Online streaming offers few rights

What you think you own in the digital world is more likely just temporary rental rights.

Consider: A reader named Phil recently asked me about issues with FilmOn,, a live TV and movie streaming company that acquired the movie streaming service, CinemaNow, in 2016.

CinemaNow members were able to purchase and stream numerous movies through the service.

But once CinemaNow was sold to FilmOn, users suddenly found themselves unable to locate or stream their digital movies purchased through CinemaNow.

As of this writing, it appears those users are out of luck. Because the dirty little secret about digital ownership of movies and music purchased online is you don’t really own what you buy.

You’re buying a temporary license to view or listen to the digital media. Unless you download and save the music and movies, you’re vulnerable to losing access to them at any time.

If you read the user agreements and refund policies for companies or services providing digital content, you’ll discover some interesting provisions.

If a particular movie you “purchased” is no longer available through a service and you didn’t download a copy, that service is not obligated to provide you with a copy. You didn’t buy the movie — you bought the right to watch the movie for as long as it is available through the service.

If the service loses its right to provide the digital movie or if the service goes out of business and you didn’t download a copy, you’re out of luck.

Again, you own no tangible asset. You rented a temporary right to view or listen to the digital material.

Now, if you did manage to download your digital movies or music, you can keep playing them for as long as you have them. But if the files become corrupted or the drive they’re on fails, you don’t have an option or recourse to freely download them again.

Once they’re gone, they’re gone.

This is why I still prefer buying physical media, such as CDs and DVDs, for my music and movies. I control how I use and access them. I can easily export the content for use on my digital devices.

With software programs such as Plex, I can even stream my content over my home network or through the internet to my phone or tablet. I get the benefits of streaming without the fear of suddenly losing access to my content.

If I stream “The Dukes Of Hazzard” through a commercial service, I could lose access to the TV series if the service decides the show is too politically incorrect and pulls the program.

With my own streaming system, I’m good to go with Bo, Luke and Daisy Duke, Uncle Jesse, Boss Hogg and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane for as long as I own the DVDs.

“Hold it a minute, Darnay,” I hear some of you saying. “Even with CDs and DVDs, you don’t own the content — you’re just renting a license, too, like digital.”

That’s true. The difference is I control my ability to access the content at will and for as long as I choose, as opposed to relying on a service to provide me with access — access that can be lost at any time and for reasons beyond my control.

Keith Darnay is the Tribune’s online manager and has worked in the online world for more than two decades. His site is at

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