A court case between Valve and a French consumer rights organization may have major consequences for the way that games, and potentially other software, are sold online.
In 2015, the French group UFC Que Choisir took Valve to court over the way the Steam store sells digital games. In particular, the case focused on the fact that consumers cannot resell a game once they have purchased a digital copy, unlike buying a physical copy. Now, the High Court of Paris has agreed with UFC Que Choisir and ruled that Valve will have to change their policies or face a fine, as reported by French site Numerama.
The argument of UFC Que Choisir is that when a customer purchases a game, they are purchasing a license to use that software. This is just like the license you get to watch a movie when you buy a Blu-ray. If you’re done with a Blu-ray you bought and you no longer want to watch the movie, you can lend it to a friend or sell it secondhand. So digital purchases ought to work the same way: If a customer doesn’t enjoy a game they should be able to return it, and if they’re done playing it then they should be able to resell it.
Value argues that it does not sell licenses for games. Rather, it sells subscriptions. When you purchase a game through Steam, you are buying the rights to access that game indefinitely; however, you are not actually purchasing a license for the game. Therefore, traditional consumer protections such as the right to return or resell do not apply.
The French court was not persuaded by Valve’s arguments though and sided with the consumer rights group. If Valve does not change its policies, it will have to pay a fine of 3000 Euros per day for up to six months. Valve does plan to appeal the ruling, as a representative informed Kotaku.
The case is not only relevant to Steam, and not even only relevant to gaming. The same arguments could be applied to other digital games stores, and even to other software products such as Windows. Similar court cases could be brought in Europe or elsewhere in the world, and UFC Que Choisir has said it is planning to take further actions against other digital products and platforms.