A French consumer group UFC-Que-Choisir has decided to take up arms against Valve and their Steam software distribution system. They are taking Valve to court in what could be an important digital consumer rights case. While this group has decided to take its crusade solely against Valve, could this have an affect on other digital distributors? They are seeking the following rights for French consumers:
- The right to resell any legally purchased software through Steam’s software distribution systems.
- Insurance or compensation for hacked accounts (they cite over 77,000 Steam accounts are hacked each month).
- User created content is not owned by Valve but is owned by the user who employed the creative energies to design that unique content.
On the surface these rights seem essential and fair for consumers. However each point has a caveat or other items to consider. For example, reselling software was extensive when games were sold on physical media. Digital distribution is much more convenient and redownloadable, things have changed. Now the caveat here is that when you agree to be a Steam, Amazon, iTunes, or GoG user you agree in that 400 ton EULA that you are buying a license to play this game on said system, and that license is contractually non-transferable. There is no EULA attached to the old wrench in your garage, and its yours, you are free to re-sell that object you possess.
The legality of these terms of service could come into question but what is more likely, is that one company restructures their policies based on consumer demand first. If gamers enter in a new age of digital utopia, all others will follow. I am a little more cautious on this one, knowing one thing for certain. Corporations are out to make money, not lose it. While all systems have the potential to abused, this is one that is tough to be ignored. I know have 20-30 games on my Steam list right now that ended up there via superfluous bundle deals, or were just bad impulse buys. Wouldn’t mind selling them back out at a discount, a practice many game publishing companies always had a hard time with. A problem that is solved by making really good games.
Solving hacked accounts is a bit of a quandary. If someone claims their Steam account was hacked, can the source of the security breach be proven? Was it Valve’s servers and databases that were compromised? Was it the users? These attacks are hard to trace most of the times. Lastly, the UFC group is trying to define rights for user created content. They are alleging that a user that has created something unique, a new map, icon, item, etc., for a game is their property. They own it, and are free to do with as they please. Currently, user created content that a user uploads and shares belongs to Valve, and is redistributed freely among those licensed to play the game on Steam. The UFC claims stop there. However if they legally obtain this right in French courts, it would open up the door for users to sell their own creations or even trade them on the marketplace as their own property. This could be good, and also very bad. I can foresee 980,000 TF2 maps for sale for a $1 a piece with (979,000 of them being really bad). These points do give one plenty to think about and in the coming months this legal debate will be closely watched.