Lawsuit Confirms that Customers Don’t “Own” Movies Purchased on Amazon Prime

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Lawsuit Confirms that Customers Don’t “Own” Movies Purchased on Amazon Prime
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Gone are the days of walking into a video store and renting or purchasing the hard copy of a DVD or VHS. For the most part, movies are now being purchased as digital copies from online retailers/streaming services like Amazon Prime. However, without a tangible DVD copy to point to as proof of ownership, how do viewers know whether or not they actually own the movies they purchased? This question seems to be at least partially answered by a recent lawsuit against Amazon Prime.

A California class action complaint brought this question to light.

When Amanda Caudel filed a class action complaint against Amazon over false advertising, it became clear that what Amazon Prime is really selling is a limited license for on-demand viewing of the purchased movie, rather than an actual digital copy. However, this is a little known fact, and many users were previously unaware of this practice. What this means is that when a movie is purchased on Amazon Prime, it is really only available until Amazon decides to end consumer access to the purchased content. In a sense, it’s like indefinitely renting the movie rather than truly owning it. While this is explained in Amazon’s Prime Video Terms of Use, it’s easy to overlook based on users’ previous understanding of what it means to purchase a movie.

Amazon moved to dismiss the lawsuit.

Amazon’s lawyers point to the Prime Video Terms of Use as one of several reasons that the lawsuit should be dismissed. For example, they point out that the licensure agreement and restrictions are detailed in the Terms of Use to which all Prime Video users agree. In fact, these terms expressly state that, “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 or for other reasons…”

Additionally, they claim that Caudel has not suffered any harm in her actual complaint; in fact, she has continued to purchase videos from Prime since and none of the titles ever purchased by the plaintiff have become unavailable. Amazon’s legal team points out that, as nice as it would be to provide ownership of a digital copy to their customers, due to the licensing agreements the company itself is bound to, doing so is not possible.

As simple as this issue seems, with so much media turning to digital-only sales, it seems likely this will not be the last lawsuit of its kind.

The success of this and similar future lawsuits remains to be seen, but it does bring up the idea that perhaps we shouldn’t forsake all hard copy media right away. While the days of Blockbuster Video might be over, DVDs continue to exist and do not carry any significant threat of sudden unavailability. While streaming services have done and will likely continue to do as they please for the most part, the days of tangible media ownership are only as over as we let them be.

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