European Court of Justice rules on the right to sell your digital games and licenses

Richard Cobbett at

Second hand game sales are a contentious issue at the moment, with EULAs saying that your purchases are licenses rather than products, and thus you can't sell them on when you're done. Many users obviously disagree, seeing no practical ownership difference between a game you download and one you buy in the shelves. First sale works just fine for everything else, after all.

Today, the European Court agreed, ruling: "An author of software cannot oppose the resale of his ‘used’ licences allowing the use of his programs downloaded from the internet."

In theory, hurrah! But what does this really mean for games?

For starters, we have to point out that this is a preliminary ruling, and so not in itself binding - it's subject to being challenged, and for a national court to actually enforce. It's also worth noting that the software at the heart of the case isn't a game, but Oracle's tools, and a company selling 'spare' licenses.

In the world of games, the subtleties are different - for starters, DRM. By this verdict, you'd be okay with selling/gifting a DRM free game to anyone you chose, provided you deleted/destroyed/rendered useless your original copy. However, anything locked to a personal account and a service's DRM would be problematic, as the EU has specific anti-circumvention rules in place. There's not much use selling a game if the person buying it won't be able to play it. Insert your own Diablo 3 joke here.

At the same time though, would that make DRM officially a tool to stop people reselling their games? That would be specifically against this ruling, which prohibits any preventative action. An interesting clash, to be sure, if the courts can be convinced it isn't simply a question of fighting piracy.

Check out the précis of the ruling here and the full text here. Expect to see the digital distribution industry fight this tooth and nail though - their control over products (to at least honest customers) and lock-in is a huge part of digital's appeal, and not a power any of the big boys will give up lightly.