Posted on July 3, 2012, Ross Lincoln 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.