The Great Apple TV/iTunes Movie Robbery (by Apple and their cronies)

(Well, more of a mugging than a robbery, I suppose)

Yesterday evening I was looking for something to watch. Something I hadn’t seen in a while. I was sure I had purchased it, but according to the Apple TV app running on macOS Catalina 10.15.4.1, it wasn’t able to find it when I did a search.

But I did find it within my library when sorted alphabetically. Phew! It just looked as if Apple was no longer selling that particular title. But at least I could stream and download it. That title was Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s MicMacs, a wonderfully comic French film about the arms industry (got to love the French sense of humour!).

Oh, really? Tell that to the Apple TV app on macOS Catalina and Apple removing content without notice

But I decided that I’d leave it until I’m off on holiday next week when I can really start binging on movies (many of whom were purchased via Apple’s iTunes store recently) – I’ve got:

  • Knives Out
  • Once upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Rocketman
  • Birds of Prey

as well as a few older titles that I’ve not seen in a while that were on sale.

While I was reminiscing over Sylvain Chomet‘s The Illusionist (which is based on an unproduced Jacques Tati script, and was directly responsible for me falling in love with the city of Edinburgh and have not regretted it since), I thought about his other film, Attila Marcel. I hadn’t seen that for a very long while, and thought it’d make for a good evening’s viewing.

ALAS!

Like MicMacs, I couldn’t see it in Apple TV’s search function. What was worse: I couldn’t see it listed alphabetically in the library either. Yet I was damn sure I bought it on iTunes.

Thankfully Apple keeps all orders and invoices going back many years – though they could consider introducing a text search function within the Apple TV and Apple Music apps to make it easier to find particular titles – otherwise it’s you need to do a LOT of scrolling. That, plusan export function for any and all invoices as CSV or Excel format.

I managed to find the original order/invoice:

So that confirms I wasn’t going stark raving mad (entirely possible during this lockdown phase). Tried to go through the usual route of reporting a problem with Apple, but the order was so old. I managed to set-up a generic support ticket with Apple Support. After an hour or two I got a reply:

It’s important to note that I quoted the original order ID when establishing contact. I replied to say that I’ve never hidden any purchases and gave them a screenshot to prove there was nothing being hidden. I then received the following:

Effectively:

“The content provider decided to stop selling their movie on our platform, and either we don’t have the file or are not allowed to give it out – even if you’ve purchased it.”

Where it gets unnecessarily complicated is that Apple sells the Apple TV 4K device which has limited storage – 32Gb or 64Gb. They also sell the iPhone which has a maximum storage capacity of 512Gb. They also have the iPad which goes all the way up to 1Tb. My entire Apple TV/iTunes library sits in around 1.75Tb. And until recently my MacBook Pros have only had a maximum of 1Tb of internal storage – and half of that was being used by Apple Photos and project work.

The entire point of buying from the likes of Apple is to make it easy to access and view my film collection (haha, I’m trying to find another word for collection as it’s not really such if some swine can just come along remove stuff from it at any time without my permission or notice) via the Apple TV device, my iPhone, my iPad or my MacBook Pro.

In the UK, the fair use law prevents us legally from ripping content from physical media that we’ve purchased. Apple seems the best option – especially as they generally give you a similar set of extra features content that you’d find on a DVD or Blu-Ray release.

Now, even if I download all ~4Tb of my content to my Mac and back that content up either to the likes of Backblaze or an external hard drive or NAS, I cannot download the 4K version of the film, nor the iTunes Extras content. Then we have issues of presenting films that have been removed from iTunes like Attila Marcel to the Apple TV, iPhone and iPad. There are options for this:

  • AirPlay (think Google’s Chromecast)
  • Home Share (sharing media library direct from Mac or NAS)

But this isn’t a consistent or nice experience – something that Apple does so very well in almost all other areas of the business.

Some questions:

  • Why Apple doesn’t inform you of any content that’s about to be removed from your library?
  • Apple has seriously screwed the pooch because there is a difference between download and streaming, which is the heart of the matter here (and especially so with the Apple TV device). I keep the movies in their “cloud” to save space and to be able to stream because I generally always have the bandwidth to do so. There is very little need for me to download an entire movie. I think this applies to the vast majority of Apple’s customers, too. This hybrid download/streaming system is an utter mess.

Apple’s own storefront web site makes absolutely no mention that content can be withdrawn. This is what it has to say (at the time of writing, 5th May 2020):

Oh, really?

Buy. Rent. Watch. All inside the app. Welcome to the new home of thousands of films, including the latest blockbusters from iTunes. Now you can buy, rent and watch, all from inside the app — as well as watch everything you’ve previously purchased from iTunes.”

But Apple has done a Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy style maneuver. To quote from the book written by Douglas Adams, who was a big fan of Apple:

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

The search for Apple’s Terms of Service in a nutshell

Apple’s Terms of Service (which, strangely, I found only through a third party web stite) only stipulate redownloads, NOT streaming – which is how I use iTunes/Apple TV content. Again, we’re back to the problem which is a legacy hangover from the early days of iTunes where you had to download everything to be able to watch it. Then the iPhone, the iPad and Apple TV came along. Especially the Apple TV which MUST stream the content.

