Remember when you’d buy a DVD or Blu-ray and years later it would disappear in a puff of smoke, leaving you with no access to what you’d paid for? No? Because that never happened. But Sony’s actions this past week are another harsh reminder about the temporary nature of digital content.
If you’ve not seen the news, Sony announced it’s set to delete thousands of shows from PlayStation Store user libraries. These aren’t streaming shows, like those that vanish from Netflix. These are shows people paid for, having clicked a button that said ‘buy’ rather than ‘actually, you should probably think of this more like a long-term rental’. Because that would be too big to fit on a button, even though it turned out to be more accurate.
So on 31 December, people who previously purchased Discovery content will discover it’s gone the next day. Happy New Year! “We sincerely thank you for your continued support,” added Sony in its missive. In much the same way your cat might purr and rub against your legs having just thrown up all over your bed.
Jumping the shark by deleting Shark Week
Naturally, once people started delving into the specific shows being removed, there was quite a bit of snark online. Sony wasn’t about to delete The Sopranos, it turned out. So did it really matter if people would no longer be able to watch Season 5 of BBQ Pitmasters? Who really needs all nine seasons of Shark Week? (For that matter, where did they find so many sharks?)
But as I’ve said in the past, don’t be embarrassed by your favourite games, telly and music — just like what you like. It doesn’t matter what’s being deleted – just that it is. However, at this point, probably do be embarrassed if you think anything you buy in a digital-only purely online format has any permanence. Because it’s not like this is the first time this kind of thing has happened.
The earliest story of this ilk I recall was – with some irony – when 1984 vanished from US Kindles. I can only imagine this caused Orwell to spin so fast in his grave that it could have powered the entire UK national energy grid. But to Amazon’s credit, it did later make good, offering to replace deleted copies, and lobbed gift vouchers in the direction of affected parties.
Sony the bad stuff that gets deleted?
To my knowledge, Sony’s response so far has been to do nothing. Perhaps its legal team is salivating at the prospect of nonchalantly pointing at clause 42,563 of its terms and conditions. There, under the headline ‘Beware of the leopard’, you’ll duly be informed in language that would make even the hardiest legal expert’s head spin that you did not and would never own this content, that Sony can do whatever it wants with it at any time, and that it sucks to be you.
Yet even if Sony does the right thing and refunds everyone for the deleted shows, none of this says good things about the future of the movies and TV we love. Part of me thinks the shiny disc lot have it right. At least their collection will still be on the shelf in years to come, when digital equivalents have been atomised by wrangling over rights, leaving your only means of accessing Police Academy 4: Citizens on Patrol as a streaming service that by then costs $437 per second. For only that one film.
In the meantime, I’d best dust off the barbecue, despite it being a very chilly December. After all, those episodes of BBQ Pitmasters now on seriously borrowed time aren’t going to watch themselves.