The European courts ruled today that downloadable software can be resold by users, which delivers a blow to current DRM policies in use by Steam, EA, and other content providers. From the opinion of the court:
The first sale in the EU of a copy of a computer program by the copyright holder or with his consent exhausts the right of distribution of that copy in the EU. A rightholder who has marketed a copy in the territory of a Member State of the EU thus loses the right to rely on his monopoly of exploitation in order to oppose the resale of that copy… The principle of exhaustion of the distribution right applies not only where the copyright holder markets copies of his software on a material medium (CD-ROM or DVD) but also where he distributes them by means of downloads from his website.
On one hand, this ruling could usher in an era where digital content is finally liberated from the vestiges of the material market. On the other hand, it’s problematic because it still treats digital media as a consumable resource—perhaps more so than current DRM—but unlike a physical good, digital goods do not depreciate through their use or distribution. What does it mean to buy or sell a downloaded game? Will there be a marketplace for used downloads? Will they be cheaper? Can you give away your download for free? It isn’t clear how (or if) this system will work.
The pressing question on many minds will be, “What are the consequences for game developers?”