REDOWNLOADS

You may be able to redownload previously acquired Content (“Redownload”) to your devices that are signed in with the same Apple ID (“Associated Devices”). You can see Content types available for Redownload in your Home Country at https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT204632. Content may not be available for Redownload if that Content is no longer offered on our Services.

Associated Devices Rules (except Apple Arcade): You can have up to ten
devices (but only a maximum of five computers) signed in with your Apple ID at one time. Each computer must also be authorised using the same Apple ID (to learn more about authorisation of computers, visit
https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT201251). Devices can be associated
with a different Apple ID once every 90 days.

Associated Devices Rules for Apple Arcade: You can have up to 10 devices
signed in to Apple Arcade per Family member at one time. Devices can be associated with a different Apple ID once every 90 days.

Redownloads vs streaming – nowt mentioned about streaming, necessary for Apple TV

The link in the above only mentions general availability of Apple Media Services. It does not mention the conditions in which content may be removed (and event then, only referring to downloadable content), nor that you will not be notified that the content is no long available.

Not if they’ve pulled the title from their servers you can’t. Be prepared for fiddling with file transfers and AirPlay instead – and extra features going missing as they’re streaming only and can’t be downloaded.

Compare this against Amazon Prime Video’s Terms which are linked to at every option to rent or “buy” (and I use that term loosely now). Amazon are much clearer on the point whereas Apple has been super vague for the past 7 years despite constantly removing content from people’s libraries.

4. DIGITAL CONTENT

i. Availability of Purchased Digital Content. Purchased Digital Content will generally continue to be available to you for download or streaming from the Service, as applicable, but may become unavailable due to potential content provider licensing restrictions or for other reasons, and Amazon will not be liable to you if Purchased Digital Content becomes unavailable for further download or streaming.

Amazon’s Terms for “buying” digital movie or TV content from them – this is very clearly set out: don’t use them for buying film or TV content.

Amazon have made it very clear anything you “buy” from them can vanish at any point. That they don’t have to give you any notice. That they owe you nothing if this occurs. Apple’s terms are more ambiguous because it merely states “redownloads”. Yet the service is primary a streaming service; downloads are a legacy from when iTunes first started when streaming wasn’t available and which just happens to be convenient these days for going offline (for travelling).

  • Why Apple doesn’t offer an immediate refund or compensation if content is removed – people make the assumption that if you purchase something from these services, they have access to it indefinitely. There’s no big massive asterisk next to the purchase button warning you about Apple or the content provider’s ability to remove the film from your cloud library. It should not be considered an extended rental. If you buy a physical CD, DVD or Blu-Ray – you don’t have somebody turn up at your doorstep from the shop that sold it to you and demand it back because their supplier no longer sells to them. Just because something is intangible should not bring about Houdini style hijinks.
  • Why Apple hasn’t thought about and solved this problem already? There have been sporadic reports of content being removed from people’s libraries since at least 2013.
  • If Apple can’t sold this problem technically, then why doesn’t it try to resolve this through its significant legal resources and the major film studios and distributors? If Apple truly is a consumer champion, dedicated to the likes of privacy et. al, it needs to be seen doing a heck of a lot more for protecting consumer’s rights. (Ironic, given the whole right to repair fiasco which is stil ongoing.)

Some experiences of other people:

There are plenty more articles about this, but the point is that in an age where we’re relying more and more on cloud services (including storage), it seems highly unreasonable for Apple to expect us to download every single title we buy from them and keep it somewhere local.

I’ve reach out further to Apple Support and Tim Cook to see what they have to say on the matter and have asked them what they intend to do in the future to protect consumers’ purchases. Apple needs to resolve its issue with the legacy iTunes stuff because it’s now becoming a major problem. Until then, I’m extremely damn nervous to buy anything more from the Apple TV/iTunes store knowing that at any time a content provider can pull the plug just like that.

I’d reach out to Metrodome who distributes (or at least did) Atilla Marcel and ask them what the bloody hell they’re playing at, even though my contract for the purchase is with Apple. But they went into administration in 2016. Maybe the rights reverted to Pathé? Though this doesn’t explain why it has taken this long for the title to be removed from iTunes – I’m pretty sure it was still there at the end of last year (2019). In any event, Amazon’s Prime Video has the title to rent or buy. I may reach out to Pathé and ask them what the hell THEY’RE playing at – especially as there a good number of titles from them happily existing on iTunes that I “own”.

Apple, live up to your creed: Think Different. Yet just don’t think different – do something!

BTW, when the BBC Store closed down, I had around £150 worth of purchases refunded to me in its entirety by BBC Worldwide PLUS a voucher for Amazon which could be used to buy physical or digital content by way of an apology. More companies – especially Apple – need to take note.