In days gone by a purchase meant ownership. You buy a car, you own the car. It is then yours to do with as you please. You could keep it, sell it on to someone else, lend it to your mother-in-law, break it up for parts, or burn it to stay warm. The same went for films, music and books.
Most people assume the same is true for digitally purchased content. You buy a film via Amazon, download it digitally, and store it on your computer, tablet, phone or cloud.
In actual fact your ability to deal with intangible data files purchased digitally is severely restricted. Recently an iTunes user named Anders G da Silva discovered quite how restricted when trying to access films he had stored on his iTunes cloud account with Apple.
Mr da Silva noticed that three films were no longer available to download from his storage area. When he contacted Apple for an explanation he was told that those particular films were no longer available in the iTunes catalogue, and so could not be redownloaded. But Mr da Silva had purchased them entirely legally, and as far as he was concerned he owned them and should be able to download them to watch at his leisure. Why, when Apple offer a cloud-based storage solution, should he clog up valuable local storage keeping his film-library on his devices?
The reason for the inaccessibility, say Apple, is that in the time between the initial purchase and when Mr da Silva wanted to download and watch the films, iTunes' license to distribute them had lapsed and not been renewed. That, it said, prevented it from distributing the files to customers who had legally purchased the content while the license was valid.
The internet has since been sneering at Apple's "goodwill gesture": two free movie rentals. While the author has not had the time or inclination (yet) to read the full terms and conditions of film purchases on iTunes, it would seem logical that at the very least Mr da Silva would be entitled to a refund on his purchases or a voucher for a different retailer that did still sell those films.
It is unclear how many people this issue affects, but it is likely that in the age of expanding accessibility of digital content and fast-changing allegiances between rights-holders and distributors (Apple, Amazon, Netflix etc), that the issue might become ever-more prevalent.
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