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]

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.