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Self-Publishing News: Does Amazon’s Buy Button Mislead Digital Customers?

Self-Publishing News: Does Amazon’s Buy Button Mislead Digital Customers?

ALLi News Editor, Dan Holloway

This week it feels as though tech lawsuits are uppermost in the news. Last time, I took a deep dive into the high profile case against Apple. Now I want to look at a case that’s had a less high profile but which touches profoundly on our business. This time around the tech company in the spotlight is Amazon.

And the object of complaint is something we all know in theory, but many members of the general public at least will have no idea about in practice. The nature of digital purchases. Specifically, what it means to “buy” a digital product.

A suit brought under consumer protection legislation in three US states alleges Amazon is misleading consumers over what it means to buy a digital product. The focus here is specifically on their practice when selling videos, though the “buy vs license” issue is as live when it comes to ebooks.

When you go to watch a movie through Amazon, what you will regularly see is a choice between two ways of buying access to that movie. You can rent the movie, which will typically give you access to it for a 48 hour period from when you start watching. Or you can buy it. Only of course you are not buying it. You are acquiring the right to consume it so long as Amazon retains the right to distribute it. And that is what the suit argues is misleading. In particular, they point to the fact that in most places on the Amazon site, “buy” means “own” in the sense that we might commonly understand it.

Passive Guy, who is a lawyer by trade as well as a blogger on the writing world, has an interesting take. He senses that Amazon’s legal team may well have, in the past, come out on the wrong side of an internal battle with sales and marketing over how to label the “buy” button. Such things, as he says, are commonplace. And I would add that the tech world is one in which getting away with things until; you’re told to pay a fine is almost part of the daily landscape.

And of course, there is a third way, through streaming services. In Amazon’s case that will be Amazon Prime or one of the host of subscriptions you can add on to your Prime subscription. One could argue that this further complicates things for consumers (though I am not aware the plaintiffs in the case are arguing this in the legal sense). Most consumers understand that they do not own anything that comes through a streaming service. They understand that titles can come and go from those services. I am not so sure they are aware that this can also happen when they click “buy.” And the fact that an obvious option for “licensed not bought” exists might also strengthen the impression if not the reality of ownership.

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Author: Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40


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