One of the major problems I find myself in after a Steam sale is that I bought a lot of games that I just don’t really want. I partially blame myself, but some of those games have achievements which I can use to win other games. It would be a bit better if I could offload some of those digital games, but unfortunately the law is not on my side in the U.S.
Fortunately, our friends across the pond in Europe are no longer held back by EULAs that state users can’t resell their digitally downloaded software, whether that be games or other software like Photoshop. In a recent ruling, the European Court of Justice did away with companies’ ability to stop people from selling used software.
Here’s the lowdown on the case: Oracle was a tad bit angry that a company called UsedSoft was selling used licenses for Oracle software. They took UsedSoft to court seeking the termination of their activities. The crux of the case was whether or not a company still held exclusive distribution rights to software after they sold a digital download to a user. Here’s the court’s ruling:
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 right holder sells the copy to the customer and thus exhausts his exclusive distribution right. Such a transaction involves a transfer of the right of ownership of the copy. Therefore, even if the licence agreement prohibits a further transfer, the rightholder can no longer oppose the resale of that copy.
The ruling will obviously make software developers mad. The companies that put out this kind of software, including game developers, see digital distribution as the future since people can’t resell those purchases. The EULA in software strictly states that you do not own the software, you merely own a license that allows you to use the software.
The ruling from the EU Court of Justice flies in the face of those EULAs by saying that the consumer owns the copy they have on their hard drive and they can do with it as they please. Sure, the case deals with the idea of selling used digital copies of software, but it has massive ramifications for digital software everywhere.
Those same EULAs said that due to the consumer only having the license, they couldn’t crack or modify the software in any way. Now that the court says that consumers own said software, they can do whatever they want with it.
There are some caveats to be had in this ruling though. You still can’t make copies of software, including games, and distribute them among your friends. If you want to resell a copy of a digitally downloaded game, you have to remove it from your computer first. The court said that keeping a copy for yourself after resale would violate the copyright holder’s exclusive right of reproduction.
There are a few other wonderful tidbits in the bill as well. If a consumer buys used software from a digital reseller, the original creator of the software must provide the person who bought the used copy an avenue to download the latest version of the software they bought.
It’s important to note that this ruling only affects Europe. Don’t expect anything like this to fly in the U.S. anytime soon. That being said, we have our own case involving the sale of digital items currently going through the courts. ReDigi is in a similar situation as they are being sued by EMI for copyright violations. The company runs a business that scans computers for legitimately acquired MP3s, transfers them to their servers and then deletes them off the source computer. The user can then resell these MP3s to other users.
If ReDigi was in Europe, this court ruling would put them in the clear as they are doing the same thing that UsedSoft did. Of course, the court ruling applied to software, but who’s to say that it wouldn’t apply to digitally downloaded MP3s or movies as long as the original work is removed from the source computer during resale.
This is an utterly fascinating twist in the world of online distribution. If people can sell their previously downloaded software to others, it would send a shockwave among the software developers who relied upon digital distribution to avoid used sales.
Since I began the story with it, I’ll end it here as well – this ruling will have a major impact on gaming. Games are the driving force behind digital distribution adoption and being able to resell digital purchases will make a lot of publisher execs pretty sour.[h/t: Lo-Ping]