Here Today, Gone Tomorrow …

The impermanence of the digital world struck home last January when we launched Media Play News and the owners of Home Media Magazine shut down that property’s website. All of a sudden, 17 years worth of stories — dating back to 2000, when what was then Video Store Magazine first appeared on the Internet — were gone. Vanished. Disappeared. Ceased to exist.

Thank God we have a storage locker full of print copies, I thought to myself. And that storage locker full of print copies often comes in handy when we have to research stories about our business, and find precious little historical content available on the web — just a steady stream of broken links and blank screens.

I bet a lot of people around the country who read the Sept. 13 Forbes story on disappearing digital movies are looking at their DVD and Blu-ray Disc collections with the same sense of pride – and relief.

According to the story, by contributor John Archer, “Reports have started to emerge of Apple completely deleting films from iTunes accounts even when they’ve been bought, not merely rented. And when people complain about this, they’re receiving an astonishing message from Apple telling them that iTunes is just a ‘store front,’ and so Apple isn’t to blame if a film studio decides it no longer wants to make its titles available on iTunes.”

On top of that, Archer writes in Forbes, consumers whose films are yanked shouldn’t expect a refund. “When an iTunes user in Canada complained to Apple that their initial offer of a free $5.99 rental hardly seemed suitable recompense for him having three bought films summarily removed from his account, Apple replied that ‘our ability to offer refunds diminishes over time. Hence your purchases doesn’t meet the conditions for a refund.’”

The bottom line, Archer concludes: “Apple appears to be openly saying that if you buy a film on iTunes, you don’t really own it at all.”

That’s a frightening proposition for movie fans who aren’t satisfied with the meager selection of quality films available through the streaming services, with their focus on original (and episodic) content.

It’s also, sadly, old news. When you buy a movie digitally, you don’t actually own the film, the way you do if you buy it on disc. You buy “digital rights” to the movie, which is not exactly the same thing. As the Los Angeles Times observed more than two years ago, “there are significant differences between owning a tangible product and owning its electronic equivalent.”

In other words, if you own a DVD or Blu-ray Disc, you own it forever. You can sell it, trade it, lend it, pass it on to your kids.

But if you “own” a digital movie, you might wake up one day and find it gone – just like those hundreds, if not thousands, of Home Media Magazine stories that disappeared, overnight, from the Web.

(I should add that the only way to really own a digital movie is to download it, which many people simply don’t do because it takes up so much space. Most purchased movies live on iTunes.)

I’ve become a huge fan of digital movies. The tipping point, for me, was the emergence of Movies Anywhere, which makes digital movie collecting easier than it’s ever been and provides instant access to my library wherever I am. Heck, I even watched a movie on my phone while on a camping trip in Death Valley.

But I always buy the disc first, and then input the digital code into my Movies Anywhere account.

And if I do buy a movie electronically sometime in the future, you can bet I’m going to make sure I have enough room on my hard drive to download it – right away.

2 thoughts on “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow …”

  1. In the case of a movie, a television show or a song purchased on iTunes (as opposed to one that’s rented, or streamed from another platform), isn’t the digital file actually downloaded onto one’s computer hard drive? I’ve never bought a movie from the iTunes store, but I’ve certainly bought music, music videos and television shows from Apple’s online store, and they’re all physically sitting on my hard drive. Assuming that the same holds true for movies, I don’t quite understand how Apple or any other entity could delete any content that’s been downloaded (rather than streamed). Perhaps the author of the foregoing article, whose insights and analyses I’ve long respected, could explain.

    1. If you download it, it’s yours. Apple won’t rummage through your files and take back movies. But most people don’t download purchased content because keeping it in the cloud (i.e. your iTunes account) is so much easier, you can access it on various devices, and there are no space problems.

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