Last week, we discussed the story of Anders G da Silva, an iTunes user who discovered several movies had been removed from his iTunes library. Apple confirmed the removal and told da Silva no refunds would be forthcoming, but would he like a few free video rentals? This came off rather poorly, to say the least.
The story, it turns out, is rather more complicated — but you wouldn’t know that from reading Apple’s own communication on the topic. The original message from Apple stated “After reviewing this case, I have noticed that the content provider has removed these movies from the Canadian Store. Hence, these movies are not available in the Canada iTunes Store at this time.”
CNet contacted da Silva and eventually discovered the source of the problem. Anders moved to Canada from Australia roughly nine months ago and he bought the films in question in Australia before he moved. Some of his Australian content still works perfectly, but three films — Cars, Cars 2, and The Grand Budapest Hotel — aren’t in his library. It’s not a question of the films not being for sale, either — all three are still offered in the Canadian and Australian versions of the iTunes Store.
The problem, in this case, is related to movie region lockouts — artificial barriers put in place to prevent film lovers from taking content from one market into other areas. We’ve seen such barriers falling in physical media. Blu-ray has three regions to DVD’s six, and apparently, most Blu-ray discs don’t implement region locking anyway. But it’s been deployed even more widely in digital media of late. Companies like Netflix have begun cracking down more aggressively on customers who use VPNs to view the service from other markets.
With that said, it’s clear Apple had no plan in place for how to deal with customers who move across the world and would reasonably like to retain access to content they purchased legally when they lived in Australia. The fact that the company miscommunicated the problems with his own account to da Silva is evidence of that. Apple has promised to send da Silva instructions for a workaround that will allow him to still view content he legally purchased, but he’ll have to cancel any of his existing Canadian subscription services and will lose any Canadian store credit.
Even if Apple is able to restore da Silva’s ability to access content he legally purchased, the company needs a much better strategy for dealing with situations like this. It doesn’t really change our own conclusions from last week, either. Ultimately, customers don’t care if they lose access to content because a reseller chose to stop selling it or because they moved. What they care about is losing access to content they bought. It doesn’t sound like Apple actually bothered to figure out what went wrong in da Silva’s case until the press got involved, which isn’t a great look here, either.
Obviously, Apple cannot simply tell Disney or any other film distributor how it will or won’t license its content. At the same time, however, Apple is one of just a handful of companies with the potential market power to influence how said content is delivered to the end customer. The App Store isn’t just a storefront and digital distribution companies need to take pains to ensure the chain of ownership is as secure for digital products as it is for physical ones if they want their customers to view a physical and digital purchase as being functionally identical.
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