What does it mean to buy digital media? Not much, it seems. As controversy around the pulling of digital media from streaming services (especially when it's exclusive) rages, and filmmakers like Christopher Nolan have called for the importance of preserving physical media, yet another example of the pitfalls of digital media has come to light.
According to a legal update notice from Sony, some previously purchased content (specifically Discovery content) will be removed from users' video libraries on December 31, 2023. This news has been met with much expected anger on social media sites like X (formerly Twitter), with fans tweeting in response to the news, "We need more consumer protections here. At the very least, if they’re going to remove purchased content, they need to issue a full refund." and "How is this not criminal?"
Now how exactly is this happening if these fans have purchased the shows? Well, that's the thing about digital purchases, they're not really purchases- they're licenses to watch a movie or show (technically buying a DVD doesn't mean you own that copy either, but a company is far less likely to break into your home and raid your DVD shelves). That means that, for whatever reason - including a licensing deal coming to an end, the media you have paid for can be pulled right from your grasp (or streaming device) at whatever time, and that doesn't count as stealing (though it may feel like it).
As digital media begins to feel more tenuous all the while becoming the sole distribution method for more and more media, it's hard to see a fix for these issues. Though perhaps audiences having a few bad experiences like this one will get them to demand more from studios, so fans can at the very least be able to get (and continue to get) what they pay for.
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