The frustration of trying to buy something legally

December 21, 2012

I have spent many hours in the past 24 hours trying to figure out a way to buy some stuff from the Amazon MP3 store. But I can’t. And I’m angry and frustrated and I now have a much better understanding of why people download music etc. illegally — there are just SO many barriers to doing it legally.

So why can’t I purchase MP3s from the 20 million songs in the Amazon MP3 store? Because I don’t live in the US, because my IP address is not from the US, because I don’t have a US debit or credit card, because Amazon doesn’t take PayPal, because even if I go through a (legal) US VPN Amazon still knows that I’m Australian when I log in (even though one of my registered addresses with Amazon is in the US), and because PayPal doesn’t offer their own branded credit or debit cards to non-US residents. Oh yes, I’ve been through it all trying to figure out how I can buy music (and please don’t tell me to use iTunes…).


I’ve searched online forums who tell me to get a PayPal debit/credit MasterCard and then I can buy from Amazon with that as it’s registered in the US. But non-US/Canadian residents CAN’T get one of these cards.

I’ve looked at those sites that offer to buy on your behalf with their US credit card and address and ship to Australia — but they don’t deal with digital goods, only ‘real’ products like shoes and electronics.

I searched for how to get a US credit or debit card and address, and there are ways to do it by paying a big fee and setting up as a business entity (‘cos obviously I don’t have a Social Security number), or by going to the US with huge amounts of documentation and hoping and praying that some bank will give me a credit card — no guarantees on that. I have relatives and friends in the US so getting a US address shouldn’t be a problem. And I’m heading back to the US for a very short and very packed trip in March, but I want to buy this thing NOW, not in six months time when I *might* have a US debit/credit card, assuming I even try to get one when I’m there.

But the reality is that all I want to do is buy a specific thing from the Amazon MP3 store. It’s a digital download, so shipping isn’t an issue. But where I live and where I bank is an issue.

And with Amazon not accepting PayPal payments, I’m stymied, even if I set up a new account with Amazon that only has a US address attached and if I access it via the US VPN I have access to. I still can’t pay without a US-based debit/credit card, and if I try to access the MP3 store from that account on my own computer, I get a message that it’s only available to US customers.

I’m very frustrated. And angry that I’m trying to buy something legally, but I can’t — all based on where I live. I don’t think that this is all Amazon’s or PayPal’s fault — it is likely they are just the frontline of the faceless people behind the US banking laws and the massive media conglomerates who want to control who buys what and from where. It’s a global world, people — get over it, otherwise honest schmucks like me will be forced to get what we want illegally (no, I don’t want it that much… what I wanted to do was see how hard it was to get, and it’s BLOODY hard. Impossible, in fact.)

BTW, Amazon let me set up a Cloud Player storage place for the MP3s it won’t let me buy! Thanks guys — really appreciate it…


Update: iinet (my ISP) has walked out of piracy talks, stating:

“The rights holders are still insisting ISP’s should perform work on their behalf instead of addressing what we have always said is the root cause of the infringements – the limited accessibility to desirable content and the discriminatory and high cost of content in Australia. Infringements are a symptom – access is the problem.”

I couldn’t agree more! Limited access, discrimination based on geography, and high cost result in ordinary people downloading illegally who would likely pay for content if it was available to all and at a fair price.

Update 16 January 2013: I don’t know who ‘Scott’ is but he sent me a $5 Amazon gift card in the hope that it would solve my problem. In his note to me he said:

I heard you had some problems with Amazon mp3s. … next time this comes up, you’ll have a few bucks in your account. Consider it a newsletter donation. BTW- If this works, it may be a solution to your problem. You can contact your U.S. friends, send them some PayPal money, and then they can send you an Amazon gift card.

Thank you, Scott! However, the gift card approach didn’t work either. When I tried to apply it to an MP3 purchase, I got as far as the ‘Review’ page, clicked ‘Continue’ then got this message:

We could not process your order. The sale of MP3 Downloads is currently only available to US customers. Please refer to the terms of use of the MP3 store to determine the geographical restrictions.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

I tried again via the US VPN access I have, but got the same message. There is just no legal way I can purchase something from the Amazon MP3 store if I live outside the US.

Thanks again, Scott. At least I’ll have $5 to apply to my next book purchase from Amazon.

Next, I went back to Amazon to check out their MP3 terms and conditions and geographic restrictions, as stated in their message. Well, finding the terms and conditions was hard enough, but finding anything about geographic restrictions was even harder — it was tucked away at the end of section 2.2. From Amazon’s MP3 Store Terms of Use (http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=hp_left_cn?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200154280):

Section 2.2: …. As required by our Music Content providers, Music Content is available only to customers located in the United States.

So, as I suspected, this restriction is imposed by Amazon on behalf of the traditional music recording industry who are so desperately trying to protect themselves from going under.They’d have a better chance of stopping piracy if they didn’t impose such ridiculous geographic restrictions on people who legitimately want to buy music!

Interestingly, the Terms don’t specify what they mean by ‘located in the United States’. As I mentioned earlier, I have a physical US address of a family member attached to my Amazon account as well as my Australian one. That US address is listed as my primary address with Amazon. However, the two credit cards linked to my Amazon account are both Australian, with my Australian address attached to them. Amazon isn’t going on IP address either to determine my location as I have the same issue when I go through the US VPN. So even though I was trying to purchase with a gift card that originated from someone in the US, and even though my primary address on Amazon is a US address, and even though I was going through a US VPN, Amazon still didn’t consider me as ‘located in the US’. Therefore, it must be using my credit card information to determine that I’m in Australia.


  1. I’ve just been trying to download a track that’s only available to UK people – Spotify, Amazon and i-tunes all refuse to let me have it. I even tried getting it via Spotify Premium but still couldn’t. It’s really annoying. Maybe something to do with copyright?

  2. I think this may also have something to do with Amazon’s tax arrangements. They were one of the companies along with Google and Starbucks that were heavilly criticised for paying little or no UK corporation tax. Seems like they only make a profit in countries where taxes are low.

  3. Similar to your story, I’ve just spent the best part of 3 hours trying to buy a sinlge MP3 from amazon.com. Oh well, I’ll spend my money elsewhere (or just save it for something else).

  4. I understand your frustration. In fact, I found this post while trying desperately to buy some MP3 songs from Amazon. Finally I could collect enough tips to do it :)
    You need three steps:
    1. A legitimate US address without linkage to any payment method. Make this address as your 1-click order in Amazon account settings.
    2. Some Gift card balance (you already have this according to your post)
    3. A good VPN. I use alwaysvpn. Just make sure you uninstall all other VPN when using this. Trying to use it when having HotSpot Shield installed, not used, took away 1 day from me to find out what went wrong.

    Be careful to clear any cache or cookies or whatever before you start open your browser and buy. Good luck! :)

  5. I usually shop in Google Music for digitals but sadly the choice from Google Music is so limited compared to Apple iTune or Amazon Musics, I end up buying physical albums from stores/amazon.

    Amazon always sends the advertisement to promote their prime feature, I say if they remove this region restriction of digital purchase, I will gladly become Prime member.

  6. had the same problem and decided that it’s just gonna be easier and less frustrating to download the songs from torrents

  7. ” I use alwaysvpn. Just make sure you uninstall all other VPN when using this. Trying to use it when having HotSpot Shield installed, not used, took away 1 day from me to find out what went wrong.”

    Scott D,

    1) are you saying that Hotspot Shield does not work to buy from Amazon?

    2) How do you get Gift Card balance in the USA Amazon account?

  8. Hi, it is frustrating. What I understood after all is that piracy is ok out of the USA. Now that not even 7Digital gives access to decent catalogs of music and cds store are disappearing the only way to get music here from the third world of the bananas and monkeys – Brazil – is to singing the old song : mugs of rum yoho!

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