I wonder if people would change their habits at all if it said, ‘License Now’ or ‘Rent now’

I get mad enough when Netflix pulls a movie my kids love to watch, but I understand that is how it works – I am paying for a service.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Amazon did give him a $25 credit as an apology”…

While the situation is horrible and Disney is likely the driving force behind the pull (anyone surprised?!), at least Amazon showed some decent customer service and apologized giving the man almost 10 times what he paid for the film.

Assuming pulling the movie was out of their control, I feel like this was actually a decent move.

Still, pulling something that has been paid for is closer to theft than piracy is. I can understand pulling it off the shelfs (not from a business perspective, but an ethical one) to force people to view it from your channel, but pulling it from customers is wrong.

mr. sim (profile) says:

this is exactly why my friends jokingly calling me a troglodyte. i refuse to buy anything digital and when they ask me why i buy a physical copy of something. i tell them because i have legal rights to prevent the arse who distributes it from taking it from me and keeping my money.
if i buy a comic or dvd physically, i have rights, if digital it’s a theft waiting to happen.

ShivaFang (profile) says:

GG Disney

This is exactly the type of thing that turns otherwise paying customers into pirates. The logic goes something like this;

1) WTF? I can’t watch the content that I paid to watch??
2) Hrm… I’ve heard that you can download stuff online – I’ve paid for this, and I really want to watch it.. so maybe it’s justified for me to try it – just this once.
3) Wow – downloading content was a lot quicker and easier than I thought it would be – and there’s fewer digital rights crap stuff I have to jump through. It’s both free _and_ I get better service, maybe I’ll just do this from now on.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

The worst thing about this

A bad thing about this is that it indicates that companies (such as Disney) really don’t understand the internet at all — they’re thinking of it as something like cable TV and are treating it that way. In other words, it makes perfect sense to Disney to pull content, since it’s no different to them as deciding not to use a particular cable channel.

Or, even worse than that, they might understand perfectly, but are trying to make the internet into the cable TV of the 21st century. I suspect this is the case.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Physical media

Like several posters here, I strongly prefer to purchase physical media. I have thousands of books, many hundreds of CD’s, and nearly a thousand movies on disk. A fair number of them are out of print – never were or never will be available for stream or download. I may not own the stories, but I can keep them, or buy and sell them, the same as a hammer.

I have no problem with digital downloads, for transitory or novelty things. Even there, I purchase only DRM-free files. Anything important to me, that requires a company to maintain a remote server in perpetuity, doesn’t get bought. Applies to games, even operating systems (right, MS?)

Problem is, people don’t think about what they’re getting. If they did, digital files would only yield a small fraction of the purchase price of a physical copy. This incident should be no surprise to anyone; just the harbinger of many disappointments to come.

Crashoverride (profile) says:

The missing technology is the ability to buy a digital item and then have the ability to recode in a way that locks it to you and no longer allows studios to muck with. Kind of like being able to change the locks on the front door of your house differently than the the key the builder handed you. Which is a moot point as the studios will never use such and it’s easier to utilize an open source solution.

PWDude97 says:

Possibly effects International movies too

Logged on Amazon Prime last night, checked out the foreign and international films section, multiple movies listed weren’t playable which prompted a dialog redirecting viewers to their support.

I suspect it’s not just Disney films.

If others with an account would check on a few independent and international films listed and confirm…

gorehound (profile) says:

No sympathy form me one bit !!! Buy MAFIAA Product and lose out well to friggin bad I say.MAFIAA are the biggest thieves and they will take and take and take.Anything you buy from MAFIAA that is digital you do not can not put it in your will and you can not resell it.

Moral of the Story is to either buy used physical MAFIAA or just do not buy anything from them.they are the dinosaurs now.Stop feeding the Tyranosaurus.

John85851 (profile) says:

Just say it's a rental not a purchase

This issue seems to come up fairly often. When will Amazon finally decide to just tell people that they’re *renting* a movie and they don’t own it like a DVD? It may be forever or it may be until the copyright owner decides they don’t want anyone to have it any more. This way, the customer expects that they don’t own the movie and it could be pulled at any time.

Compare this to the physical world: what would happen if Amazon or Disney came to our homes and took back (or “stole”) a DVD that we legally purchased just because they now offered it in Blue-Ray? Then how is buying a movie but storing it online any different? Why do companies get away with “licensing” or “renting” when they call it a “purchase”?

Mega1987 (profile) says:

we don't own what we brought by ourselves?

If that’s the case…

Then your products are rental in nature…

And If they’re all rentals…

then WE, the consumers, must return them to the respective company outlet… And get MAJORITY of our money back.
And When I say MAJORITY of our money, I don’t mean that the company returns 50% of the payment out of it…. I meant we get 90%, at minimum, of the payment made for the “rent”.

Anonymous Coward says:

We’ve discussed many times before how, in the digital age, you no longer really seem to own what you’ve “bought.” Instead, you’re getting a temporary license, and at times that means that the copyright holder and partners can remove it.

Right. They bought a license that had certain restrictions and that’s what they got. The own exactly the thing that they bargained for.

Anonymous Coward says:

Interview with Tom Edwards, former president of the Berkeley Historical Society –
Invest some time, money and effort in developing a tighter one-time use agreement for sharing your photos. We thought it was satisfactory, but we know more now, and have tightened it up.? Now it reads:? ?

I agree that I shall
(1)?use the Image(s) only for private enjoyment and/or study and not for any commercial purpose;
(2)?not publish, sell, copy, distribute, share, or otherwise exploit the Image(s) in any fashion

Anonymous Coward says:

? 108 ? Limitations on exclusive rights:
Reproduction by libraries and archives

(e) The rights of reproduction and distribution under this section apply to the entire work, or to a substantial part of it, made from the collection of a library or archives where the user makes his or her request or from that of another library or archives, if the library or archives has first determined, on the basis of a reasonable investigation, that a copy or phonorecord of the copyrighted work cannot be obtained at a fair price, if?

(1) the copy or phonorecord becomes the property of the user, and the library or archives has had no notice that the copy or phonorecord would be used for any purpose other than private study, scholarship, or research…

Anonymous Coward says:


Conversion is the intentional exercise of dominion or control over another’s property that so seriously interferes with the right of another to control it that the actor may justly be required to pay the full value of the property… Courts generally recognize the conversion of intangible rights, the claim here, only in cases in which those rights arise from, or are merged with, a document, such as a contract, promissory note, bond, etc.

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