EU Courts Rule that Software may be Resold

EU Courts Rule that Software may be Resold

By | July 6th, 2012
No Comments on EU Courts Rule that Software may be Resold

The European Court of Justice has ruled that the resale of legally

purchased software is indeed legal. The court ruled in a case by Oracle,

which had accused UsedSoft of piracy. UsedSoft acted as a reseller of used

Oracle licenses.


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Software publishers try to have it both ways. On one hand they argue that obtaining software without the permission of the author — in other words piracy — is equivalent to theft, which is usually a concept applied to physical goods, not infinitely duplicable digital bits. On the other hand they argue that unlike physical goods, software cannot be resold, and it is only licensed to the consumer. It has always been known that the arbitrary restrictions imposed by the EULA do not supersede the local laws of wherever the software is sold, however it is interesting every time it is challenged. Now the European Court of Justice has ruled that the resale of legally purchased software is indeed legal. The court ruled in a case by Oracle, which had accused UsedSoft of piracy. UsedSoft acted as a reseller of used Oracle licenses. This has some interesting implications for the world of software. Buying used products is rather popular, especially if the original product it expensive and not within reach of many people. One can find used products from all price ranges, from magazines and books to mobiles and cars. There is a major difference between reselling physical items and digital items though. While physical items undergo wear and tear and are eventually discarded, digital software has no such issue. Each copy is identical to the last, and the cycle could continue indefinitely. But will it? There is another reality to consider. Digital items, do have a life-cycle of sorts, in that they become obsolete. Software applications only last for a limited amount of time while they are still capable of running on current generation computers. Depending on the situation, this could be anywhere between a few years, to a over a decade. Software such as Windows 3.1, 95, or even 98 and ME will no longer run on current generation machines, and can thus be considered to have ended their cycle. In fact there is an entire ecosystem of abandon-ware websites which offer old software and games that are no longer being sold by their creators. Such sites are legally grey at best. The fact is that the software is no longer sold by the original creators, and as such they expect no sales of it, often the company that originally created the software is no longer in existence, or the copyright. On the other hand it is clearly copyright violation, even if usually not enforced. More interesting though is the case of games, music, movies, eBooks and other “consumable” items. Music, and eBooks especially do not have any end of cycle. Movies still have some “wearing” as higher definition devices are available, and older copies no longer have the same quality. Games too only last as long as they can run on the underlying hardware, but there are dedicated efforts to ensure that they continue running. You have gaming console emulators, OS emulators such as DOSBox for DOS games and applications, you even have game engine emulators such as SCUMMVM that give games life beyond their years. Consoles already have a thriving used games market, and statistics show that the rate of game sales decreases at an rather high rate. Even a very popular game will, after a few years, sell only a percent or few of what it sold in its first year. For console games, the fact that there is a used games market and that games sales will decrease over time is already factored into the high $60 price point. The only thing that happens if used digital software sales are legal is that now is that the same principle should be valid for PCs as well. An interesting example of a used digital software model already in play on the PC is Green Man Gaming. This website allows you to sell the games you have purchased, and use the store credit to purchase games in the future. It is even possible to sell a game for more than what you bought it, if you buy in a deep sale and wait. Even if used software sales were to become legal all over the world, all that software developers would have to do is to embrace the new model. They could actually become involved in used sales themselves, thus keeping a control on the prices and keeping themselves part of the transaction. It is unlikely this would happen though. As is evident from the increasingly regressive stance most software — especially game — publishers have, it doesn’t seem that they would subscribe to such wisdom.

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Kshitij Sobti
Inserted into Kshitij's motivation banks is a particularly strong desire for justice. It's sad then, that he wastes his skills gaming, watching TV, and for the mundane task of writing prose. He tweets