You didn’t buy ‘your’ iTunes movies; Apple can delete them anytime

Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

Then go right ahead and hit the “buy” button to pick up a movie on iTunes. Then, be ready to kiss that movie goodbye if Apple loses the rights to distribute it.

Yes, it turns out Apple’s iTunes shop is more of a “store front” than a “store,” as it explained to Anders G. da Silva recently. After Apple whisked away three of his purchased movies, the aggravated, de-movified man tweeted about the exchange this week, noting that Apple offered him two free rentals to make up for it.

Hmph! he said. That’s kind of like walking into a store, buying a “stereo,”, bringing the supposedly stereo-holding box home, opening it up to find a bunch of rocks, bringing it back to the store, and being told that hey, sorry, we can’t help, da Silva said. We’re just a storefront. But how about this: you can rent a stereo from us!

Apple explained to da Silva that the problem is that he’s in Canada. For whatever reason, the content provider decided to pull the movies out of the Canadian iTunes store:

The content provider has removed these movies from the Canadian Store. Hence, these movies are not available in the Canada iTunes Store at this time.

The legally helpless trillion-dollar company didn’t even offer da Silva a refund. Instead, he got two credits for renting movies on iTunes – priced up to $5.99 USD, that is.

He wasn’t in the market for rentals, da Silva responded, and would just like the movies he purchased, please.

We totally get it, Apple said, and proceeded to prove it totally didn’t get it by trying to appease him with two more rental credits.

This is a clear-cut lesson of the importance of reading that which is never read: the Ts and Cs!

After all, the iTunes Store’s Terms of Service do address this kind of incident:

You may be able to redownload previously acquired Content (“Redownload”) to your devices that are signed in with the same Apple ID (“Associated Devices”). You can see Content types available for Redownload in your Home Country at https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204632. Content may not be available for Redownload if that Content is no longer offered on our Services.

This isn’t the first time that content “store fronts” have pulled a disappearing act with what people thought was “their” content. In 2009, Amazon did it with George Orwell books – “Animal Farm” and “1984” – reaching out to erase the books from customers’ Kindles.

No, you don’t own your Kindle books, Amazon reminded another customer in 2012. It shuttered the account of a Norwegian woman, who lost 43 purchased books, after determining that her account was “directly related to another which has been previously closed for abuse of our policies.” Which policies? What other account? Amazon wouldn’t say. Though it did send this glob of legalese:

Per our Conditions of Use which state in part: Amazon.co.uk and its affiliates reserve the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders at their sole discretion.

Please know that any attempt to open a new account will meet with the same action.

In short, as da Silva came to find out, we never really “buy” digital content. It’s at best a rental, given the legal control that content sellers keep to themselves and the ease of getting at – and deleting – cloud-stored data. You’re better off buying a DVD, he noted: at least it’s a physical thing that Apple can’t get at unless it sends armed iMilitia.

But remember, this is a two-way street. Apple can not only make things disappear without your say-so; it can also make things appear without your say-so! …like it did with U2’s album back in 2014.

The compulsory download of Songs of Innocence was yet another reminder that our iTunes libraries, just like Kindle libraries, aren’t walled gardens solely for our enjoyment, unchanging for perpetuity. They’re more like sponges that can get squeezed to suck up or discharge what the store fronts want to – or are legally compelled to – have in there.

So, remember, next time you want to spend your hard-earned money on content, and you’re hovering over that “buy” button, just do your own mental translation: swap “buy” for “rent,” and see how valuable “your” content feels after that.