Sure, You Bought a Disney Digital Movie from Amazon, But You’ll Never Own It

Instantly accessible movies, TV shows, and games are one of the most convenient inventions of the early 21st century, but they’re not without their problems.  One big problem?  Just because you bought and paid for a digital good doesn’t mean you actually get to keep it.

A Wisconsin family found out about provider restrictions the hard way, when a Disney Christmas special they had purchased (not rented) from Amazon simply vanished from their video streaming library.

As the father described, the Christmas special, which had cost $3 on Amazon’s Instant Video service, was suddenly no longer available when his eight-year-old son sat down to watch it.  The issue turned out not to be trouble with Amazon, but rather with Disney, who decided to pull the content from services (like Amazon) not under their own control.  The dad told BoingBoing, “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!”

The Amazon customer service representative who explained that Disney had pulled the show did give the father a $25 Amazon credit for his trouble.  Amazon credit doesn’t exactly un-disappoint a kid who had his heart set on watching something, though, and it doesn’t help anyone guarantee access to their own purchases in the future.

Far down in the Instant Video Terms of Use, which most people are probably not going to read, Amazon does indeed mention that content providers can pull or alter their licensing agreements at any time, and that Amazon is not responsible if or when they do.  The actual legalese reads:

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. You may download and store your own copy of Purchased Digital Content on a Compatible Device authorized for such download so that you can view that Purchased Digital Content if it becomes unavailable for further download or streaming from the Service.

The terms mean that pretty much anything can get pulled from the service at any time, turning a “purchase” into an open-ended, long-term rental.  In other words, if you want to be sure your kids can make an annual tradition out of their current favorite Christmas movie, make sure you actually download a copy as soon as possible… or maybe just buy the DVD.

Can’t stream that Christmas movie you “bought” on Amazon? Blame Disney. [Ars Technica]
Amazon takes away access to purchased Christmas movie during Christmas [BoingBoing]

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  1. paleck2426 says:

    The same thing happened back in October with Disney pulling content from the iTunes Music Store. Unless you had it downloaded locally then you couldn’t watch movies that you had “purchased”.

  2. Naskarrkid says:

    What about using the $25 gift card to buy the physical copy from Amazon?

    • MathManv2point0 says:

      Agreed. Yet another example of Amazon going above and beyond to “make things right.” While it appears that terms are clear and Amazon had no obligation to credit the customer, a credit of $25 on a $3 rental is amazing.

      People forget that many things we “buy” are in fact licensed and thus not owned. For example, most computer software is actually licensed, not purchased for ownership.

  3. Xenotaku says:

    Things like this are why I don’t support digital format for video games and such. With a physical copy, it belongs to you, to do what you will with. With digital format, it’s only good as long as the service allows you to have it, unless they give you a way to physically download it. And, even then, it’s not guaranteed.

    My Xbox 360 has had a few problems lately with keeping me logged in correctly. If I’m not logged in (and verified by their online server), I don’t have access to any of my downloaded games. Presumably, when they decide that everyone has had ample time to purchase an Xbox One and they discontinue support of the Xbox 360 servers, I’ll completely lose access to the $60 or so in games I’ve purchased.

  4. furiousd says:

    As others have stated, it’s important for consumers to be aware of what they’ve purchased and what they’ve licensed. Even Amazon allows you to download for offline viewing: and that (I’m almost certain) would have helped out the family in this instance.

    I have subscriptions to Amazon Instant Video and Netflix and I’m well aware that it’s an access subscription, they don’t owe me anything (slight difference from this family who didn’t realize their purchase was to give them access to additional material). But where possible when purchasing digital content, make certain you know the ownership right you’re agreeing to and any capabilities you have to download for offline usage that prevent the digital rug being pulled at a content creator’s will.