Amazon Can Take Away Your Digital Books and Movies Whenever It Wants

Illustration for article titled Amazon Can Take Away Your Digital Books and Movies Whenever It Wants

In light of the holiday season, what better time than now to remind ourselves to give thanks for all that we have. Although, in the case of any digital goods you've "purchased," maybe don't add those to the list quite yet. Because remember: You don't actually own any of it.


Talking to BoingBoing, one Amazon user describes how he got his refresher course the hard way:

Last December I bought some favorite Christmas specials for my kids with the idea they could watch them every year. Went tonight to watch one ('Disney Prep and Landing 2' if you're curious) and it was gone from our library and couldn't be found on the site at all. 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!

That's what happens with intellectual property, though. As Boing Boing points out, if the movie is by law Disney's permanent property, it stands to follow that you can never actually own the digital goods you're streaming.

It's just the latest in a string of reminders that you don't actually own much of what you think you do. Last year we heard about Linn Jordet Nygaardm, whose account—including 43 purchased books—Amazon suspended after deciding it was "directly related to another." The only offered explanation about specific policies that were violated were vague and chilling:

Per our Conditions of Use which state in part: and its affiliates reserve the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders at their sole discretion.


Fortunately, Nygaard took her story public and successfully got Amazon to restore her Kindle library. It didn't have to, though. In 2011, the Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in Vernor v. Autodesk, a ruling that determined you can't actually own any of the software or apps you might buy online but can't physically hold. When you buy something from Amazon—or iTunes, or whomever—you're not buying the content itself; you're buying a license to use it, one with terms that are strictly regulated by whichever studio or recording artist made it (and by whichever company distributed it). This is why not only can you not resell a Kindle book, you can have it legally removed from your device at any time.

And while in this most recent case it's not technically Amazon's fault, the language on the site is inarguably misleading. That "Buy Now" button? It should really read something more like "License For As Long as We Say You Can Because You're Agreeing to Let Us Take This Away Whenever We Want Without Explanation Or Cause." But then that doesn't have quite the same ring to it. [Boing Boing]


Update 12:48pm:

We reached out to Amazon for confirmation on the policy and were provided the following statement in regards to the Boing Boing story:

What you are referring to was a temporary issue with some of our catalog data and it has been fixed. Customers should never lose access to their Amazon Instant Video purchases. If they have any issues accessing purchased videos, they should contact customer service.


We've yet to hear any updates to this effect, but have reached out to Bill from the Boing Boing story and will update as soon as we hear back. And even if this is simply a catalog error as Amazon claims, Amazon isn't denying the fact that they do still retain the right to take away access to digital goods—because legally, doing so is still fully within their means.



Not trying to sound like a fanboy, but why is Amazon called out in the title but not Apple iTunes? It isn't mentioned until mid-way down the article that this is an issue with iTunes as well.