Apple is facing a lawsuit for telling consumers they can ‘buy’ TV shows and movies

With so much of the content we watch being from digital platforms, it can be sometimes easy to forget that that content might not always be available to us. And not just because we don’t have it installed or because we don’t have an internet connection. But rights holders and regional rules might block content — even after we buy it, making it impossible to watch.

And now Apple is facing a lawsuit out of the state of California that focuses on this specific issue. According to The Hollywood Reporter, U.S. District Court Judge John Mendez ruled that Apple must face a lawsuit over the “buy” button within the iTunes Store. The reason? Judge Mendez believes that, in its current state, it’s reasonable to assume that most customers believe that buying that content means they own it, no matter what, and terminating access to that content shouldn’t be allowed.

The putative class action lawsuit also includes the “rent” button, too.

From the initial report:

Apple contends that ‘[n]o reasonable consumer would believe’ that purchased content would remain on the iTunes platform indefinitely,’ writes Mendez. ‘But in common usage, the term ‘buy’ means to acquire possession over something. It seems plausible, at least at the motion to dismiss stage, that reasonable consumers would expect their access couldn’t be revoked.

The lead plaintiff, David Andino, argues that Apple not only has the ability to terminate access to content whenever it sees fit –or has to– but that the company has done so on “numerous occasions”. Andino’s argument is that Apple is practicing in false advertisement and unfair competition.

Judge Mendez goes on:

Apple argues that Plaintiff’s alleged injury — which it describes as the possibility that the purchased content may one day disappear — is not concrete but rather speculative,’ sums Mendez, responding, ‘[T]he injury Plaintiff alleges is not, as Apple contends, that he may someday lose access to his purchased content. Rather, the injury is that at the time of purchase, he paid either too much for the product or spent money he would not have but for the misrepresentation. This economic injury is concrete and actual, not speculative as Apple contends, satisfying the injury in fact requirement of Article III.

The original report does note that Amazon is facing a similar lawsuit by way of its Amazon Prime Video storefront.

There is an opening for an injunctive relief, which means, if things do go down that route, Apple (and Amazon, depending on how that one goes) may need to change the way it sells digital content out of the iTunes Store. And how it offers rentals, too, presumably. If that does happen, iTunes Store purchases may have to tell consumers, probably before the purchase is finalized, that they are not really “buying” what they are forking over their money for, and that access to that content may be revoked at a later date.

Or Apple will settle this out of court, and maybe nothing changes at all.

What do you think? Should Apple make it perfectly clear when you buy something from the iTunes Store that you may not always have access to it (unless you take your own steps to secure it on physical media, maybe)? Apple and other digital stores do go out of their way to make it clear how rentals work, as far as availability and time windows to watch the content.