There are a lot of advantages to the digital media age. You don’t need to go to the video store or a retail outlet to get the latest movies on home video. A digital storefront never runs out of stock of the big new releases the way a brick-and-mortal retailer might. With the right apps, you can buy or rent a title once and instantly have it appear on a variety of devices. You can start watching on one screen, pause, and pick the movie up on another screen and the system can remember where you’re left off. These are all lovely conveniences for the consumer.

There are downsides to this system too, though. Even if you buy a movie on Apple’s iTunes store that doesn’t necessarily mean you own it in perpetuity. If by some chance Apple ever went out of business (admittedly an extreme unlikelihood, you could lose access to your library. As one Canadian iTunes customer recently learned, it doesn’t even require a situation that drastic to lose access to something you’ve “purchased” on iTunes.

See the below tweets from Twitter user @drandersgs, who was understandably upset to discover three films they bought on iTunes had suddenly vanished. Even after following up with iTunes support, they discovered basically there was nothing they could do:

How does this work? A second customer service letter explains a little more of the why:

Here is the key passage:

“Please be informed that the iTunes/App Store is a store front that gives content provider(s) a platform or place to sell their items. We can only offer what has been made available to us via the studios or distributor. Since the content provider has removed these movies from the Canadian Store, I am unable to provide you the copy of the movies.”

When you buy a film on iTunes, you don’t really own it. Essentially, you only own a license to watch it indefinitely on iTunes until such a time as the content provider ends their deal with iTunes and removes their product from the store. Then you’re pretty much screwed. (And as we see in these emails, iTunes isn’t even willing to offer you a replacement movie, just a couple of free rentals.) But hey, at least with a rental you don’t have to worry about it suddenly vanishing without explanation because you know it’s going to disappear after a couple days. That’s a silver lining, right?

I rent lots of movies on sites like iTunes and Amazon, but this is a big reason why when I want to buy something, I still get the Blu-ray instead of Digital HD (which often come with digital copies anyway). Disney or Fox will never come to my house and take back my Blu-rays of Black Panther or Die Hard and tell me I don’t get to own them anymore. Those really are mine to watch forever. (At least until Blu-ray goes the way of the dodo and gets replaced by whatever the next format is.)

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