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European Court landmark ruling on video game download copyright

European Court rules that re-sale of downloadable software such as computer games is not illegal.

Video games publishers and developers are likely to be more than a little bit perturbed by a European Court of Justice ruling which gives the green light to the resale of downloaded titles.

The ruling in the UsedSoft GmbH v Oracle International Corp case says that an author of software, such as a developer or publisher, cannot oppose the resale of a used licence allowing the use of downloaded programmes online.

Although the ruling applies to programmes generally, the implications for video games go right to the crux of the online distribution and download debate.

Effectively, the court has ruled that the author of software "exhausts his exclusive distribution right" once he sells a licensed copy to the customer, because the right of ownership of the copy has passed over during the transaction.

The ruling added: "Such a transaction involves a transfer of the right of ownership of the copy. Therefore, even if the licence agreement prohibits a further transfer, the rightholder can no longer oppose the resale of that copy."

The video games industry has long relied on the end-user license agreement to prevent re-distribution of downloadable content. In most cases, this license gives the user the right to play the game, but not rights of ownership.

However, this ruling appears to throw a proverbial spanner in the works for publishers with regards to the legal application of end-user license agreements.

Of course, at this stage the ruling only applies to downloads in Europe, so the impact on the industry is limited for now. It will be interesting to see how other regions respond to the problem of downloadable content licensing.

How this will affect gamers in practice is an open question - the sharing of downloadable software is not, at present, something that is very easy to do. Given the industry's concern over the resale of used hard copies of games, the implications certainly are wide-reaching, even if the re-use of downloadable content is not yet widely practiced.ADNFCR-1220-ID-801401254-ADNFCR