Apple False Advertising Suit for “Buy” Buttons Could Have Serious Implications for Streaming Companies

by Jessica R. Corpuz

Apple is facing a new class-action lawsuit in the Western District of New York alleging that its use of the “buy” button is “false and misleading.” The suit claims that when Apple offers consumers the right to “buy” content, it doesn’t always mean what it says.

Apple, Amazon Prime, and other streaming companies offer consumers the option to “buy” or “purchase” content for a fixed price. Generally, a “rent” option will expire while the “buy” or “purchase” option appears as though it will never expire. The consumer is led to believe that they are “buying” the content, and therefore own it in perpetuity.

The class-action suit filed against Apple alleges that this isn’t the case.  The suit argues that Apple “can never pass title to the purchasing consumer.” Unlike purchasing physical content from a store that a consumer can hold on to forever, the suit alleges that Apple’s license to the content expires and therefore the consumer’s right to own the content also expires.  “Accordingly, when a licensing agreement terminates for whatever reason, [Apple] is required to pull the Digital Content from the consumers’ Purchased Folder and it does so without prior warning to the consumer.”

In particular, the suit alleges that the use of the terms “buy,” “purchase,” and “own” are misleading because the consumer does not actually own the content. The consumers later try to access the content that they believe they “own,” but Apple’s license has expired and the content is no longer available (with no warning to the consumer that the content is about to leave their system).

The suit could have major implications for Apple, as well as other streamers using similar terminology.  For one, New York’s false advertising law provides potential damages of $500 per instance of false advertising.  Considering the volume of Apple users, the damages could reach into the billions.  Consumers could also feel manipulated by such tactics and flock to streamers who are more transparent with their rights.  Streaming companies should be careful to clearly identify what they can actually promise to the consumer when content is purchased.

The case is McTyere v. Apple, Inc., W.D.N.Y. Case No. 21-cv-1133. The Complaint is accessible, here.