Apple Can Delete the iTunes Movies You Buy

Is a ‘Purchase’ really just a long-term rental?

by Aaron Macarthy Beards Sep 15, 2018 at 7:13 AM - Updated: Sep 18, 2018 at 7:26 AM


  • A few days ago Anders Gonçalves da Silva looked at his iTunes movies and was surprised to see that three movies he had purchased from Apple were not available to stream. When he contacted Apple they informed Mr Da Silva that Apple no longer possessed the license rights for his movies. As such, they had removed them from the iTunes store.
    Whilst Mr Da Silva had chosen the ‘Buy’ option, rather than ‘Rent’, Apple does not have to keep the movie as available for continuous streaming, or download, forever. In fact, if Apple does not possess the rights to the film, as in this case, Apple legally cannot let you stream or download the movie any more.

    Apple stated: "Please be informed that the iTunes/App Store is a storefront that gives content providers a platform or a place to sell their items... We can only offer what has been made available to us. Since the content provider has removed these movies… I am unable to provide you with the copy of the movies." (From: www.theregister.co.uk)

    In layman's terms; you’re actually buying from the movie's distributor and Apple take a nice percentage of the sale price for facilitating the sale. The same happens for music and apps. If the distributor doesn't want to sell their movie on iTunes any more they just stop selling it through Apple’s platform.

    If you ‘buy’ the film through the iTunes store you can download it and keep it on your device forever, or until your PC/Mac/iPad/iPhone is replaced. You legally own that file and just because iTunes doesn't sell it any more, you don’t lose it. However, if you go back to iTunes to re-download it, you won't be able to find it. That's what happened to Mr Da Silva.

    The problem is that we, as a culture, don't think of buying films or books or apps in this way. We mostly perceive it as the same as buying a Blu-ray from Tesco, just it's digital now. The point of buying a movie from iTunes is that you have the freedom to just stream it when you want to watch it. No need to keep the file or disk hanging around.

    This isn't the first time that something like this has happened. A few years ago Microsoft announced that they would be turning off the servers for Xbox Live on the original Xbox. Many players who had bought Halo 2 and paid for Xbox Live passes every month suddenly found that a key component to their favourite game was taken away.

    Renting from iTunes, Google Play or Amazon is super convenient. However, if you choose to ‘buy’ movies, from stores like iTunes, you can't guarantee they will always be available. Unless you plan on keeping them backed up forever on your own hardware.

    Update 18th September 2018: It would appear that more of the details on this story have now become clear after an investigation by various tech sites, including Cnet. It seems that the problem stems from Mr Da Silva moving from Australia to Canada and the rights to him accessing his purchases not transferring to the new country. This seems logical but doesn't answer the question of Apple stating in a public tweet that it can remove access to content where licenses for that right to download change. It may also be in the T&C's of the service, but we would like even more transparency not just from Apple but all online providers of download and streaming content about exactly what people are paying for and any restriction they may have, up front. We can't see anything negative from either side on being more detailed about what 'buy' actually means when using these services.



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