Google has closed its video download retail and rental service, leaving users that bought videos from them unable to view them in the future. It has prompted further concerns over the confidence consumers can place in proprietary digital rights management schemes.

In an email to users, Google wrote: “In an effort to improve all Google services, we will no longer offer the ability to buy or rent videos for download from Google Video, ending the DTO/DTR (download-to-own/rent) programme”.

It will leave users that previously purchased videos from Google, protected by their proprietary digital rights management, unable to view them.

It is a prime example of how a digital rights management scheme can become obsolete overnight, leaving consumers that have a legitimate right to access material unable to do so. It could provide an interesting test case of consumer rights, as well as digital rights management in general.

Google is offering users that bought videos a credit of $5 to be used through their Google Checkout service within 60 days. Contrary to some reports, consumers can alternatively apply to receive a direct refund.

Google launched its video download service in at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2006. It was described as the first the first open video marketplace enabling, offering programmes such as CSI and Star Trek for $1.99 an episode.

At the time Leslie Moonves, the president and chief executive of CBS Corporation, said “the Google Video store guarantees our shows significant new exposure to millions of users who are likely to access this Web service and who may not be traditional TV viewers.” He described Google Video as “destined to become one of the web’s most popular destinations.”

It did not work out that way. Users were not impressed by the programming on offer, which included old episodes of I Love Lucy and The Brady Bunch, in a poorly presented catalogue.

Instead they flocked to video clips on YouTube, which Google eventually felt compelled to acquire in October for $1.65 billion in a Google stock. Google rapidly recovered the value through the rise in its own share price.

In contrast to the high profile launch of Google Video, which is still presented as a trial service, there was no press release to mark the end of the download to own option.
There was little evidence on the Google Video web site beyond the help section.

“Unfortunately, Google Video store purchases will not be accessible in the future,” stated Google. “We thank everyone who participated in this experiment with us and realise this development may inconvenience some of our users. The decision to transition away from the rent/own model is a direct result of our desire to focus our efforts on raising the bar in our other online video efforts.”