Yesterday the Court of Justice of the European Union made a landmark ruling on an issue that has been the point of much discussion over the last couple of years: used games. We all know that we have the right to sell our used games, despite what software manufacturers may think, but todayís ruling concerns the application of the same principle to digitally distributed software.
Iíve discussed this issue extensively in the past, but it was always in the context of used game discs. I had been resigned to the fact that, as with most computer software, downloadable games were saddled with an End User License Agreement stating that I, in effect, donít own the software but rather a license to use it. Not according to the EUís highest court, it seems.
ďAn author of software cannot oppose the resale of his Ďusedí licences allowing the use of his programs downloaded from the internet.Ē The court stated in its decision. Sure, publishers canít block the sale under this law but couldnít they just refuse access to aquire the software once you have purchased, in effect, the license from your friend?
ďTherefore the new acquirer of the user licence, such as a customer of UsedSoft, may, as a lawful acquirer of the corrected and updated copy of the computer program concerned, download that copy from the copyright holderís website.Ē Right there, thatís it, thatís the most important sentence in the ruling, if you ask me.
Now, we all know that publishers can, and do, block access to extended features for used copies of games, such as access to multiplayer servers, but they can no longer deny that you own the product youíve purchased. Ownership was always the point I was trying to make whenever this issue came up in the past; when you buy a car the dealership does not try to say it still owns that car, that would be ridiculous. Why then, have we accepted this setup when it comes to downloadable games? Why have I accepted it?
While digital distributors, like Valve, EA or Microsoft, have yet to weigh in on how theyíll comply with this decision, they can take heart in the fact that it isnít legalizing piracy. The decision also calls for users to ďmake the copy downloaded onto his own computer unusable at the time of resale.Ē A completely reasonable caveat, but one that escapes publishers when they argue in favor of online passes to subsidize the cost of game servers for multiplayer games. This argument, in my opinion, has always been null and void as, when I sell a copy of a game to my friend, the amount of users playing the game hasnít doubled so no addition capacity is needed.
Though Iím sure that publishers will eventually come up with a way to stop this, such as subscription services, but the question of ownership need never be asked again and thatís what Iíve always wanted publishers to understand. Once I buy your product, it is mine. It isnít OK for me to duplicate it and give it to other people, but it is mine to transfer ownership of.
The doubly encouraging thing about this ruling is that, unlike the completely misguided and nonsensical American SOPA and PIPA bills or Canadaís Bill C-30, this decision was written by people who understand the technology theyíre speaking about. Imagine, actually researching the subject youíre about make a law or legal decision regarding. Letís hope the rest of the world can open its eyes to this line of thinking.
What really gets me going on this subject, whenever it comes up, is that I fervently wish that game companies would stop trying to make $10 from the guy who bought (insert your favorite Shooter) from his friend. Stop trying to recoup the cost exorbitant, and misguided, marketing strategies from the kid who only has $40 for a used copy of a game. Stop worrying about me lending my games to my friends, thereís still only one person playing that copy at one time, and start examining your own processes and procedures. Find a way to stop laying off half of the staff in one of your studios the same week they ship a game. Find a way to not shutter a studio for selling 2.5 million copies of a game instead of 3 million. Getting back to making a game that people want to buy, want to play with their friends, and want to replay are much better uses of your time than trying to block the sale of a $15 game.
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