Just in case you were wondering if you really “own” any of those films you may have purchased from Amazon Prime over the years … you don’t, according to Amazon. In the course of an ongoing lawsuit, the streaming and ecommerce giant clarified that its terms of service provide zero “ownership” to users who purchase a film or TV series via Amazon Prime Video. Rather, all Amazon is offering is a limited license for “on-demand viewing over an indefinite period of time.” The catch being, of course, that this “indefinite” period could expire at any time, and a purchased film could become unavailable—the equivalent of a Blu-ray disc evaporating overnight.
This news comes as a result of the ongoing legal case of an Amazon user named Amanda Caudel, who sued the company for “unfair competition and false advertising” in April. Her claim was that Amazon “secretly reserves the right” to remove purchases made by Amazon Prime customers, so she filed a class-action suit that would represent California residents who purchased video content from Amazon Prime in the period of April, 2016 until the present.
Amazon’s legal representation, however, has been unimpressed with Caudel’s case, arguing that the user is attempting to sue the company for a hypothetical future scenario that hasn’t yet occurred—it notes that none of the titles ever purchased by Caudel have ever become unavailable, while also noting that she’s continued to purchase additional titles since first filing the complaint. LIkewise, Amazon says the language explaining the limited license for viewing is present right in the user agreements, which the vast majority of consumers of course do not read.
That becomes the heart of the argument—one doesn’t need to read the fine print to be subject to it.
“An individual does not need to read an agreement in order to be bound by it,” wrote Biderman. “A merchant term of service agreement in an online consumer transaction is valid and enforceable when the consumer had reasonable notice of the terms of service.”
This is all pretty much exactly as we’d expect it, in terms of the prospects of Caudel’s court case—pretty hard to make a convincing legal argument when you’ve clearly ignored the user agreement. Ultimately, the most important thing here is that it does clarify Amazon’s position when it comes to whether the average user can really own anything. Although you may have purchased a film years ago, and although it’s likely to remain available, there’s always a chance that it will disappear one day, and you will not be receiving reimbursement if that does happen. If anything, the impermanence of these systems makes a case for why physical media still has a place to the more serious collector.