How should buying movies and show episodes on the internet work?

During the 1970s, a revolutionary change occurred. Particularly in the way we watched shows and movies. Before, most feature films were rarely accessible to the public. You had to either go the movie theater when they were showing it or hope that it would air on TV sometime soon. Now, you had the technologies of VCR. This meant that you could record a video tape of a favorite show or movie that was airing on TV and then watch it whenever you wanted to. Because this technology was relatively new, there was major competition in the field of videocassette formats – most notably between Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s VHS (and we all know that VHS ultimately won).

Today, we’re in the midst of another revolution in the way we watch shows and movies. No longer are a majority of us watching movies and shows on cable TV, DVD, or Blu-Ray. We’re watching them on the internet through streaming services. And like the competition between videocassette formats in the 1970s, we’re seeing competition between different online video streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, HBO Go, and Prime Video.

However, we’re experiencing a major problem with online video streaming services today. Most online streaming services today are subscription-based. And because of that, there’s no real opportunity to buy copies of a movie or show. And when people are given the chance to buy a movie or show online, you don’t usually get true ownership of a copy of it. If we want the internet to continue to be a medium of getting and viewing movies and shows for generations to come, we need to acknowledge the problems with online video services today and figure out how buying movies and shows on the internet should work.

The Problems Facing Online Video Services Today

Today, online video services are facing major problems that prevent them from having sustainability in the long term. These problems are ones that restrict customers from having true ownership of their copies of movies and shows.

For one thing, most online video streaming services are subscription-based. Everyone wants to be the next Netflix. Even well-known film companies are wanting to get a slice of the subscription-based streaming services pie. This year, Disney is planning to launch its own streaming service called Disney+. And last year, DC Entertainment launched DC Universe. While there is nothing wrong with wanting to do a subscription-based streaming service depending the amount of content you offer, there’s often no other option that allows you to purchase or rent movies or shows. And this means that if you close your account, you lose access to everything you had access to.

Secondly, purchasing videos on the internet doesn’t always guarantee you ownership of a copy of a video. In the case of Amazon’s Prime Video service, you don’t technically own a copy. You get access to view the movie or show. And you can download it to watch on the go but only if you have their app. But besides that, what you can do with it is often heavily restricted by content protection technologies such as DRM (Digital Rights Management) and HDCP (High-Bandwidth Digital Content Protection). So if the service is discontinued or Amazon goes out of business, you’re out of luck.

What’s the solution?

The solution is frankly simple. If you buy a copy of a movie or show episode, you should be allowed to keep it forever. Even if the company you bought it from goes under or discontinues selling the movie or show. But in order for it to work, there’s some things that need to happen.

First off, publishers and filmmakers need to restore their trust in the customer. Those who buy movies and shows online are not looking to pirate them. In fact, most people just want to watch their favorite movies or shows whenever they want with whoever they want. And those seeking other uses are lawful more often than not. They usually want to either remix them, criticize them, or parody them. And most of them understand Fair Use law.

Second, we need to reform and maintain a better online legal framework for handling copyright. In particular, the United States government needs to either change or repeal Section 1201 of the DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act). Otherwise known as the “anti-circumvention” and “anti-trafficking” provisions, this part of the DMCA prohibits people from circumventing DRM technology (including the manufacture and sale of such tools). So it doesn’t matter whether you’re circumventing for the sake of copyright infringement or not. You just can’t do it all. Also, we need to stand strong against proposed copyright laws that only further restrict users’ rights. If such proposed laws like Articles 11 and 13 in the EU ever become a reality, they could dent the free and open internet that we know.

And finally, we must have clear and easily comprehensive return and refund policies. Regardless of what we sell on the internet, we should treat the customer fairly. And that includes giving them the option to return and get refunds on digital goods they bought.


The internet has so much potential as a means of distribution for films and shows. It has propelled independent creators such as The Angry Video Game Nerd. And independent media and journalists now have somewhere to speak of issues and topics that would otherwise go unnoticed. Their massive growth and ability to compete with large corporations and media conglomerates would not be as possible without the internet.

But it’s time for buying a copy of a movie or show episode to actually mean ownership of a copy. For too long, buying a copy of a movie or show from online services like Prime Video has not really meant true ownership. Instead, it has meant being able to watch this or download that but only to the extent that the publisher would like to us to. Without regard as to whether what we do with it is legal or not. And when they end selling the content, they run with the copies that we “bought” of it.

We should boycott services that implement restrictive technologies like DRM. And new publishers and filmmakers should consider standing against DRM. That includes doing our part by making all content we sell DRM-free. In addition, U.S. legislators should reform Section 1201 of the DMCA. And we should stand against legislation that seeks to impose more unreasonable internet restrictions such as EU’s Article 13. We need to call out companies and lawmakers who support such restrictive measures. And only then can buying movies and shows on the internet be a truly superior alternative to buying DVDs and Blu-Rays of movies and shows.