Tip: don't buy digital movies on Amazon Instant Video

Martin Brinkmann
Dec 17, 2013
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Amazon, Companies, Music and Video

Whenever I purchase movies or videos, I do so on DVD or Blu-Ray exclusively and never as digital content on the Internet.

The reason is simple: if I purchase it on DVD or Blu-Ray, I can watch the film whenever I want to, regardless of online access or other restrictions that may be in place.

Amazon Instant Video users who have purchased select Disney movies in the offered digital format are in for a surprise this Christmas season as it is currently not possible to play them anymore.

Update: Extremetech reports that Amazon claims that the removal of the videos has been "caused by a temporary issue", and that "customers should never lose access to their Amazon Instant Video purchases. Some videos at the time of writing are still not available though on the site at the time of posting that update. It can be however that they are available for users who purchased them earlier.

Movies and shows affected by this include "The Muppet Christmas Carol" and "Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas" while other Christmas themed movies such as "Disney's a Christmas Carol" or "Mickey's Magical Christmas" are still available.

The reason? Disney pulled them for Christmas, likely to push the films on the company's own TV channels (ABC airs the Muppet Christmas Carol on ABC Family and ABC Family HD for example).

So, you cannot watch Christmas themed movies during the time you are most likely to watch them. Who watches Christmas movies in Summer?

What many users of Amazon's service do not know is that rights holders can pull videos and movies whenever they select to do so.

This means that even if you have "bought" the right to play the digital version of the movie using Amazon's service, you may not be able to do so if the rights-holder pulls it. This is indicated under 2e in the Terms of Use:

Purchased Digital Content will generally continue to be available to you for download or streaming from the Service, as applicable, but may become unavailable due to potential content provider licensing restrictions and for other reasons, and Amazon will not be liable to you if Purchased Digital Content becomes unavailable for further download or streaming.

What this means is that users who have "bought" the film on Amazon in digital format cannot play it currently. If they want to watch it, they have to watch it on Disney's TV channel -- along with all the ads and fixed schedule -- that comes along with that experience.

Some may be able to play it if they have downloaded it previously to their devices, but that needs to be confirmed first.

It is not clear why only some movies have been pulled by Disney from Amazon's service for the time being. What is clear is that Disney's decision is going to irritate many legit customers who have bought those movies on Amazon.

Disney's strategy is short-sighted at best. Some customers may decide to watch the show or movie on TV instead, even if they are disgruntled by that. Others may turn to the dark side of the Internet to gain access to the contents.

It is near certain that some will stop buying Disney movies in digital format as a consequence of this.

Closing Words

For me, it is just another confirmation that it is not worth buying digital contents as you give up control over when and how you can access those contents. (via Torentfreak)


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  1. Simptreat said on March 24, 2020 at 2:02 am

    Products fulfilled by Amazon that are sold by third party sellers can actually be a lot cheaper than the ones sold and listed by Amazon.

  2. Brent Jones said on December 18, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    How many times will I need to buy the Beatles “Hey, Jude?”
    1. original 45 RPM
    2. album
    3. greatest hists album
    4. 8 track
    5. cassette
    6. CD
    7. DVD
    8. digital track ACC copy protected
    —-or should I just listen to the mp3 that I got via Napster??

    1. madoso said on December 20, 2013 at 12:14 am

      Agree! But a 45 RPM Vinyl it worth buying cause its the best quality you can get 22K of pure sound

  3. Mats Svensson said on December 18, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    In Sweden we are by law allowed to make copies for personal use.

  4. kalmly said on December 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    Yet another cloud issue. I used to purchase a lot of mp3s from Amazon. Then the Cloud Player appeared. At first, I could bypass it easily, but then it got difficult and I gave up on Amazon’s mp3s altogether. A movie?? No, I’d never do that. DVDs only. And yes, I heard that about Kindles. Too late, I already bought one. Should have bought a Nook.

    Once, the first place I looked for any item was Amazon. Then they moved to high sales tax rate California where I live. Now I dig around looking for the best price and figure out what it will cost with and without the sales tax.

  5. green said on December 18, 2013 at 2:08 pm

    Just want to point out, DVDs go bad. I have no personal experience with blu-rays but can’t imagine they’re different. I’m sure everyone already knows the ones you write to yourself go bad, so I hope you have another backup for your home movies. But store bought ones go bad, too. I have several that are unviewable at this time because they just won’t play any longer, and there’s nothing visible wrong with most of them. One actually looks like a worm went through it, though. This is a known problem with them, and I knew it when I bought them. So you’re going to be limited no matter what you get with current technology.

  6. Wayfarer said on December 18, 2013 at 2:57 am

    I buy nothing digital from DRM-obsessed Amazon and I’m amazed that anyone does. In fact I buy less of anything from Amazon these days after learning that (here in the UK) Amazon pay no corporate tax on billions of profit, and their ‘Customer Fulfilment Centres’ in the UK come closer to wage slavery than Third-World sweatshops.

