Tuesday, October 9, 2012

My Letter to Amazon

Dear Amazon,

I am writing to ask you to make my Amazon Instant Video purchases available for download, DRM-free.

I am a big fan of your service, and in the last year I have cancelled my cable service and begun to rely heavily on digital purchases from your store to bring new content to my family.

However, as we have settled into this, some major disadvantages of your service have become clear:

1) Many of my devices (phones, tablets, etc) do not have support for viewing Amazon Instant Video content.
2) If I'm having a bad internet night, I cannot watch the content I purchased.
3) If I am making a long drive for a vacation, my son cannot watch any Amazon content I have purchased.
4) I cannot lend my content to friends who want to check it out for themselves, like I can with DVDs.
5) I cannot back up my content in case something catastrophic happens to your service.

I am aware of the existing download option.  It is Windows-only and uses DRM and is therefore useless to me.  DRM'd files cannot be unlocked in the event of you turning off your authentication servers.  And, obviously, they cannot be played in arbitrary devices.

Now, if there were good tools for removing the DRM, this would not be as big of an issue for me as a consumer.  I would just remove it and go on my merry way.

Unfortunately, such tools do not exist.  It would be far easier for me to pirate content I've already purchased from Amazon Instant Video in order to watch on my tablet, make backups, lend to friends, and have offline access.

But it seems inevitable to me that if I begin taking the risk to pirate content I've paid for, I will quickly find that it is easier to never pay for it in the first place.  At that point, you will have lost me as a recurring customer.

I'm not trying to threaten you, but I think you should realize that I am becoming a dissatisfied customer of yours, and the natural consequence in order to get the sort of access I want to the content I buy appears to be piracy.

I love that your Amazon MP3 service is DRM-free.  I don't buy a lot of music, but I have very happily used your service for years when an album came out that I wanted.  I have preferred it heavily when compared to iTunes and similar services.

Please follow the great example you set with Amazon MP3, and make Amazon Instant Video purchases available for download without DRM as well.

Trying to stay a loyal customer,
Sandy Armstrong


JohnMcL said...

Amazon MP3 being DRM free is the sole reason I am willing to spent (and regularly do) money for digital media.

Sadly, such a service is not offered for video. :(

Ian McKellar said...

Unfortunately it's not up to Amazon to decide to drop DRM any more than it's up to Best Buy what color the new iPod is. They're a retailer, they sell the products that their suppliers produce in the way that their suppliers dictate.

Sandy said...

@Unknown Sorry, digital content services are absolutely nothing like retailers. Amazon has a massive amount of leverage in this relationship, and have much more control over the nature of the service, price, terms, etc.

Ellery Armstrong said...

I didn't realize all these issues were related, but of course they are. I am still committed to purchasing from Amazon but I too find it inconvenient, though not inconvenient enough to resort to piracy. :) Did you actually send this to them?

multimediatips said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sandy said...

@Ellery: yeah, I sent it just before I pasted into the blog.

@multimediatips: I'm removing your link because as far as I can tell those apps are a scam (I've seen the same thing under about 15 different names with very mixed reviews, the positive ones always seeming too good to be true). Given that your account was created this month, I suspect you're a bot as well.

Daniel Stutz said...

I hate DRM. Especially if I can download an e-book (which is published under GP-DL with title "Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software") as free beer.

saLOUt said...

I carefully read your blog post. Your argument is kind of:
- please modify your offer, otherwise I drop your service in favor of downloading stuff illegally.

I think no one should argument that way. All corporations, entities, people of one society rely on obeying of their laws. It's hard to make a business, to live together otherwise. Amazon has certain obligations vs the content creators and has to create offers, which can attract people.

Your choice is only to not accept an offer at all and don't consume content. This way, content creators are forced to make better offers to their consumers. Next to that, it is possible to demonstrate for laws, which project the feeling of fairness/justice of the majority better than today's ones.

Dear Sandy, I really hope that you won't consider to do crimes in future times. Even mentioning the intention the use of drm-removal tools seems to be very suspicious to me. In my country drm is not a game. You have to accept, that you are not intended to copy drm-stuff, even if it is theoretically possible to crack this drm-protection.

At the end, I have the impression, that you mixed up the meaning of loyal and legal. You don't have to be loyal customer – you can change your service provider, but your post was definitively about staying a legal customer.

What do you think?

Sandy said...

@saLOUt: I respect what you have to say, but I still disagree.

To keep my message terse, I left out some extra logic that helps explain why piracy is the next step. My other options are:

1) Go back to using cable, make a custom DVR, and archive all my shows that way (more expensive, technically legal, but bound to break for similar DRM reasons)

2) Wait to watch shows until the DVD comes out. This is the best alternative, but Amazon has gotten me used to near-instant gratification, and I don't want to lose that. Also, it is very low-risk for me to buy one or two episodes of a TV show to try it out. It is high-risk to buy a DVD if I don't already know I like the content. If Amazon really thinks the right thing is for me to pay twice for my content, they are going to be sorely disappointed.

3) Continue to play Amazon's game and just be happy with the limited access I have to content I am purchasing.

As for your concern with "doing crimes", DRM removal is not illegal in the United States, as far as I know. Selling DRM removal tools is, but if I somehow obtain such a tool and circumvent DRM on my own purchases, that falls under the Fair Use Doctrine.

I don't want to pirate shows. I want to pay content creators I respect. I want reliable service. But I also want fair access to the content I buy. Amazon needs to realize that they are competing with piracy as an option that many people take, as it is perceived as fairly low-risk (like running a yellow light, jaywalking, etc).

tl;dr I care more about morality and less about legality, and I expect Amazon to be a moral content provider just as I expect myself to be a moral consumer.

Winni said...

Dear Sandy,

I'm afraid that you're barking at the wrong tree, and I don't think that Amazon has as much leverage in this scenario as you wish they have. I think Apple is the bigger player here, and even they have not managed to talk the content owners out of insisting on the use of DRM.
You already pointed at the alternatives. Just vote with your wallet.
It is ironic that content pirates never even see all those "FBI warnings" and anti-piracy clips that annoy paying customers every time they insert a DVD. Paying customers are being punished for their loyalty and honesty, while freeriders nowadays get perfect quality products without annoying copyright reminders. Also, depending on your location, you don't even have the chance of getting the movie you want in the original audio with subtitles; they force awfully dubbed versions down your throat instead.
The sad truth is that The Piratebay and a torrent search on Google are the best sources for digital video. Not the overpriced, DRM-infested legal sources like Amazon or iTunes.

Adam Tauno Williams said...

In the process of cloudification they've also busted a lot of the music downloaders as they attempt to wed consumers to their services.

The recent inability to play video [on LINUX] from their side is real downer. I certainly hope that gets resolved soon.

But what are my other options? They seem to be getting fewer by the day.