Liberte, Egalite, and the Right to Resell: Steam vs. French Court
The game platform Steam has changed the way PC “master race” players buy, own, and access their games. From a legal perspective, however, the “own” part has become a rather sticky situation. Do Steam users truly own their games, and are therefore allowed to do whatever they want with it, or are they simply buying the license for the games? Despite what Steam’s terms and conditions say, a French high court argues the contrary.
Beyond complete ownage
It all began when Valve was sued by UFC-Que Choisir, a French consumer rights group, at the High Court of Paris for not allowing players to transfer and/or resale of ownership of Steam games from one user to another. Aside from that, they’re also concerned about other unfair Steam policies.
First, Valve refuses to take responsibility for hacked Steam accounts, which are around 77,000 every month. Second, Steam Wallet funds are irretrievable if your account becomes inaccessible regardless of reason. Third, players that create content don’t have intellectual property rights, giving Steam the ability to reuse them however they see fit. Last but definitely not least, Valve applies Luxembourg’s laws to Steam users in French territories.
Getting steamrolled by the Law
UFC-QUe Choisir’s case has been filed way back in 2015, and only last September 17 did the High Court of Paris rule that not just French, but all Steam users in the European Union, have the legal right to resell Steam games as much as they can sell hard copies of games.
In Valve’s defense, they claimed that Steam is a subscription service. The High Court of Paris, however, did not accept it, as Steam games are a part of the buyer’s account forever, not a subscription.
Aside from the fact that the court sees Steam games simply as a digital version of physical games and therefore just as transferrable, EU laws on digital goods make sure that “free movement of goods within the Union” cannot be blocked. The court, however, noted that only one copy can be resold, and that there can’t be duplicates.
Having reached that verdict, the French court has given Valve three months to change its terms of service according to the decision. However, Valve will be appealing the ruling, making the amendment the French court wants them to make unlikely to be underway anytime soon, if it would even happen in the first place. Valve co-founder Doug Lombardi made a statement to Polygon, saying that “the decision will have no effect on Steam while the case is on appeal.”
Two cases, and it’s not CS:GO
As if one legal trouble with the EU isn’t bad enough, Valve also has another similar case. Last April, the company was charged with breaking the Union’s Digital Single Market rules. This is because Valve is geo-blocking games, restricting gamers from one EU member country to buy games from another. To be more precise, the problem lies in activation keys, as they do not work outside the countries they’re being sold in.
From a business perspective, it makes sense why Steam did this: to prevent users from more expensive countries like France and Germany from buying cheaper activation keys from places like Hungary and the Czech Republic. However, this is against the EU’s Digital Single market rules.
With one ruling about the freedom to resell games and the other about freedom of games to be bought from one country and be used in another, it looks like the EU is dead-set on making the gaming juggernaut adhere to the region’s rules.
Will they comply, and can the EU actually make them? Hopefully, they can. Because in our globalized world wherein ruling in one country can encourage others to follow suit, Steam might have no choice but to become the truly free and pro-consumer platform it’s always meant to be.