When you go to watch a movie on demand on Amazon, the film’s page presents you with a number of buttons, typically including “Watch Trailer,“ “Rent,” “Buy,” and “More Purchase Options,” among others.


Two of those buttons explicit state you are buying or purchasing something — but you might not be buying or purchasing what you think.

In fact, according to the fine print on Amazon’s website, when you buy a movie what you are really buying is “Digital Content for on-demand viewing over an indefinite period of time,” and anything you buy “may become unavailable due to potential content provider licensing restrictions or for other reasons.” If that happens, the fine print also states, “Amazon will not be liable to you if Purchased Digital Content becomes unavailable for further download or streaming.”

A legal case that’s currently unfolding in court in California is about this very issue. A woman sued Amazon upon discovering that her access to movies she “buys” on Amazon can disappear at any time. In the company’s motion to dismiss the suit, according to The Hollywood Reporter, Amazon’s defense was that the “Terms of Use” quoted above “expressly state that purchasers obtain only a limited license to view video content and that purchased content may become unavailable due to provider license restriction or other reasons.”

All of that is true — although you need to do a bit of searching to find those terms. Below all those “Rent” or “Buy” buttons on a movie’s page on Amazon (seen above), there’s a line that reads “By ordering or viewing, you agree to our Terms. Sold by Amazon.com Services LLC.” When you click on Terms, that gives you a massive page of text which, if you read carefully, does indeed say you do not permanently own your digital purchases forever.

I will leave it to a lawyer to decide the legal merits of this particular case in California. Either way, this is a solid reminder that when you buy a movie on Amazon — and most digital viewing platforms, for that matter — you are forever at the mercy of those websites and apps. If the website goes out of business, if they discontinue their streaming video content, if they get into a legal battle with a studio over licensing, things that you paid to “own” can vanish overnight. Physical media, for all its issues, does not have that problem. That’s something to keep in mind — especially since a lot of physical media these days comes with a digital copy included.

Gallery — Hilarious Bootleg DVD Covers:

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