If you pay to download a video game, does it then become a product you own? And should you then be allowed to sell or give it away like you can with physical products?
The European Union's Court of Justice has its own opinions on this long-running debate, noting as part of a filing today that customers should indeed own the rights to digital software.
"Moreover, as stated in paragraph 46 above, in a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings, the copyright holder transfers the right of ownership of the copy of the computer program to his customer," the court said.
The court also ruled that customers should be able to re-sell their digital software:
Since the copyright holder cannot object to the resale of a copy of a computer program for which that rightholder's distribution right is exhausted under Article 4(2) of Directive 2009/24, it must be concluded that a second acquirer of that copy and any subsequent acquirer are ‘lawful acquirers' of it within the meaning of Article 5(1) of Directive 2009/24.
Consequently, in the event of a resale of the copy of the computer program by the first acquirer, the new acquirer will be able, in accordance with Article 5(1) of Directive 2009/24, to download onto his computer the copy sold to him by the first acquirer. Such a download must be regarded as a reproduction of a computer program that is necessary to enable the new acquirer to use the program in accordance with its intended purpose.
So what does this mean for gamers? Well, nothing — for now. But a ruling like this could set a precedent for future digital-rights cases in Europe, particularly surrounding distribution services like Steam and Origin. Do you have the rights to the games you buy and download? Should you be allowed to resell them? Be prepared for many, many legal battles and quagmires both in Europe and the US over the coming years as the industry attempts to answer those questions.
JUDGMENT OF THE COURT (Grand Chamber) [InfoCuria — thanks Robert!]