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Have you ever bought a video game, e-book, song, or movie to enjoy on one of your devices, whether it be a gaming console, tablet, or phone? If so, you might think that you’ll always have access to these things. But you might not — here’s why. 

When you buy a physical item, you’ve got it. It’s yours. But when you click the “buy” button on a digital product, it really depends. You may have access to it only while you have an active account with the platform or website that sold it, or only for as long as that platform or website stays in business. Another factor is Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, which is attached to many digital items and is the thing that makes it impossible, for example, for you to play a video game on a different console brand.

Another reason why you might not have full control of your digital product is that what you really got when you clicked “buy” is often merely a license to access the content. This fact is often explained only in fine print in the terms of service — terms that the seller can usually change at will. And if the seller itself has licensing issues with the content you bought, then your own license to use the digital item can become worthless. All things beyond your control.

So, the next time you’re about to click “buy” for a digital item, think about what you’re really getting and how long you want it. The price may still seem right to you, even knowing that someday you could lose access. If not, though, you might want to look at other options — another site or service with different terms, or even something you can hold in your hands.  

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The purpose of this blog and its comments section is to inform readers about Federal Trade Commission activity, and share information to help them avoid, report, and recover from fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Your thoughts, ideas, and concerns are welcome, and we encourage comments. But keep in mind, this is a moderated blog. We review all comments before they are posted, and we won’t post comments that don’t comply with our commenting policy. We expect commenters to treat each other and the blog writers with respect.

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Pete Harper
April 18, 2024

Yes, I agree with you completely. I have seen it myself, I pay for an item to listen to and thinking I can have it forever. But a date had been preset before I bought it and when it expired, that was it. I was unable to listen anymore, I would have to re buy to listen to.

April 18, 2024

Good to know!! Thanks for this info.

Reina Velazquez
April 18, 2024

I have purchased digital items which were no longer accessible to me thereafter.

Is it possible for the government to pass a law to protect consumers whom purchase digital products and keep access to their ownership of the digital assets?

Your help and consideration in this type of requirement by sellers would be fair and most helpful to consumers.

Charles Wright
April 19, 2024

In reply to by Reina Velazquez

most sites will explain how to download items to keep before services shut down. Before Amazon Music discontinued their uploader, you should have received a notice in your inbox reminding you to save music you already own if you want to keep it by ticking the ☑ next time you sign in (including have an active Prime membership)

Other music you own will be stored in the Music Folder in Windows Media Player.

Mariam M. Martinez
April 18, 2024


I bought, a textbook and the digital, online data was gone before, I got my transcript. There, was no way to return to the digital world, unless I were willing, to buy another book. how could I utilize the same material for reference or review. How, can we get the publishers, to treat the digital world as a more stable, environment - not unlike, our home libraries?

Kevin Hamada
April 18, 2024

Don't recall ever buying a phone or whatever. I honestly don't know what to say.

Joanne Marin
April 18, 2024

Is this where NFT's got their idea of selling people something they don't own?

Francene Trujillo
April 18, 2024

No I've never bought a BOOK

I was hacked AGAIN this morning
They got my laptop my phone and my tablet

S. Buddy Harris
April 18, 2024

Thank you for all you do..

Alanna Mozzer
April 18, 2024

I bought a movie on YouTube once. My account has stayed active,but eventually the move disappeared.

April 18, 2024

Please know that Senior Citizens need access to as much information possible about Scams and Products be they Digital or whatever! Even legitimate companies have "tricky" processes and that lead to spending more than you expected!

Again, I thank you for all the help/information you can provide.

John Gage
April 18, 2024

Thanks for such uplifting news about how Congress and our federal agencies have let our Internet merchants get away with wholesale fraud on American consumers, then letting the United States Supreme Court frustrate completely all efforts by the states to protect us.

April 18, 2024

This is real eye opening information and advice.
Little does the consumer know or realize exactly what we are purchasing when we hit the "buy" button.
Thank you for this enlightenment!!

April 18, 2024

I believe that the FTC should force the sellers to make t6hat small print large and clearly understood by the purchaser.

Bruce Crater
April 18, 2024

Good article. It will help me to read the small print.

Gregory Cooper
April 18, 2024

Wow, this is really interesting, as I have bought quite a bit of digital music from Apple Music. Is it possible to move these items and save them on a drive? Especially items that says you must purchase the whole album for one song.

Stacie Irene M…
April 18, 2024

I feel that the federal better bureau business fails its job here. Let the people, all the people down amd neglected us. Opinion of mine...

Joseph Scudder
April 18, 2024

Another aspect is that Apple quits supporting new operating system updates for its older computers, phones, and iPads even though they are still working great. I have a number of Apple devices that still work (2013 MacBook, 2017 Mac Air, 2015 iMac), but have limitations on upgrades. Apple dropped support for it Firewire connectivity. That made a great slide and transparency scanner unusable unless you keep an old Apple computer around to run it.

April 18, 2024

I’ve often wondered about this topic because I buy digital movies on Amazon.

