Do You Own Videos That You Purchase? Maybe Not
Here’s a riddle: When do you buy something, but you don’t actually own it? There are probably a lot of answers, but one such response that is currently being litigated in courts is whether or not you own videos that you purchase on Amazon Video’s streaming video platform.
How the Service Works
Like many streaming services, Amazon gives users the option to rent videos, giving them access to the videos for a few days, or the option, for more money, to purchase the videos, giving users the ability to access the videos seemingly forever, as many times as they want.
But a recent lawsuit asks whether users who purchase these movies actually own them, and to what extent.
Amazon was sued by a user who purchased a video on the site. On further glance at the terms of service the consumer learned that in fact, Amazon, hidden in its terms of service, reserves the right to delete videos that people have already purchased. In other words, despite believing that you are “buying” videos on the site (Amazon’s streaming site often uses the language about “Your video purchases”) you may not have access to your video forever, whenever you want to watch it. In that way, the purchase is more like the purchase of a long term rental, valid for as long as Amazon can allow you to access it.
Examples of when a video could be deleted, is where the rights holder modifies the licenses that it has with Amazon to show, sell, host, or stream the video. In many instances, Amazon doesn’t know what will happen in the future, or what studio or content provider will opt to pull its video from Amazon’s site.
Problems With the Lawsuit
The problem with the suit, is that the issue of whether Amazon is misleading consumers, or whether consumers have a right to access their video forever, may never be heard or decided by any court. That’s because Amazon points out that the woman suing hasn’t actually had any of her videos deleted. In legal terms, she lacks standing—a showing that she has actually suffered any legal harm.
Amazon also notes that in its user agreements, it does disclose that some content may become unavailable.
Although most people don’t read this kind of fine print with digital media, websites, or services, what matters legally is that it was disclosed. The problem Amazon may have is that this language does not appear when a video is actually “purchased.” It is in a separate terms of service page.
Apple and its itunes service does the same thing, and discloses that purchases are subject to disappear.
The moral of the story is to read the fine print, and if you are an online business, to make sure everything is fully disclosed in your terms of service.