OPINION: Sony reminds us that the illusion of “owning” Digital Movies and TV Series are lessons in Hollywood Thievery

By Todd Russell Dec4,2023

AI-created art showing thieves in suits stealing from a house

Sony Playstation members are upset that movie and TV content they thought they “owned” are being removed.

This isn’t the first time Sony has done something like this and it won’t be the last. I’d say just buy your favorite shows on Bluray instead, but Sony and Microsoft also appear to be planning to slowly phase out optical disc drives in the future. Even the new PS5 slim’s detachable disc drive will require an online DRM check every time you plug it in. Fortunately, generic Blu-ray players are cheaper than never. Unfortunately, they don’t really print discs of Pregnant Behind Bars Season 1 anymore.

PlayStation To Delete A Ton Of TV Shows Users Already Paid For (kotaku.com)

Welcome to the sobering, disturbing 2023 world of digital movie and TV licensing, when customers that don’t possess the physical media (VHS, LaserDisc, DVD, Blu-Ray, etc) are too often victims of the small print (“the big print giveth, the small print taketh away”) in often absurdly long End User Licensing Agreements and Terms of Service that does state somewhere that access to this content can be removed from your account at any time.

It’s easy to minimize some of this responsibility for the companies selling this, but harder to completely absolve when consumers are sold digital movie and TV, when the truth is they are almost always renting access for an undefined period of time.

This is one good reason to dislike Hollywood. Sure, pay the creative folks for their content, but when actors are receiving millions in residuals like, er, Matthew Perry’s estate for Friends, we the people watching and repeatedly enjoying are paying for that joy.

I have a solution that would make this process of taking away digital content from people that have bought it. It’s simple, but distributes the cost of this creative content licensing more fairly.

SOLUTION: pay customers back fair market value for the content when the licensing ends.

This means, we’d get a rebate on the value of what we paid for this digital media, less a fee for rental use of this content. To me, this would make buying this content more palatable, because in the buyer’s mind they’d receive some sort of compensation when the licensing ends.

Sorry for the caps, but I feel like screaming this from some huge rooftop: DON’T REFER TO DIGITAL MEDIA PURCHASES AS “BUYING”, CALL IT ALL “Short term RENTAL” and “Longer Term Rental”

Human beings understand the basic difference between renting and buying. When you buy something, you typically own it, or at least that’s the assumption. If you rent a car, you don’t own it, you’re renting it for a period of time and must return it. When you enter into a short term rental contract, we understand we aren’t buying access to it for as long as we keep the media viable to play. But when we “buy” digital media, we’re thinking it’s something we’ll spend more money and be able to watch it as often and as much as we want.

Sadly, digital media isn’t about ownership at all. In 2023, the biggest issue with this relates to movies and TV. To a lesser extent gaming, although cloud streaming gaming does fit this rule in the sense, because if you stop paying for your streaming game account, access to all the games on it ends. Luckily for gamers, these streaming game services are not sold to us as ever owning anything. That’s not the case when we buy movies and TV shows on various services.

I mean, look at Vudu, owned by Fandango, and see the verbiage used:

Now it sure looks like we can “buy” The Super Mario Bros. Movie for $19.99 above … but we aren’t really, truly buying it. We’re renting it for a longer period of time than the $3.99 “Rent” provides. Read the terms. It’s there. In the first sentence of “Future Changes Regarding Vudu Purchased Content” here:

  • Future Changes Regarding Vudu Purchased Content.
    If we change any part of the Services, which we may do in our sole discretion, you acknowledge that you may not be able to access, view, or use the Content, including the Vudu Purchased Content or Authorized Devices at all or in the same manner as prior to such changes, and you agree that we will not have any liability to you in such case. We reserve the right to modify, suspend, or discontinue access to Content, including the Vudu Purchased Content at any time without notice to you, and we will not be liable to you should we exercise such rights. We also reserve the right to institute a charge in the future for continued access to Vudu Purchased Content, but notice shall be provided to you prior to instituting such a charge. You may download and store your own copy of Vudu Purchased Content, that is purchased on an EST Basis, on certain Authorized Devices so that you can view that Content without additional charge.

The last sentence of VUDU talks about downloading to “Authorized Devices” but if we go back to the first sentence, it still might require access through your account at their “sole discretion.” In other words, if we say you have access, you have access, but if we say you don’t, you won’t. If Fandango shuts down the Vudu service, how will these devices phone home for access to this licensed content? Probably, they won’t.

