Repeatedly when I turn to this blog, I share my thoughts on the complicated issue of media licensing in the digital era. I’ve noticed a disconcerting new development over the past year that really needs flagging, yet I have not seen it discussed anywhere. That development is online retailers’ reliance on your credit card issue information to enforce regional licensing restrictions.
The issue first came to my attention in the early fall of 2015 when I tried to purchase music via us.7digital.com and was told I could not complete the purchase using a credit card issued outside of the country of purchase (i.e. the US). Granted, I was using the proxy loophole to purchase my content, but the music I was after was not (yet) available on de.7digital.com and I had no evidence that it ever would be, so I was merely looking for a way to get hold of the music while supporting the artist. Shortly thereafter, a colleague, likewise situated in Germany, mentioned he experienced the same problem ordering a DVD from amazon.co.uk, a place I sent a lot of my savings as an undergrad.
Now this is annoying enough, but it is really just another extension of regional licensing. However, living in Germany, the change has meant that I can no longer use websites like 7digital at all unless I overhaul my banking services. Since I got my credit card long before I moved to Germany, it was issued in the Netherlands, so de.7digital.com won’t sell me its products. Yet because I am in Germany, nl.7digital.com will not sell me its products either, unless I use the proxy loophole.
Until recently, PayPal could still be used across borders; now it appears it too will not allow me to purchase music from German websites, presumably because I have linked PayPal to my Dutch checking account, though the error message I get does not specify. The last time I tried to change my country of residence in PayPal, incidentally, it would not let me, so I had to create a new account with a different email address. Though that was years ago and they may have improved their services since, I suspect they haven't, since they keep sending out these country-specific updates to their terms of service. The only reason I can still use amazon.de is that Amazon Germany has a direct debit option and I have a German checking account.
Unlike in North America, where the main point of credit cards is the line of credit, people on the Continent generally register credit cards for two reasons: to make online purchases and to use when abroad. Now that my ability to do these things is being incrementally compromised, I really have no more reason to go on paying for banking services outside my country of residence, but since that's changed a fair bit over the past decade while I supposedly live in the same open market and monetary region where my credit card is registered, that seems unnecessarily cumbersome.
There is a new album out, available on de.7digital.com but not amazon.de. It’s available on iTunes, though I don’t normally use iTunes because it doesn’t run natively on my operating system and I generally don’t see the point of installing software just to be able to make purchases. (Also, iTunes music is sold as a licence to a single device, with the option of “syncing” to your other devices — is this a reference to their cloud service, so I can’t actually use my music?) I’ve dug out my old Windows machine to try and make the purchase on iTunes, and I’m pretty sure I’ve completed the process, but no download link is showing up. I believe iTunes is set up to charge me via my phone bill, because they won't take my Dutch credit card either, so it’ll be a month before I find out whether I have in fact spent the money. It’s looking increasingly as though in order to get hold of this music, I’m going to have to prove that the eurozone is not a single market by changing the country in which I do my banking.
Under these circumstances, one almost feels forced back into the 1980s radio–cassette deck model of recording music from Spotify, but then that doesn't really help the artist. After so many years of technological development, it sure is surprising to be thrown back to the days of taping radio broadcasts.