As you would expect, there are now plenty of news articles and blog posts creating a panic because Amazon supposedly admitted that you don’t really “own” the movies and TV shows you purchase through their digital marketplace.
But do you, as a consumer, really “own” the movies you buy, regardless of where you buy them from or how you buy them?
When you buy a movie, whether a physical copy or digitally through Amazon, iTunes, or otherwise, what you’re really buying is a personal license. Do you remember those FBI warnings that used to play at the beginning of VHS tapes and DVDs? These warnings were there to make clear the extent to which you were allowed to make use of the film you were about to see. You are not allowed to show that movie to large, public groups. You are not allowed to sell tickets to see the movie. And you are not allowed to make copies and either sell or give those copies to other people. You are really only allowed to play that movie in the privacy of your own home.
So since the concept of ownership is already severely limited when it comes to copyrighted content, is buying movies through Amazon Prime Video worse than buying physical copies? Obviously, your access to the content you buy through Amazon Prime Video could cease to exist should Amazon lose the rights to serve those titles or if Amazon ever goes bankrupt. And your ability to stream those movies is limited to your access to the Internet.
But is the alternative, as in physical DVDs and Blu-Rays, really any better? When you buy a DVD, while your rights to view that DVD can never feasibly be revoked, you run the risk of losing access to that movie by losing the disc, having it stolen, or breaking/scratching it. Plus, the movies you buy in physical form are only as useful to you as the media they are on. Think of all the money you invested in VHS tapes – are those worth anything to you now even if, technically, you still own them? Plus, we all stream movies and shows on our phones, tablets, and set-top boxes so much these days, are DVDs even that useful, or are they going the way of VHS tapes? We are all probably prone to searching for a movie we own on the streaming services before we get up to find the DVD.
So there are trade-offs in terms of convenience and longevity when it comes to buying movies and TV shows both physically and digitally. Neither one is ultimately permanent. Maybe one day, Amazon will extend its AutoRip features to DVDs. Currently, when you buy a CD from Amazon that has AutoRip enabled, you instantly get access to the MP3s before your CD even ships. Why not also give customers who buy physical DVDs access to those movies digitally? Until that day comes, go ahead and buy movies in the medium that best fits your priorities and lifestyle.