Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

You Don't Own The Digital Movies You Buy On Amazon Prime. Here's Why

Physical media certainly have some downsides: They take up a lot of space, they can be damaged with use over time, and you are limiting what media you can experience based on what DVDs or CDs you actually own. Plus, they never figured out how to make a CD tower that isn't the ugliest thing you or anyone else has ever seen. But there's one big check mark in the "Pro" column for physical media: You actually own it. You cannot say the same for digital movies purchased on services like Amazon Prime or Apple.

The 2018 tech episode of "Adam Ruins Everything" (posted on YouTube) explains that when you "buy" a movie, a book, or a song on Amazon, you are actually just licensing the rights to stream that book, movie, or song. When a woman sued Amazon for the potential to take back the movies she bought on Prime, Amazon filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that their right to take back their media is clearly stated in the Terms of Use. They are "presented to consumers every time they buy digital content on Amazon Prime Video," the motion read (per Gamespot). "These Terms of Use 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."

If big tech gets its way, you won't own any of your appliances

This issue goes so much farther than movies on Amazon Prime. The New York Times reported in 2009 that Amazon's Kindle stores removed some editions of George Orwell books — "1984," "Animal Farm" — from customers' devices, ironically enough. (Amazon said the editions had been offered for sale by a company that didn't have proper rights to the works.) And Nebraska farmers lost the right to repair their own tractors in 2017. A Guardian article explains that the farmers wanted to enact a "right to repair" law, because John Deere won't allow anyone but their licensed repair staff to do anything to a John Deere tractor. In one case, that meant a man couldn't turn off an alarm that went off every 10 minutes. Because the repair was too expensive the man "coped with the intermittent alarm sound for almost a year."

Often we own the physical object, but not the software that makes that object usable. So every time a "smart" version of an appliance is offered, that's a chance for a company to lease you the rights to your own refrigerator or whatever.

So the next time you're thinking about watching a movie, consider whether you want the ease and space-saving of digital access or the permanence of physical media. Also, don't forget about commentary tracks! Those are fun, right?