Valve Sued In Germany Over Right To Resell Games
from the consumer-reichs-advocates dept
Valve's Steam platform has certainly been one highlight on competing with piracy here at Techdirt. As something of the iTunes of PC gaming, it provides a wonderful example of how a great platform and added value can give those who could otherwise be pirates a real reason to part with their gaming dollar. This isn't to say that the platform hasn't been associated with some issues, but Valve seems to be among those folks that get it right more often than they get it wrong.
Still, we won't shy away from pointing out where those problems exist. Neither will German consumer associations, apparently, as one has now sued Valve over the right for Steam users to resell the games they purchase on the platform. The Federation of German Consumer Organizations (VZVB) is going to court, stating that Steam users who have purchased games, own those games, and should be able to do with them as they please, including reselling them. Often times Steam users are limited in this regard due to the way downloads are associated with specific accounts, rendering any online component unplayable. Carola Elbrecht, project manager for VZVB's consumer rights in the digital world is leading the charge.
Because Valve forbids its users to sell or transfer their accounts to another person, the exchange of games that can only be played online is impossible, she said. This means that a Steam user only partially owns games, Elbrecht said. “If I pay the full price for a game, then why am I not allowed to do with it what I want,” she added.
This obviously isn't a new question for us here at Techdirt. It's been a point of logical frustration for consumers that content producers often seem to want their output treated like property when it suits them, but as a service or license when it does not. This leads to, at the very least, the appearance of double-dipping on the part of content producers. For gamers, where used games are such an intregal part of the marketplace, the frustration often boils over. In my estimation, it's quite difficult to draw up a logical proof for limiting the rights to a product for the consumer while strengthening the rights for the producer. Such an arrangement is simply too one-sided in who is giving up whose rights.
Some may note that this isn't the first time VZVB has sued Valve over similar grounds. In 2010, a court ruled against them over whether or not refusing to allow Steam users to transfer their user accounts violated German law. The times, as they say, appear to be a-changin'.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), however, ruled in July that the trading of “used” software licenses is legal and that the author of such software cannot oppose any resale. While the CJEU's case is not exactly the same as the current litigation against Valve, the VZVB reckons that the ruling gives sufficient basis for a new lawsuit, Elbrecht said. She expected the litigation to go on for years, and it will probably end up at the federal court again, she said.
At worst, the new ruling opens the door for this suit and perhaps sets a bit of a legal baseline in how to view these types of restrictions. It likely isn't any kind of slam-dunk case and there's no assurance any ruling will even go VZVB's way, but there's something else to consider: Valve has an extremely unsympathetic stance on their hands. While complex legalities and backdoor TOS language may rule the day in court, it likely won't in the court of public opinion. Sticking to their guns on something like this is a wonderful way for Steam to lose, er, steam in gaining a faithful fanbase.