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Is Apple tricking iTunes customers?

Published Apr 23rd, 2021 2:27PM EDT
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A federal class-action lawsuit against Apple in California looks like it’s set to move forward, now that a judge has denied a request by the iPhone maker to dismiss the suit. US District Court Judge John Mendez in Sacramento appeared sympathetic this week to the argument from plaintiff David Andino that Apple is being too misleading with customers by offering “Buy” and “Rent” options in the iTunes store, for content like TV shows and movies that Apple users then either stream or download after purchase.

Andino’s argument is pretty simple. We all know what the “Buy” option actually means. You didn’t really just buy that season of Game of Thrones from the iTunes store, the same way that you buy a physical product like a gallon of milk from the grocery store. Once you take that milk home, of course, it’s yours to do what you want with it. You can’t, however, do whatever you want with that Game of Thrones season you just bought — such as make copies of it. Really, you’re renting it in perpetuity, so as long as you abide by Apple’s terms and conditions. And the only difference between “buying” in that scenario and “renting” is that the content will disappear from your device after a period of time under the latter scenario.

“Apple contends that no “reasonable consumer would believe that purchased content would remain on the iTunes platform indefinitely,” the judge wrote in his decision. “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.”

You can read the full Apple lawsuit here. Meanwhile, Amazon is also facing a similar lawsuit right now on purchases made through the Prime Video app. Per a GameSpot report, Amazon was sued in April of last year (again, in California). The text of that suit reads, in part, “Amazon’s Prime Video service, which allows consumers to purchase video content for streaming or download, misleads consumers because sometimes that video content might later become unavailable if a third-party rights’ holder revokes or modifies Amazon’s license.”

A couple of thoughts immediately come to mind:

One, I’d be surprised to see these lawsuits go the distance and not get settled at some point while it’s still in the early stages. It’s like that old saying goes — money talks and the other stuff walks. Two, it’s tempting to feel like we’ve all lived in the smartphone era long enough to understand what buying a digital good means, versus buying something tangible from a retailer or an e-commerce store like Amazon. Your own lack of understanding of how something works does not necessarily mean you got duped.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.

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