Thursday, September 13, 2018

Apple Can Delete Purchased Movies From Your Library Without Telling You

Anders G da Silva:

Hey Apple, three movies I bought disappeared from my iTunes library.

Casey Johnston (Hacker News):

When da Silva wrote to Apple to complain about the missing movies, Apple wrote back to him 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.” For his trouble in notifying Apple that it had disappeared three of his ostensible belongings for incredibly dubious legal reasons, Apple offered da Silva not even a refund, but two credits for renting a movie on the iTunes Store “priced up to $5.99 USD.”


“You may be able to redownload previously acquired Content (‘Redownload’) to your devices that are signed in with the same Apple ID (‘Associated Devices’),” says the TOS, but also, “Content may not be available for Redownload if that Content is no longer offered on our Services.” For reasons that are easy to guess, Apple has never widely advertised that, by deleting locally stored content, users are actually rolling the dice as to whether they will ever be able to get it back.


As da Silva and others have pointed out before, the “Buy” button in digital stores is, at best, mislabeled.

Because of DRM, even if you keep a local copy of the movie you won’t be able to play it when you inevitably replace your device.

The Macalope:

This guy should get his money back in full.

Ken Kandel:

Happened to me too. Got three rentals in place of 30 episodes of the original Star Trek. Taught me to download everything and keep a backup of it. It truly pissed me off,

Scott Perry:

This has happened to me with music as well. If something doesn’t live DRM-free on your own storage, you don’t actually own it.

John Archer:

I have even been contacted just today by an iTunes user who tells me that dozens of films he owns in iTunes—many of which were actually bought in iTunes—have stepped back on his Apple TV 4K to HD, having previously being available in 4K.

Rene Ritchie:

Movies appearing and disappearing in iTunes (or any service) as the studio agreements dictate has been happening for years. Totally customer hostile and studio agreements should prevent it but it’s not new.

Previously: Outlawed by Amazon DRM.

Update (2018-09-14): Bob Burrough:

The problem appears to be a mismatch between legal reality and customer expectation. Customers are broadly under the impression that if they have purchased content, they will be able to download that content indefinitely.


  1. Legal reality is not what customers want.
  2. Apple doesn’t try very hard to communicate the actual reality.
  3. Customer not notified when content removed.
  4. Apple (and, I guess, the content provider, too) keeps the money after removing the content.


Also, even if you have a local copy, [local desktop copies] won’t be in full 4K resolution (iTunes only supports up to 1080p). So it’s not really a solution, unless you accept downgraded quality.

There’s also a similar case with purchased music. I’ve purchased The Wall (Deluxe Edition) with iTunes LP. Item has since become unavailable - I can only get songs but not LP. Apple’s solution? 5 song credits. Thankfully, I had the LP stored on my old PC.

Ashley Bischoff clarifies that iPads can cache 4K video locally, though I don’t think the cache survives restoring from backup.

Update (2018-09-20): Sean Hollister (Hacker News):

When we reached out to da Silva, he clarified the disparity: He moved to Canada, roughly nine months ago, after purchasing the films in Australia. Not only is that two separate countries, it’s two separate iTunes Store regions. Perhaps Canada doesn’t offer those films anymore, and that left him unable to access them in his new location?

The thing is, those three titles -- Cars, Cars 2 and The Grand Budapest Hotel, according to da Silva -- are still available to purchase in both Australia and Canada, CNET confirmed. He could buy new “Canada” copies right now. So why are his “Australia” copies gone?


Indeed, those movies may still be stored in da Silva’s Australian account -- but he can’t easily switch back to the Australian region to download them again.

So Apple Support was mistaken when they told him that the content provider had removed the 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.

Dominik Wagner:

If you switch countries of your apple account, content might disappear. So nothing new really, just something to keep in mind. As a german with both an American and a German account im intricately aware of this sadness.

Kirk McElhearn:

But Apple does remove content from the iTunes Store from time to time. They don’t do it on their own; it’s the rights holders who pull it. I’ve found several albums I had purchased in the early days of the iTunes Store are no longer available for redownload.

And this is much more common with music on Apple Music. I have a playlist of music that iTunes shows as “No Longer Available,” which currently contains 674 items. In some cases, albums have been replaced by updated versions, so I could find some of that music again. But I’ve found this to be quite frequent, even with the eclectic music I listen to.

13 Comments RSS · Twitter

"Because of DRM, even if you keep a local copy of the movie you won’t be able to play it when you inevitably replace your device."

How can that be? Right now, I can play back my DRM'd iTunes movie purchases (backed up on a Time Capsule, not streaming from a Apple data centre somewhere) on multiple Macs sitting on my home network. Are you saying that the iTunes app does a DRM check over the Internet before authorizing playback? And that therefore Anders would still be screwed if he'd kept backups of his purchases?

@Anonymous I thought it did an online DRM check, but I could be wrong. Maybe it just checks whether you are signed into an iTunes account that has authorized the current device and that that account is the same one that purchased the movie. But we know it must be doing some sort of periodic online check because otherwise you could authorize the maximum number of devices, then reset the authorizations online, and then authorize more.

So if you only own an Apple TV that will never store your movies, you're just structurally out of luck?

In any case, local backups only extend to 1080p purchases, as 4K HDR content is streaming-only.

I think Michael's alternate explanation makes more sense (that the iTunes app or Apple TV checks account login status, not that they do an online DRM authorization), but hey who knows?

- Gord, a.k.a. Anonymous....

Back to piracy then.


Piracy has its uses, but also many drawbacks large and small (finding things that are in fact what they say they are, at the correct resolution and quality, without burned in subtitles, with the subtitles and extra features you care about included, without worrying about getting nastygrams from copyright trolls, etc).

My preferred system works extremely well for older content that can be difficult to find on pirate sites at good quality. As long as we are patient and don't insist on seeing new releases right away, it also works well for new content.

1. Check out disks from the library, or rent them from netflix (yes, they still rent disks). Or buy cheap used disks online, if that's the only way to get the thing you're interested in.

2. Rip the disks.

3. Load the ripped movie into Itunes and enjoy.

@glaurung, that is still piracy. (I rip my own discs too, I'm not judging, but let's be honest with ourselves.)

Unfortunately, on each generation of physical media, the DRM has gotten better, and I believe the day will come when they play this "revoke access to the movie you already bought" game with physical discs too. Today's players still work offline, but that can change, and they can also do a key management system such that there is no firmware that both plays this old "revoked" disc and the latest disc that comes out.

In the meantime, I buy physical discs (mostly BR and UHD-BR) and rip them. I miss being able to strip the DRM from iTunes HD movies.


"I miss being able to strip the DRM from iTunes HD movies."

You still can, just not with free tools. And I am not sure if you can do it losslessly. A profoundly stupid state of affairs.



Most of your qualms with piracy are obviated with private trackers. The experience is pretty amazing.

I don’t believe i’ve been hit by this, but there is one song I bought off of iTunes where it and the album it was on have vanished from the store. So i would be unable to download it again if I lost the file.

@Gord Thanks for the link. The headline is kind of misleading—it doesn’t sound like they know exactly what happened. And they find the movies available in both the Australian and Canadian stores, but Apple told him that that the movie had been removed by the content provider? If anything, this new information sounds like bad news because you can lose access to your movies if you move to a different country, even if the content provider hasn’t removed them.

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