Wait, When Did THIS Happen?

European Courts have ruled that it is legal to resale digital software licenses:

Buying and reselling any form of digital software is perfectly legal, the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled. Software authors – or in the gaming world, publishers – can not stop customers from reselling their games, even if the publisher attaches an End User License Agreement prohibiting resale.

“The exclusive right of distribution of a copy of a computer program covered by such a license is exhausted on its first sale,” the court has found.

This ruling covers customers in European Union member states, and games bought through services such as Steam or Origin. […]

Okay, so I do know when it happened: July 3rd, 2012. But… who… when… huh? That is damn near a year ago. Has anything gone forward since then?

I mean, the absolute latest news was April 2nd, when a US District Court stated that reselling iTunes songs violated copyright laws. Conversely, buying textbooks from Thailand and selling them in the US for profit is legal, according to the US Supreme Court. As is streaming TV service Aereo, for that matter.

Looking at that European ruling again, I would actually say there wouldn’t be any contradiction in reselling a license. You aren’t copying any files, you are merely removing your own rights to a digital good and granting them to another… and they’re the ones downloading it. Hell, in an always-online-esque DRM scheme, such a transfer would arguably be the safest for the publisher considering the seller literally cannot access the game anymore (as opposed to the honor system when it comes to reselling music CDs).

Obviously every publisher everywhere would fight tooth and nail against this breaking of their digital monopoly, just as companies like Microsoft (and Sony for a while) contemplate ways to smother the used game market. But the question of licenses has yet to be settled, and I am inclined to show uncharacteristic optimism in this regard. Most people would not look at playing Halo at a friend’s house as piracy or consider yard sales as theft, and yet that is what these companies would want you to believe.

Personally, I think it is only a matter of time until logic and common sense forever strip the asinine “you don’t own a videogame!” argument from corporate apologists everywhere. Physical game or license, you nevertheless (should) have the right to sell it. Nothing less makes sense.

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Posted on April 10, 2013, in Commentary and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. It’s perfectly possible, indeed to some extent true already, that we may end up with different and incompatible laws in different countries.

    There’s been an assumption in the 90s and the first part of the 00s that the US owns the internet. What lies ahead I think is a separation of law and practice. Want to add DRM that makes your game impossible to transfer? In the US knock yourself out. In the EU I should already be able to sell my licence to play WoW on to someone else know that I’ve stopped playing. And In China, in Thailand, in Russia, likely to be different again as local legal systems catch up with and protect the behaviours of their citizens.

    There was a very interesting headache for Blizzard when they released Diablo 3. In South Korea the initial version of the real money auction house was deemed to be gambling and not legal. Took them months to work that one out and for a while it looked like either the game would launch but not be sold in South Korea or the Koreans would get a different version.

    • That’s true. However, I believe that it will eventually come to the US, especially as we start seeing more companies push into this “license ALL the things” arena.

  2. One point is that it is allowed to sell a license to play a game, but company are not forced to provide a way to do it. That means that if you cannot sell your Steam game, you may have the right to do it but cannot use it ! But you can sell your entire library. Or create a new account for every game.

    • I have every confidence that if these publishers don’t do it themselves on their own volition, they will see a similar financial apocalypse that the recording industry did when they ceded digital music to Napster and Kazaa. Some entrepreneur out there will launch a start-up to handle all of the obnoxious behind-the-scenes hoops for a percentage of each sale, and that will be all she wrote.

  3. People re-sell their games with ease where I am living, and have for a long time. this includes official sales on online markets and auction houses. I think the 2012 ruling mostly served to finally make this official and public.

    It’s also not ‘illegal’ to download from the internet in my country. only uploading is. when SOPA happened, our government made it clear once more that piracy is overhyped and does in fact not hurt the branches it supposedly does – http://www.jochen-lillich.de/2012/01/while-the-us-struggle-with-sopapipa-switzerland-keeps-its-cool (the really interesting part is the link inside that article but I assume you won’t understand that one).

    • I won’t understand, you say?! Well, I’ll show you…

      “Urheberrechtsverletzungen im Internet: Der bestehende rechtliche Rahmen genügt”

      …okay then.

  4. No substantial legal landmarks, but a fair bit of groundwork being laid. You’ve undoubtedly seen the music piracy paper, for example.

  5. At this point, at least in the US, companies want to move towards only selling licenses, people want to move towards owning the product. Sadly more and more things are being moved to licenses, often because so many things are handled digitally. Virtually every digital good you “own” is only a license. As Ettesiun said, just because the court ruled that they can’t stop you, doesn’t mean that the publishers have to facilitate it. They just can’t cancel your steam account because you transferred it.

    I personally hope more consumers start to realize this and demand that the mentality change. Copyright is a messy field, and IMO is being co-opted by many corporations to do what it never was supposed to (like lock your phone to a specific provider).

    • As I mentioned, I think consumers will eventually notice, precisely because of that “ownership instinct.” Nobody thinks that letting your little brother borrow your iPod is a crime worth $150,000 in fines per song. Nobody thinks twice that letting their spouse play Plants Vs Zombies is an act of high piracy, despite it technically being exactly that. How can you own Call of Duty for $60 on the Xbox (at least “own” enough to resell) and not own it for $60 on Steam?

      In a way, I want Microsoft to try their always-online model just to push the issue. Many people probably won’t notice a difference… up until they suddenly realize that they got banned and lost access to their entire library.

  6. I went to comment on this post yesterday because I really disagree with what you’re saying, but it ended up taking me a couple of days to get my thoughts in order. I hate leaving long comments, so I posted them on my own blog at http://halfgoblin.blogspot.com.au/2013/04/used-games.html