You Don't Own Video Games
With so many people talking about how Microsoft's recently rescinded policies about online-check-ins and trade restrictions were essentially stopping us from owning our games, I wanted to address the simple fact that we don't own video games...
And frankly, we never have.
So Microsoft eventually came to their senses and did away with their ridiculous policies surrounding online-check-ins and used game restrictions. Good on them for that. But, I noticed during the uproar of angry gamers that people were saying that Microsoft's policies would prevent us from owning our games.
Being familiar with End User License Agreements (EULA) and copyright law to a small degree, I found this to be a strange claim. I get the sentiment and I may be arguing semantics here. The bottom line is that we don't want Microsoft or any company removing the rights to deal with our games the way we have for almost three decades now. I totally get and agree with this sentiment. However, the simple fact of the matter here is that we do not own games. Our $60 purchase at our game-broker of choice simply grants us a license to use the software while the copyright owners maintain full ownership of the material.
Consider Rockstar Games' EULA:
LICENSE. Subject to this Agreement and its terms and conditions, Licensor hereby grants you the nonexclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license to use one copy of the Software for your personal non-commercial use for gameplay on a single computer or gaming unit, unless otherwise specified in the Software documentation. Your acquired rights are subject to your compliance with this Agreement. The term of your license under this Agreement shall commence on the date that you install or otherwise use the Software and ends on the earlier date of either your disposal of the Software or Licensor’s termination of this Agreement. Your license terminates immediately if you attempt to circumvent any technical protection measures used in connection with the Software. The Software is being licensed to you and you hereby acknowledge that no title or ownership in the Software is being transferred or assigned and this Agreement should not be construed as a sale of any rights in the Software. All rights not specifically granted under this Agreement are reserved by Licensor and, as applicable, its licensors.
OWNERSHIP. Licensor retains all right, title and interest to the Software, including, but not limited to, all copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, trade names, proprietary rights, patents, titles, computer codes, audiovisual effects, themes, characters, character names, stories, dialog, settings, artwork, sounds effects, musical works, and moral rights. The Software is protected by United States copyright and trademark law and applicable laws and treaties throughout the world. The Software may not be copied, reproduced or distributed in any manner or medium, in whole or in part, without prior written consent from Licensor. Any persons copying, reproducing or distributing all or any portion of the Software in any manner or medium, will be willfully violating the copyright laws and may be subject to civil and criminal penalties in the US or their local country. Be advised that US Copyright violations are subject to statutory penalties of up to $150,000 per violation. The Software contains certain licensed materials and Licensor’s licensors may also protect their rights in the event of any violation of this Agreement. All rights not expressly granted to you herein are reserved by the Licensor.
I've highlighted the areas of focus for your convenience, but feel free to read the portion above in its entirety. The bottom line is that you own a license to use and they own the game. Microsoft's used game policy or online-check-in system was never stopping you from owning your games because, again, you never owned them in the first place.
BAtch11June 24, 2013, 11:18 amContributorwhat does this mean for vintage games sold on eBay and other platforms sold for thousands of dollars. People's mentality is paying all this money to own the physical property, whether that means the disc, cartridge, box art, original casing etc. So these people with massive collections worth thousands of dollars, they really just own thousands of dollars worth of licensing?
B. ChambersJune 24, 2013, 11:35 amFeatured CorrespondentYep yep!
The "value" of those games is determined by the market. So that's why games like Suikoden 2 can cost over $300 brand new. The demand for that game and its pronounced rarity cause the market to perceive that game to be worth $300. But in the end, the holder of said game only has a license to use it. But...
Here's a monkey-wrench that I didn't toss in during the video. What happens when you buy a game used? I believe the license agreement is only between the copyright owner and the original buyer. If I buy Suikoden 2 used, I believe Konami is under no legal obligation to uphold the license agreement they entered into with the original purchaser.
Of course, none of this matters in a world where the developers deliver the content on physical media... But what happens when we go all digital? The used-game problem goes away, but, what if a copyright owner decides to alter their license agreements (most copyright holders reserve this right)? The current EULA language is not suited to handle an all-digital world in terms of free and fair trade for those of us on the consumer end of the deal.