Robert Noble
April 18, 2024


April 18, 2024

Of course, Congress & a presidential signature on bill passed by a majority of the House & Senate could change all that--or at least make sure the terms of what the person spending their money gets in return were far clearer, more obvious, AND could not be changed after purchase. Will that ever happen? Are the laws the same in the EU? I couldn't say, I can only wish & push my elected reps to better protect what should be consumer rights when purchasing any kind of product, digital or other.

April 18, 2024

We need better consumer protections with digital goods. Often, the price is the same as the physical version (if a physical version exists), but we don’t have the same rights as with physical goods. Additionally, corporations change the terms after you purchase the product, giving them the ability to legally rob you at any time (often you have to agree to continue using the items you paid for, and there’s no refund or compensation if you don’t agree to the new terms).

Deborah Martin
April 18, 2024

I have tried to get a hard copy of a very short movie I purchased at Amazon but there is no option that I could find. Is there any way to do this if sites like Amazon are the only source you know of?

John K860
April 18, 2024

and why is it legal to "Sell" something that can only be played on Amazon's player or an Apple device, if the information is buried in the fine print? And how can it be legal to offer choices like View, Rent, and Purchase, if all of them are actually licenses of various lengths. False, misleading, and unethical, but not a problem for the FTC to overlook.

April 18, 2024

This is changing the English language. In that case, they should not use the word buy which has a diff dictionary definition. Maybe loan agreement.

Rosalyn E Henderson
April 18, 2024

Always good information that is not known to the general public especially Senior citizens. Thanks for keeping me informed!

Eric E Martinez
April 18, 2024

Amazon, Playstation, Google all rip people off by denying access to items purchased when you change your email or phone number. Even when you can verify your identity. I truly believe they all need to be audited and investigated for use of cloaking technology and violation of human rights. And they are alll cowards for allowing ai to control everything . Cowards to the human race. This is to the best of my knoweledge.

Charles Wright
April 19, 2024

In reply to by Eric E Martinez

Eric, they don't do anything like that, but Adobe needs to be investigated for making the illegal decision to discontinue/stop supporting the Flash Plugin.

Yahoo & Google don't do anything to stop spam either, even after 🔟 days

April 18, 2024

Thank you so much for the information..

Tricia K
April 19, 2024

I'm not happy as a consumer to be locked into the subscription life. I can't own my software anymore. I am paying for the entire cost of it each and every year. I have to buy the apps new when I upgrade my device. The new software creates such large files, I'm forced into a computer upgrade.

All of this creates waste for no value. Or, very little value. Quite frankly I'm not impressed with AI. All it does is rearrange existing material. If it can't vacuum or do the dishes, it's rather useless.

Do I have any rights as a consumer? No regulations equal no accountability. While these corporations complain about "government". I have complaints against their price gouging. They are making money hand over fist and destroying the middle class that built their businesses to begin with. They need to ACT responsibility. They do not live in a vacuum or separate from the society and community that supports them.

Employees are also customers.

We can have reasonable regulations and still have plenty of "choice". When we don't have money we have zero choices.

April 19, 2024

I am a victim of domestic cyber abuse. I realize now that my ex still has access to all my daughters and my information. I know this was naive of me. He always insisted on setting up the new phones or pc’s I was unaware he was deceiving controlling and monitoring all our data. I am divorced over 5 years and he is still cyber stalking me and in some cases stealing. Why are there no laws to protect women against this threat. My local law enforcement refuse to help they say it’s not against the law.

paul casacci
April 22, 2024

Sometimes having a physical item isn't even good enough if it has electronics in it. I have a printer, a huge wide carriage thing that was deemed out of date by the manufacturer, so they stopped writing drivers for it. The last Windows OS that can use the drivers is Win95!! So I have to keep an ancient laptop which is the only thing that can talk to it!

Same with computers, "smart" appliances, etc. When they are deemed not worth a new upgrade to work with what society considers "current", they may potentially just stop working, even though you own that physical object.

That's also why my wife wants me to physically print out some of our holiday pictures and other images. She worries that if a computer crashes, or a disk is damaged or a memory stick is compromised, all those wonderful digital items will be gone. We are old enough to have photo albums that go back to the early 1900's (my grandmother was born in 1898) and treasure them. Yet there is a huge gap between their end and now. Images of events which are only contained in electronics which could be unreadable in a short amount of time.

And storage in "the cloud" isn't any safer if a business closes or is hacked or whatever. We may be old fashioned, but a 3x5 paper picture can be viewed even when the power is off. (Yes I know they can fade, which is why I have a pigment ink printer...)

Adam Moore
April 22, 2024

If paying isn't ownership, then piracy isn't stealing...

A. Moore
April 22, 2024

Something you paid for being taken away is theft plain and simple. People will turn to piracy if these types of practices continue. Where is the consumer protection? Whose interests are these regulatory agencies protecting bc its definately not consumers.

April 22, 2024

Wow, thanks for this info.

sharon i wright
May 20, 2024

Great article, I learned something from it. Thank you