Here’s a bit of news that will no doubt add fuel to the fires of DRM critics and physical media boosters everywhere: Sony is stripping a large number of European customers of their access to movies they purchased via the PlayStation Store. Specifically, Sony is removing films from production company Studiocanal from the PlayStation Store in selection regions—currently known to be Germany and Austria, but other potential regions are still unknown—the news of which was initially spotted on the German language version of the PlayStation Store website. As that announcement put it:
As of August 31, 2022, due to our evolving licensing agreements with content providers, you will no longer be able to view your previously purchased Studiocanal content and it will be removed from your video library.
Note, there’s no reference to replacing those films, or offering any kind of refunds to customers. It’s simply a worst case scenario, exactly as physical media advocates have so long feared—a major media company just deciding one day that your supposed “ownership” of purchased digital media doesn’t exist after all. The films affected include a long, sprawling list of prominent American titles, with everything from Apocalypse Now, John Wick and La La Land to The Hunger Games and the Paddington films. You can see a full list of the affected titles here.
Sony has yet to comment on the news, but this is exactly what many customers must have been fearing when the company announced in March of 2021 that the PlayStation Store would no longer offer new movie purchases or rentals on the PS4 and PS5 as of Aug. 31, 2021. At that time, the company assured its users that “users can still access movie and TV content they have purchased through PlayStation Store for on-demand playback on the PS4, PS5 and mobile devices.” To simply remove all of Studiocanal’s content is both a breach of that promise and something akin to outright theft, removing the customer’s ability to view the media they purchased, while offering no refund. One has to immediately wonder what market, or what studio’s films, would be next on the chopping block, because once this precedent has been set, what’s to stop it from playing out to its grisly conclusion?
Moreover, if companies like Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google are watching Sony’s venture into stripping customers of their digital media ownership, how will they choose to respond? If one of the other tech giants decides to simply close its movie store or remove access to purchased digital media, will the public outcry be enough to force some kind of compensation? Or are these companies now feeling so brazen about their invulnerability that they’ll remove any of your “purchased” content at will, secure in the fact that they can get away with anything?
It’s feeling more and more like these thorny issues of DRM and digital media ownership are coming to a head, some watershed event that will act as precedent for how the public views digital ownership. Let’s hope that incident doesn’t involve your personal movie collection being deleted by an uncaring tech giant.