The terms of this licensing for Fandango/Vudu is similar to what other services where you “buy” movies and TV content. The verbiage tends to differ, but if you look, you’ll find these clauses.

This is why it all feels like rental, not ownership when it’s digital and you don’t have any sort of physical media, so just call it what it is: rental with buyback provision if the license ends. This way consumers choose to rent for 24-48 hours and watch one time for $X amount or for a more costly sum buy long term rental with buyback provision when the license ends.

Some might read this and think this is a bizarre, maybe even crazy idea, but it’s not for consumers that want to own a digital equivalent of a physical product. The reason I’m calling it thievery in the title of this post isn’t hyperbole and click baiting, it’s because today if Hollywood rolls into your house wearing suits and takes physical media from your house that was legally purchased and obtained: VHS, LaserDics, DVDs, Blurays, etc, that would constitute theft of your property by pretty much any local or state laws.

And yet digital media, the darling of convenience, is really just a clever way to provide us with revokable access at some point in the future. It’s a way for the owners of said content to keep charging for it over and over and over again. We understand this with physical media that can wear out over repeated usage like cassette tapes, vinyl records, etc. Even CDs and DVDs have rot which eventually they won’t play.

All this drama around movies and TV shows is one thing, but again, my bigger fear are games.

Games, yes, stay with this. Because it turns an even darker story of the future, IF it becomes a reality.

Imagine if Mortal Kombat 1 that I preordered earlier this year on Steam access was suddenly revoked when/if Warner Bros. stopped offering that game on Steam? The way it is now, you can continue to download games from Steam once the listing is removed, but what if the company could actually stop gamers from playing the game they “bought”? What if access to every game by Company X was removed and so was your access to their game?

There are a lot of things to be upset about in 2023 in the world, but this whole concept of buying anything digital is lacking in pretty much every comparable area to physical media except space constraints and convenience. A gamer can have 10,000+ digital games with the only space concerns being network server or cloud space or local storage space.

Add to the problems with most games, save for Nintendo Switch cards and some limited other exceptions, modern games don’t run directly from the physical media. They require some sort of phone home for updates to run, many games launch day 1 with required updates. The only reason to buy physical media is for faux ownership of the actual game, not for playing the game.

I keep drawing parallels with games and movie, TV and music, because there are disturbing parallels through time. Streaming movie and TV services and streaming gaming services share some similarities and trends in one could impact the other in the future, see: Game Subscription Price Increases Are Inevitable – See What’s Happening with Cable and Streaming TV – PlayGamesMore

The next time you see somebody getting mad about some company taking away access to movies & TV series you thought you bought, give them a link to this article, please. Trust me, it’s coming around again.

I know nothing stays the same
But if you’re willing to play the game
It’s coming around again

Lyrics to “Coming Around Again” by Carly Simon

Carly Simon’s song is dead on. Let’s all pray this movie & TV licensing for purchased content doesn’t become commonplace with games. PGM member Ed209 and I were chatting about this in the discord earlier. It’s a very real concern. Are you concerned?

UPDATE 1/5/2024 @ 3:22pm PST: Best Buy plans to stop selling physical media: movies and games in 2024.

According to Best Buy, this strategic change allows the company to dedicate more of its existing floor space to newer as well as more innovative technologies. While physical video games will continue to be sold for the time being, the future of physical game sales remains uncertain as digital downloads and streaming grow in popularity.

Best Buy to stop selling physical media this 2024 (msn.com)

UPDATE 2/13/2024 @ 4:58am PST: PGM Member ED209 shared the following article with Sony:

Funimation, a Sony-owned streaming service for anime, recently announced that subscribers’ digital libraries on the platform will be unavailable after April 2. For years, Funimation had been telling subscribers that they could keep streaming these digital copies of purchased movies and shows, but qualifying it: “forever, but there are some restrictions.”

Sony is erasing digital libraries that were supposed to be accessible “forever” | Ars Technica

Thanks ED209 and sorry to these customers. This is very much a buyer beware thing with digital anything these days. More stories like this, and not just from Sony, are bound to rear their ugly heads.

Spread the love

Related Post

One thought on “OPINION: Sony reminds us that the illusion of “owning” Digital Movies and TV Series are lessons in Hollywood Thievery”
  1. Great article. The average consumer thinks they are buying digital media. Willi g to bet if you do a poll, the average person has no idea they could lose access. The caps comment is the comment I have seen in most “comments sections” about this. Call the purchase in your EULA what it really is, a long term RENTAL. At least then, average Joe/Jane know exactly what they are getting into when they “buy” digital movies and shows.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *