EU Court: Developers Can’t Stop Resales Of Digital Games

In a ruling with potentially thunderous implications for consumers across the EU and perhaps even worldwide, the European Union Court of Justice has ruled against video game developers, and effectively crushed the notion that consumers don’t own products they have purchased.

The decision came in a case involving the resale of digitally downloaded software brought by Oracle against German digital used retailer UsedSoft. All online game retailers have extensive end user agreements that, among other things, govern what the player may do with the game – or any software – once they’ve purchased it. Typically these rules are extremely limiting, but the EU court ruled that limiting or no, they’re toothless. “An author of software cannot oppose the resale of his ‘used’ licences allowing the use of his programs downloaded from the internet,” the ruling said, adding that “The exclusive right of distribution of a copy of a computer program covered by such a licence is exhausted on its first sale.”

One particularly stinging excerpt from the decision makes clear how far-reaching this is. “Where the copyright holder makes available to his customer a copy – tangible or intangible – and at the same time concludes, in return form payment of a fee, a licence agreement granting the customer the right to use that copy for an unlimited period, that rightholder sells the copy to the customer and thus exhausts his exclusive distribution right.” Translation: Purchasing an online game is like purchasing a boxed copy. You own it regardless of medium because it was sold to you. “Therefore,” the ruling says, “even if the licence prohibits a further transfer, the rightholder can no longer oppose the resale of that copy.”

Frankly, this is awesome. The most worrying trend affecting consumers, aside from terrible attempts to destroy the internet entirely with laws like SOPA, is the growing acceptance of the idea that consumers do not have a right to do with their purchased property as they wish. It’s the basis behind attempts to make modded consoles illegal, and part of arguments against used-game sales. This decision verifies that the customer is indeed entitled to own their property. Though this decision only affects European gamers, international laws affecting huge regions have a way of influencing decisions in other jurisdictions. Having to make changes to accomodate one region can also affect how a company conducts themselves in others. No doubt this will have waves for months.

For now though, congratulations, European gamers. You’re a little less indentured to your corporate masters than you were yesterday.

Via Eurogamer.

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6 Comments on EU Court: Developers Can’t Stop Resales Of Digital Games

Drizzt

On July 3, 2012 at 10:40 pm

The above article contains factual mistakes:
1. You correctly report, that a legal fight between Oracle and usedSoft was the case considered by the court. But then you write about games sold by Oracle. Not sure I would call their products fun… It was, of course, about products sold by Oracle.
2. This case originated from Germany. And at least for German customers there will be no real difference, as a studio/distributor can choose to impose additional technical measures (ie. online activation schemes which bind a copy to a person/PC). And those additional measures can legally stop resales (ruling by the Federal Court of Justice of Germany (Bundesgerichtshof), I ZR 178/08, “Half-Life 2″ ruling).

If you’re able to read German, I highly recommend reading http://heise.de/-1631306

The situation in the other EU countries is similar to the best of my knowledge. Which makes this victory a pyrrhic victory, at least in many cases (much more so in the future).

Axetwin

On July 4, 2012 at 12:42 am

Holy crap, this is huge!

Mikey

On July 4, 2012 at 6:04 am

On a side note, ACTA was also officially rejected today by the EU Parliament with 478 votes against, 39 in favor and 165 abstained, meaning that it is no longer possible for the EU to adopt this as a law, in spite of the EU Commission’s insistence.

Mr Glassback

On July 4, 2012 at 8:15 am

Game publishers scream for artistic integrity akin to book authors, then want to be treated completely differently when it comes to selling their intellectual property on.
It’s about time all these publishers realise that they aren’t special in the entertainment world and they don’t deserve more rights than any other form of creative artist.

Dratkin

On July 4, 2012 at 11:01 am

If only all court decisions actually made sense like this one.
Stupid judges and lawyers are ruining the whole damn world.

Awesome

On July 5, 2012 at 9:52 am

Europe > UK > USA.