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Amazon's in the news for saying you don't own digital media, but they're correct

Amazon Prime.
Amazon Prime Channels. (Image credit: Image Credit: Screnshoot)

Amazon is in the news today for saying that Prime users don’t actually own anything they’ve purchased from Amazon Prime Video. Consumers have noted foul play, rightfully citing the fact that they’ve paid for something and so it belongs to them (as well as a more complicated lawsuit whose details can be found over at The Hollywood Reporter). Unfortunately, while there are plenty of legitimate reasons to rail on the mega-corporation, the fact that you don’t own any of your digital media isn’t one of them.

The truth is, you don’t own anything you purchase digitally. That’s mostly due to the fact that you are not purchasing the media. You are purchasing a license to stream the media any number of times while the license is still valid. In a lot of cases, that license will be valid for a significant amount of time provided your subscription with the service remains. However, that license can technically be terminated at any given time should the company you’ve purchased it through lose rights to the property. Amazon Prime Video has even seen instances where films were loaded into their catalogue illegally by end-users (a good example was last year’s One Cut of the Dead fiasco prior to Shudder’s acquisition of the film). In that case, your purchase technically means nothing. And Amazon and all the other streaming giants have armies worth of lawyers to ensure as much.

Understandably, consumers who may not be aware of these laws when they purchase streaming licenses through any of the given companies that make them available might be a little frustrated by this news. Regrettably though, it just isn’t news. Those terms of service you didn’t read? That disclaimer is included, and that’s the case for everybody. Disney made it vocally clear that Disney+ subscribers would only own their Mulan purchase for as long as they had the streaming service, but the fact of the matter is that they didn’t technically have to.

Any digital media, whether you purchase it from Amazon, iTunes, or any of the other giants, is not a purchase of said media, only the license. That means if you’re big on mocking the folks who still buy CDs or vinyls, they own a hell of a lot more music than you do. Those e-books aren’t technically yours either.

The good news is that those things aren’t likely to disappear anytime soon. The Amazons and the Apples of the world want your dollars, and keeping you (mostly) happy is how they get it. The bad news is that yes, anything you don’t physically own could technically disappear at any given time and there’s nothing you can really do about it.