Is it mine or is it theirs: selling your digital copy



In the past month, the highest court in the European Union, the European Court of Justice decided that it’s legal to sell a used digital copy of a game. This stands in stark contrast to the approach that has been consistently taken here in the United States and the decision gives us an opportunity to discuss reevaluating that belief.

The court stated “An author of software cannot oppose the resale of his ‘used’ licences allowing the use of his programs downloaded from the internet.” The court also stated that the right to play or own the game is lost after it is sold, therefore you cannot simply sell the game and then continue to play it.

When the ruling was reached it was meant to affect Steam, Origin and GamersGate, but the implications could be far reaching. Would the same rules apply on consoles or other devices? Would gamers even comply with the law and delete their games after they sell them if they could continue to play them? How far could game services go to police this? There is more interesting aspects, possibilities and outcomes to this ruling than I can think of and the longer I consider this topic the more questions and strange scenarios come to mind.

I think Steam could easily find ways to deal with this. They could even take an active role in facilitating the sale between users in return for a cut. Steam could find a way to make your game associated with an account and ensure that you are incapable of continuing to play it if you sell it. I wonder if anyone would buy new copies of games if they could play cheaper used ones? A used copy of a digital game doesn’t really depreciate. There is no scratches or marks on the disc to worry about. We’re only talking about files, and cheaper, but identical files will always win out.

At any rate, I like the idea that I actually own something when I pay for it. The other day I was over at a friend’s house to play some LAN games and I wanted to show a few Xbox Live Arcade Games, but was frustrated when I was reminded that I needed internet to play the games that were on my hard drive. I lucked out by connecting to a faint, unsecured network nearby, but the experience was a swift reminder that I don’t actually own those copies of From Dust and Castle Crashers that are downloaded to my Xbox 360. I’m not even sure if I own anything.

Would Steam or Origin change the way they do business here in the U.S. to have an identical setup as in Europe or would there be drastically different versions of Steam and Origin for the regions? Could we be seeing much greater emphasis on DRM style programs to monitor us while we play or perhaps most games will require you to be connected to the internet at all times to play them?

I thought about whether I would actually delete a game after I sold it if I could continue to play it and and after some lengthy soul searching I came to the conclusion that I would delete the game. Unfortunately, the lack of a quick response and a few other niggling thoughts led me to believe that gamers couldn’t be trusted to simply delete the game and unless there was something in place this could be a rampant problem. Just think about this for a little bit, would you delete a game if it was published by Valve, EA, Activision and Ubisoft? Of course I would delete the game published by Valve, but I like Valve and have a lot of goodwill toward the company. On the other hand, I don’t feel the same way about EA, Activision and Ubisoft, so it would be easier to justify sticking it to them, but I’m sure they would be one step ahead of me anyway.

Just look at all the situations where people have justified pirating a game in the past. I’ve heard people claim pirating a game is fine if they don’t release a demo, so they can find out if they will like a game. I even remember people pirating games that were part of Steam’s Humble Indie Bundles to avoid legitimately paying $1 to a charity. How big a douche are you when you actually do that? It’s one dollar and it goes to charity; epic douchiness.

I would also be curious if this could have implications outside of the game industry. Could the same logic be applied to digital versions of songs? How about all the digital copies of comic books I have on my Ipad? If I lived in Europe could I sell my Ipad games or comic books to someone else? Can I sell my used digital copies of games to Europeans from America?

I know this article kind of turned into a ton of question marks, but that’s what this decision is doing. I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen or if I’m even going to be affected, but I like the idea of consumers having more power in these kinds of situations and I would like to think that I actually own something when I pay for it. Right now, I’m becoming used to the idea that I’m simply paying money to rent files on my computer or console and that makes me a little unhappy and game companies have been treating gamers poorly for too long, so the idea of rebalancing sounds great.


Dan Hoyt has been an avid gamer his entire life. When he’s not playing games, he’s working out by walking his dog, hiking and doing martial arts. He likes to try new kinds of alcohol and discuss politics. He’s a graduate of The University of Kansas and has spent years as a journalist.

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