Viral Twitter Thread Highlights the Problem with Digital Downloads
If you’re like most Millennials, you’ve probably stopped buying DVDs, Blu-rays, CDs, and books, instead opting to purchase your movies, music, and literature digitally. In a lot of ways, this makes a ton of sense. Not only are digital downloads often a bit cheaper than their physical counterparts but storing them is also far less of a pain (especially when it comes time to move). Unfortunately, this week many of us got a bit of a wake-up call when it comes to digital as a viral Twitter thread highlighted that fact that we might not actually own the content we buy.
It all started when Anders G. da Silva (@drandersgs) wrote to Apple support after noticing that three movies he’d previously purchased had disappeared from his iTunes account. A response from Apple, which he tweeted a screenshot of, notes that this was this vanishing was a result of the content provider removing the films from the store. In a subsequent e-mail, the company also described itself as merely a “store front” for content providers to sell their items and, thus, were unable to restore the missing items or issue a refund. For what it’s worth, Apple did offer Silva some free movie rentals for the troubles, but that clearly wasn’t sufficient in his eyes.
While this realization might shock some consumers, the truth is that these details are actually included in the terms of service (which you totally read, right?) for platforms like Amazon Video, iTunes, and others. Of course, users can’t completely be blamed considering these sites still use terminology such as “buy” or “purchase” while placing these options as alternatives to rentals, leading many to believe that what they buy would be theirs forever. Adding to the issue, even if you do download the files and store them locally, digital rights management (DRM) protections may not allow you to playback content if it has been removed.
Something else to consider is that, unlike physical media that can be resold at your choosing, there’s really no way to do that same with digital downloads. So while they might be convenient in many ways, this recent reminder about what you really own digitally might make some consumers think twice. Meanwhile, if you are still sticking with digital, there are a few steps you can take to attempt to protect your purchases. This includes downloading your content and storing it locally (while also keeping backups on external hard drives or cloud services like Backblaze) and finding ways to legally remove DMR protections. Additionally, when it comes to ebooks, you can actually convert Kindle files into .pdfs and other formats using programs such as Calibre. Sadly, there may not be a perfect solution to this problem but hopefully knowing these downfalls ahead of time can help you make more informed decisions before buying.