Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Ho Ho No! Amazon Apologizes After Customers Lose Access to Christmas Content.

Amazon Prep and LAndingIf you buy a digital song, book or movie, do you really own that song, book or movie?

Or are you just renting a collection of bits, which are never really going to be yours?

This question is a big one for author Cory Doctorow, who writes about it often. And yesterday he had a great example of the worst-case scenario: An Amazon customer who bought and downloaded a Disney Christmas video from Jeff Bezos last year, and found it wouldn’t play now.

The reason? Doctorow’s reader says an Amazon rep told him that Disney wanted to yank it back: “Amazon has explained to me that Disney can pull their content at any time and ‘at this time they’ve pulled that show for exclusivity on their own channel.’”

Yikes! And sure enough, Amazon says you can’t buy or rent Disney’s “Prep & Landing 2” right now. And Disney’s ABC would love it if you watched some Prep & Landing movies on TV this month.

But that’s a lot different from reaching across the Web and flipping the switch on something someone already bought, right?

So maybe this is like the Great Netflix Whitney Houston Streaming Outage Of 2012, which sounded awful, and just like something an evil media company would do — but didn’t actually happen.

On the other hand, Amazon actually has a track record of reaching across the Web and flipping the switch on stuff it sold. Back in 2009, it deleted two George Orwell (!) books from customers’ Kindles, and later explained that it didn’t have the right to sell the books in the first place, which had made its sales “illegal.”

So what happened this time?

I asked an Amazon PR rep. Turns out that at least part of the story is true: “What you are referring to was a temporary issue with some of our catalog data and it has been fixed. Customers should never lose access to their Amazon Instant Video purchases. If they have any issues accessing purchased videos, they should contact customer service.”

Translation: Yes, we bricked some content we had previously sold. But that was a bug, not a feature: When you buy a video from us, you get to keep it, even if Disney wants to maximize its TV eyeballs.

So if you’re skittish about buying digital stuff from Amazon or other retailers, that might make you feel better: Yes, Amazon has a kill switch for the content it sold you. But at least for videos, it’s not supposed to use it.

Except in some cases. Note that Amazon’s new Kindle Fire HDX installment payment promotion, which we noted yesterday, uses the kill switch as a sort of digital enforcer/collections agent: If you don’t pay up for your new tablet, Amazon reserves the right to “deregister your Kindle Fire HDX device, which will block your ability to access Amazon content from your Kindle Fire HDX device.”

Meantime, here’s some free Prep & Landing. If it goes away, I can offer you a full refund:


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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo