Jokes about GameStop offering people a fraction of a game's worth during trade-ins aside, one of the clear advantages physical copies of games have had over their digital counterparts is the ability to resell them, allowing players to recoup some of their investment when they're done with a title. But that might change. Earlier this week, the Paris District Court ruled that Steam's restrictions on reselling digital games violate European Union (EU) regulations earlier this week.
French website Numerama reported on the court's decision yesterday. The report linked the relevant aspects of EU law, which can be found here and here, that led the Paris District Court to its ruling. In non-legalese: the EU requires "the free movement of goods within the Union." That freedom prohibits companies from deciding if a product can be resold, and according to this ruling, that protection applies to digital copies of games as well as physical goods.
The court gave Steam owner Valve three months to amend Steam's terms of service to comply with EU regulations. The changes will probably take longer to go into effect, however, as the case heads to appeal. A company spokesperson told Polygon: "We disagree with the decision of the Paris Court of First Instance and will appeal it. The decision will have no effect on Steam while the case is on appeal." That process could take years to resolve.
This isn't the first time the EU has complained about Steam inhibiting free trade between member countries. Valve was one of many companies--as well as other major publishers like Bandai Namco and Capcom--accused of breaking the law by "geo-blocking" Steam activation keys in April. That geo-blocking prohibited keys used in physical copies in games that were purchased in one country ("A") from being used in another country ("B").
Valve told us at the time that it doesn't choose whether or not Steam activation keys are geo-blocked; that's up to the publishers. It's merely providing the platform these keys rely on. Although that didn't stop the company from defending the practice, claiming that getting rid of geo-blocks "will also mean that publishers will likely raise prices in less affluent regions to avoid price arbitrage."
It's clear that the EU has taken an interest in the way digital games are sold and managed. People can resell their physical games, movies and albums. The only reason they can't do the same for their digital copies is the fact that companies only sell access to the product in question; the idea that someone actually owns the product is an illusion. Arguing in favor of resales is one step closer towards guaranteeing true ownership of digital goods.