Have you ever heard the phrase “caveat emptor?” It’s Latin for “let the buyer beware.” It’s the buyer’s responsibility alone to check the quality and sustainability of the item they have purchased. (Oxford Languages Dictionary, n.d.) This has burned many a person in the digital age we live in. And Sony and PlayStation have now used that very concept to swindle millions of people who purchased TV shows and movies with their PS4 and PS5 accounts.
I mean, honestly, how many of us read the entire agreement for our Apple Music before we start downloading our favorite tracks? Or read the whole contract before signing our name before we upload those documents or pictures? The truth is, not many of us.
All PlayStation users received an email telling them that after the end of this year, a whole catalog of titles would no longer be available to them. Titles of shows these users were under the impression that they owned. Why? Because Sony and PlayStation had told them they had purchased these titles. Millions of people had paid for them.
What Sony didn’t tell them, or what was only told to them in the fine print of an agreement they were certain their customers wouldn’t read, was that they weren’t purchasing these titles outright. They were renting them. They were licensed to Sony for a certain amount of time and when that license agreement was not renewed those titles would no longer be available to Sony’s customers.
For those who don’t understand, a licensing agreement is a contract allowing one party to use and earn revenue from the property belonging to someone else. This makes it different from a rental agreement where you simply rent property from someone for a specified amount.
For example, when you rent an apartment, you’re not earning any money for your landlord, you’re just paying a fee and renting the space owned by the landlord or management company.
When a radio station plays a song on the radio, they don’t earn money from the song they play. They make money from the commercials. But when a movie or TV show uses that same song, they have to pay a fee because they are making money from using that song. So they enter into a licensing agreement with the artist who owns the song and they get a fee for the use of that song. The producers of the movie don’t own the song, and they don’t claim to.
That’s what’s getting Sony into trouble. They entered into licensing agreements with the owners of the content, like the Discovery channel which produced the shows, and therefore “owned” the shows. Discovery channel then enters into licensing agreements with other streaming channels like Apple+ or Hulu where you can watch their shows as well as on their channel or streaming service. The difference is, that when you watch it on Apple+ or Hulu, your payment is for a subscription for the whole service, meaning you can watch any of the shows on Apple+ or Hulu’s catalog of shows with your paid monthly subscription. They never claim you own anything you watch.
What Sony and PlayStation have done is quite different. They have said that you are outright buying a show from them for a specific price and letting you believe that you own that show free and clear. Forever. The only service that I know of that does this is Amazon Prime, and Amazon tells you whether you are either buying or renting a title. And when you do buy it from Amazon, you outright own it. Even if you don’t keep up your Amazon Prime streaming service, you still own those titles and can watch them whenever you want to. I know this from personal experience. I’ve had my Amazon Prime streaming service expire, and the titles I’ve purchased are still accessible — titles I’ve purchased years ago. They’re still available.
This is NOT what Sony and PlayStation have done. They are in fact, stealing from their customers. They misled their customers into thinking they were buying those titles outright to keep in their libraries for the duration of their ownership of their PlayStation hard drive libraries.
Now, I am not a PlayStation owner, and I have not read any fine print regarding the purchasing of these titles. But, unless there was an agreement between the customer and Sony or PlayStation at the time of purchase of the titles or the console implicitly stating that they were, in fact, only renting these titles from Sony then it is possible that Sony and its subsidiary, PlayStation, could have a huge lawsuit on its hands. 1
This situation is not at that stage yet. So far, we’re just reporting on it. But, from where I stand, what Sony and PlayStation are doing to their customers is not only highly suspicious, but I’d also have to go with my gut and say it’s possibly illegal.
But what do I know? I only work here.
1 The Playstation Network Terms of Service agreement apparently states that you aren’t buying content when you make those payments. Instead, you are “licensing the content for personal use”. They also state that “Availability of PSN, its features, and its Content, varies depending on which PlayStation Device or other device you are using to access PSN, and is subject to change at any time.” This is what we think they think gives them carte blanche to yank any content you might have paid for from the service at any time without notice. They also state in the EULA that the words “own,” “ownership”, “purchase,” “sale,” “sold,” “sell,” “rent” or “buy” lose their meaning when it comes to spending money for things on their service, which we’re not sure is legal. In practical terms once you have been sold a license to use a certain intellectual property for personal use, that license cannot be legally revoked, but Sony dances around this by redefining what “buy” means in the EULA against the expectations of the consumer and against common sense interpretations of those words. They also conveniently include a clause that says you agree not to launch or join a class action suit against them for perceived grievances, effectively pulling the teeth from any legal action that may be set forth against them for this very sort of thing.
Nobody cares if you put something ridiculous in a EULA and then never actually act on it. People care a lot, however, if you use tortured language to justify picking somebody’s pocket, which in this case Sony apparently has done. – ed.
Jackie Zwirn is the recent author of the critically acclaimed “Onion” Best Seller Show Me Where Spock Touched You and other heartwarming tales of Trekkery as well as the author of some of the most popular How-To manuals: Crab Walking Downstairs While Possessed and The Hitter, Hacker, Grifter, & Thief 101 Manual. She also authored the biography of Dean Winchester, When I Was a Demon: Rock Salt, Shot Guns and a Lotta Liquor.
She currently lives in Beaverton, Oregon with her husband, and two cats Mozart and Falcor.
And she never forgets her flash drive. Ever. Bazinga.