Secondhand sale of software protected, rules European court

EU's Court of Justice finds content creators can't prohibit post-purchase redistribution of work, no matter what end-user license agreement says.


Have a kilometer-long Steam games list and a paper-thin wallet? If you're a European citizen, you may soon be in luck, as software producers can no longer prevent users from reselling software licenses, according to a Court of Justice of the European Union ruling.

Will EU citizens be allowed to turn unwanted Steam games into euros?
Will EU citizens be allowed to turn unwanted Steam games into euros?

The case between hardware and software producer Oracle and German company UsedSoft, which made a business of buying and reselling software licenses from consumers, was decided in favor of UsedSoft. The court's judgment stated that a software author's exclusive license to distribute a given copy of its product is exhausted with its initial distribution, allowing the owner to then distribute said copy.

The judgment applies both to future end-user license agreements and preexisting ones. Therefore, even if the license agreement prohibits further transfer, the rightholder can no longer oppose the resale of that copy.

The EU Court of Justice is the union's highest court. Its ruling stipulated that the piece of software must be made inoperable for the reseller and that it does not affect the author's exclusive right to duplicate the software for anything other than its intended purpose. This ruling applies to both physical and fully digital purchases made in EU member states.

The impact of the judgment on digital distribution services such as Good Old Games, which is based in the EU, is not yet known. GOG's marketing manager Michał Dys said the full text of the ruling needs to be analyzed by experts before any decisions can be made. "We are aware that the consequences can be game-changing and we're definitely looking carefully into this situation," Dys said.

Microsoft deferred comment to a Business Software Association statement, which stated the ruling disrupts "longstanding consensus that licenses for programs downloaded over the Internet are not transferable." The BSA believes the judgment will affect only a narrow subset of permanent licenses.

[CORRECTION] This article originally stated that the German Federal Court of Justice issued the ruling. It was actually the Court of Justice of the European Union. GameSpot regrets the error.

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