Amazon Unbox and its absurd restrictions

Martin Brinkmann
Sep 10, 2006
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Amazon, Companies, Internet

Amazon Unbox, the new video download service provided by Amazon, went live yesterday offering users a free and easy way to download and view videos on their computer. Most tv show episodes cost 1,99$ while movies begin at 3,99$ up to 19,99$ for new releases. Files are offered in .wmv and .amzn (for portable devices) format only and can't be burned on DVD to watch the movie on the television. The only way to do that would be to connect the computer to the television.

I'm currently conduction a little poll here on ghacks about the maximum price you would pay for DVD downloads and there are only very few voters who would pay more than 7,99$ for such a download with the majority voting for a price below 5$. So, who will be buying movies for the extreme price of 19,99$ that you can only watch on your PC or portable device while you could easily purchase the DVD for the same amount including a physical DVD, cover, booklet and DVD extras that you do not get when you select the download route.

All your movie downloads can only be played on a computer that has the Amazon Unbox software installed and an association with your account. Amazon states that you have 24 hours to download the movie after you made the purchase on a computer that has the Amazon Unbox software installed. They do not mention what happens if you fail to download the movie in that time, I have a guess but I keep that for myself.

If that is not enough, let us take a look at the license agreement which should scare every single user away from that service:

  • Software Upgrades: They may automatically update the software without your consent and playback will not work on computers that do not have the latest version of the software installed. Sounds ridiculous?
  • Information Provided: Amazon will keep track when you viewed or deleted content, keep track about your operating system, software (whatever that means) your disk space and your internet connection.
  • Removal of Software: If you uninstall the software Amazon has the right to delete all digital content from the device without notification.
  • Promotional Content: Amazon may automatically deliver promotional content to your unbox software and delete that content again without notice.
  • Service: Amazon has the right to modify, suspend or discontinue the service at any time without notification.
  • Agreement: Amazon may change the agreement at any time, if you want to be able to continue watching the movies you will have to accept the changes.

Here we have it. You get a crippled file for the same price of a DVD that is full of DRM and restrictions. You can't burn the movie on DVD, you can only play the movie on systems with the unbox software and your account, you only have 24 hours to download the movie, you will be spammed with promotional content without your agreement, your viewing habits and system information are recorded, the service may stop without warning and you will not be able to play the files anymore and Amazon may update the software whenever they please without letting you know about it.

Oh, did I mention that they have the right to delete all content when you uninstall their software? If you are using this you must be insane, that is my opinion on the matter.

Update: Amazon's digital offerings have changed over the years. The company is now making available a service called Amazon Prime Instant Video and Amazon Instant Video for instance. It is a subscription based service that provides you with access to movies and TV shows for a single flat fee. To make that service attractive, Amazon has begun to produce its own TV shows that are only available on Prime.

amazon instant video

Amazon Instant Video: This is the new name of Amazon's streaming and download service. It can stream contents to many different devices, including PCs, tablets, directly on the Web or to gaming systems such as the PS3 or Xbox 360.

Amazon Prime Instant Video: The main difference here is that Amazon Prime members get access to part of the Instant Video catalog for free. They pay $79 per year for that privilege but also get free two-day shipping and access to Kindle Owner's Lending Library on top of that which provides them with access to 300,000 books that they can borrow for free.

Most contents can be rented or bought, and streamed or downloaded.  You find additional information about the program here on Amazon.


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  1. Tony said on September 11, 2006 at 9:24 pm

    You can use the newly released FairUse4wv to allow you to back them up on DVD and veiw it on your TV.

  2. Justin said on September 11, 2006 at 7:28 pm

    It makes more sense to just buy the DVDs. There are no rules. You just walk in a store, buy what you want, and then have it forever complete with booklet and the capability to watch it on a full size television.

  3. Max said on September 10, 2006 at 5:31 pm

    I was actually thinking about downloading this player and buying some TV episodes, but thanks to this article, I changed my mind.

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