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A landmark ruling has taken place following Valve’s defeat in the Parisian court. The court case took place between Valve and UFC-Que Choisir, a French consumer rights group, who argued Valve should not be able to prevent the reselling of any purchased digital goods on Steam.
The three-year battle in the Paris District Court has eventually seen Valve defeated as UFC-Que Choisir scored a possibly momentous victory for consumer rights. Valve has filed an appeal but, should it fail, this will set a remarkable precedent. “We disagree with the decision of the Paris Court of First Instance and will appeal it,” wrote Valve in a statement.
Paris District Court came to the following conclusion:
“The owner of the right concerned can no longer object to the resale of this copy (or copy) even if the initial purchase is made by downloading. The publisher of the software (or its beneficiaries) can no longer oppose the resale of this copy or copy, notwithstanding the existence of contractual provisions prohibiting a subsequent assignment. “
The ramifications of this ruling are potentially huge, and not just confined to the games industry. This is a ruling which is a step toward actual ownership of our digital products, and the right to buy and sell them to other people as we see fit. We’re talking about the potential ability to resell digital books, movies, albums, games, and software, or just straight up transfer them to one another.
Here’s where it gets really crazy: under this ruling you would be able to lend your mates games. You’ll need to ask for them to give it back or you’ll lose access but, with full ownership comes all the benefits of physical goods.
On top of this, the move from licensing to ownership would mean Valve and its associated publishers on its storefront would no longer be able to make any claim on user mods or community content. In the eyes of the law, mod creators have bought a game and are allowed to use it in any way they see fit.
The effect of this ruling is difficult to anticipate. The Parisian courts gave no indication of how Valve could change in order to comply with the ruling, or indeed how any digital marketplace could continue to operate in their current fashion. The ruling is specifically related to purchased games, we know this much, which would mean gaming subscription services would not be affected by the change. An obvious change but significant change for Valve to make would be to sell gaming subscriptions, or to sell access to a game for a fixed period (one year, for example).
Thinking a little bit bigger about this, the ramifications could then rumble up through the entire European Union. If the EU’s governing body decides the French courts ruling should be upheld, the same procedures on digital ownership could then be rolled out to the rest of Europe. At that point, Steam and just about any digital store is going to be in an absolute mess.
At the time of writing, Valve has less than 30 days to remove the clause from its Terms of Service which says game licenses cannot be transferred, as well as to allow French users to sell digital games from their Steam libraries to other users.
Let’s throw it out to you then, what do you make of this little mess? A great advance for consumer rights and digital ownership, or will we turn out to be the losers at the end of it all?