The internet is flipping out with stories like, “Apple can delete your movies any time it wants.” No, Apple isn’t deleting movies people bought through iTunes, but one man’s heading with mysteriously missing movies underscores how messed up international movie licensing is.
Here’s the back story: Anders G da Silva shared his experience on Twitter. Some movies he bought through iTunes disappeared from his streaming library. The response from Apple was that the “content provider removed these movies from the Canadian Store. Hence, these movies these movies are not available in the Canada iTunes Store at this time.”
Me: Hey Apple, three movies I bought disappeared from my iTunes library.
Apple: Oh yes, those are not available anymore. Thank you for buying them. Here are two movie rentals on us!
Me: Wait… WHAT?? @tim_cook when did this become acceptable? pic.twitter.com/dHJ0wMSQH9
— Anders G da Silva (@drandersgs) September 10, 2018
Apple offered him a couple free movie rentals, which didn’t seem like much of a consolation considering the now missing movies had been paid for.
The conclusion people jumped to was that any movie you purchase through iTunes could be taken away at any time without warning or compensation. It turns out there’s more to the story, and Apple isn’t simply removing movies from your iTunes purchase list.
Missing iTunes Movies, Missing Information
First, the movies only in da Silva’s iTunes library disappeared. Since the odds that he’s the only person who ever purchased those movies is extremely low, we should’ve heard from a lot of people complaining just like he did.
Second, a critical piece of information was missing when the missing movies report first started circulating: da Silva had recently moved from Australia to Canada (via CNET). He purchased the movies in Australia, and it seems the had different licensing terms in Canada.
Different licensing terms could mean different versions of a movie, or that for whatever reason they’re blocked from viewing in specific countries. Since da Silva was trying to stream movies he bought in Australia while in Canada, they were blocked.
The Case for DVD and Blu-ray Movies
In the end, Apple is taking care of da Silva so he can keep watching his movies. The big takeaway here is that media licensing is a hot mess. Region locking was a big headache when DVDs were the big thing, and now we’re seeing a version of that with digital movie purchases.
Downloading a digital purchase means you have the movie and it won’t disappear from your library. If iTunes checks the license when you play it, however, you may still be locked out from watching.
That makes physical movie purchases sound pretty compelling. You buy the DVD or Blu-ray and it’ll work without any worries about licensing changing. That’s assuming, of course, you have a disc that matches the region encoding for your player.
The real fix here is to change licensing from regions to world wide—but that isn’t going to happen any time soon. It seems movie studios are glad to take our money, but aren’t too concerned about keeping us happy.