    1. Jeff said on December 18, 2013 at 8:31 pm

      Are workers forced to work at amazon?

      Do amazon’s wages meet the legal requirements?

      Do amazon’s shareholders advise amazon’s operations to “pay as much tax as possible” or to make as much profit as possible?

      1. Wayfarer said on December 19, 2013 at 1:53 am

        Or in other words, I’m all right Jack?

        There’s a world of difference between legality and morality, between profit and responsible behaviour. But you go on washing you hands, mate.

  7. Kulm said on December 17, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Amazon can delete books from people’s Kindles too.
    It just so happened that a publisher had an issue with the book as released
    and wanted it recalled… so Amazon just deleted it… Amazon offered a refund
    of course but they didn’t ask permission first.

  8. Zeus said on December 17, 2013 at 10:20 pm

    The music industry caved on DRM, and it actually helped sales.

    I know I’d be a lot more likely to purchase more movies from Amazon — I ‘own’ around five — if I could download nice big DRM-Free MKV files and back them up on DVD.

    As is, I’m much more likely to pick up movies at some discount outlet or secondhand store.

  9. Uthred said on December 17, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Buy digital content, create personal copy whilst streaming or otherwise, remove any limiter, watch freely even when the local storm topples a few trees and takes out your isp connection.
    I’m not sure thats legal, but I think a lot more people are doing it

    but I agree it’s best to have your own hard copy I think.

  10. Jim said on December 17, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    And they wonder why people download torrents…

    1. JohnMWhite said on December 17, 2013 at 11:55 pm

      Indeed. This is a pretty sharp arrow in the quiver of anyone who wants to challenge the moral high ground of being anti-piracy. What’s the point in paying for things if the company can just take it back or revoke my access to make more money off the product elsewhere? For all the hand-wringing and calling piracy ‘stealing’, what exactly is this? It’s ok because it’s buried in 45 page legalese TOS agreements that no end user could ever be expected to understand? It seems that the line between a crook and a company is how expensive your lawyer is.

      1. Shai said on December 22, 2013 at 3:07 am

        Very true.
        If to ignore those who steal content just because they can or out of some anarchistic point of view to justify their actions, there are two things that pirated content is superior: (no bullshit) Distribution and Availability. I think that these are two main reason that push most, or at least a significant amount of, users to the illegal channels over the official ones – and it is nothing to do with them not wanting to pay for it.

        Pirated copy is very easy to reach and obtain. Couple of clicks and that’s it. No corporate marketing BS to sift through, no special downlander, no long and vague legal agreement that, basically, mean that you rent the content until such time the company shall decide to remove, and no closed cloud storage space or any other blunt attempt to steer and shackle you to a certain platform and ecosystem.
        Then there is the issue of accessibility. In a way, pirated content is simply available. If you need to obtain it again, no problem, whereas this is not the first and probably not the last time that ‘legal’ copies have disappeared or locked their users out.

        I think that enough people are pirating content just because it is easier to access and safer to maintain, and after being burnt once or twice by the big companies who sell that content ‘legally’, and not because they lack morality. In their futile attempts to fight the pirates they usually end up punishing the legitimate users of their software and content more than they impact the motivation to choose the piracy channel.
        Corporations think that the motivation behind piracy is a lack of moral, whereas I think that is has a lot more to do with the overall lacking user experience and customer service on their side. Pegging everyone as a criminal until proven otherwise is never the right or best approach. It hardly makes a difference for the true criminals, but it does hurt the normative population. Instead of devising new and expensive ways to fight piracy, maybe they should change their mindset and culture and improve the user experience and trust.

  11. Rob said on December 17, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    This is also true for music. I bought (and thankfully downloaded) some music albums. Amazon automatically loads them into your cloud player which doesn’t account against your storage quota. When I went to play them through the cloud player a few months later, they were not there. Turns out the albums were removed from sale (don’t know why) causing them to be removed from my cloud player account. While I’m okay in this instance since I downloaded them at the time of purchase, Amazon pushes you to not download music and to only use their cloud player. I’m glad I download them no matter what.

  12. browngeek said on December 17, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    I thought Amazon said that it was an error?

    http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/172925-tis-the-season-disney-revokes-access-to-purchased-christmas-movies-to-force-you-back-to-cable-this-christmas (see the update).

    However, I would like to add, that it is a bit unfair on picking on Amazon in your headline, the same thing could happen to pretty much any online provider of videos.

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on December 17, 2013 at 2:25 pm

      I understand that, but they are at least partially to blame for that, since they agreed to those terms.

      I’ll update the article accordingly to reflect this.

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