How a Supreme Court Ruling on Ink Could Impact Digital Games

A ruling this week on resales of printer cartridges could signal an important step toward changing your legal rights regarding the things you buy.

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A Supreme Court ruling on printer cartridges, of all things, could have big ramifications for consumer ownership rights, including that of digital goods like video games.

In the case Impression Products v Lexmark, the Supreme Court ruled that consumers have broader rights to do what they will with purchased goods than previously thought. Impression Products was one of many companies buying empty secondhand print cartridges, refilling them with toner, and then selling them to consumers. Lexmark argued that this violated its service agreement, and therefore violated its patent. Essentially, it was trying to control both the first point-of-sale and all subsequent secondhand sales. The high court ruled that it could not use patent law to enforce its sales.

Software like video games have long been in a strange limbo when it comes to ownership rights. That $60 purchase of Injustice 2 is actually only buying you a license to play Injustice 2. You don't own the software itself. This legal status was originally conferred regarding resales and to prevent users from having legal permission to alter a code and claim it as their own. But it's also created strange marketing disasters, like when Microsoft outlined its plans to bind Xbox One games to a single system and place restrictions on borrowing or resales.

Consumer advocates have argued for a "right to tinker" when it comes to all products, but especially the emerging market for digital goods. This ruling doesn't explicitly create a universal right-to-tinker, but Justice Roberts seemed skeptical of Lexmark's argument–which bodes well for future cases along the same lines. In his majority opinion, he drew a comparison to a used car shop, noting that it would be a burden on the economy if such businesses could be sued by car or parts manufacturers. 

This could set a precedent going forward for what consumers are permitted to do with the things they buy. Already the Electronic Frontier Foundation published a blog post celebrating the move as an important step.

"The Court explained that people who buy things are allowed to use and resell them without being sued under patent and copyright law, and explained that this freedom is necessary for commerce to function," the statement reads. "The next logical step will be for courts to recognize that people who buy digital goods are owners of those goods, not mere licensees, and can resell and tinker with their digital goods to the same extent as purchasers of tangible property."

[Source: Washington Post]

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From The Chatty
  • reply
    June 2, 2017 8:32 AM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, How a Supreme Court Ruling on Ink Could Impact Digital Games

    • reply
      June 2, 2017 8:37 AM

      Good move on the Supreme Courts decision there. Kind of sad that it's even a thing though.

      • reply
        June 2, 2017 12:25 PM

        Companies will be assholes, if you let them be. This is a great ruling for consumer protection.

        • Zek
          reply
          June 2, 2017 12:56 PM

          The digital question is going to be very messy though. Normally used goods have an inherent trade-off of diminished quality and higher risk of failure. In that way it's self-regulating. A "used" digital product though is identical in every way to a new one, unless the distributor places arbitrary restrictions on it. The distributor also has full control over the transfer of ownership, and thus controls the sale and how much it's worth. So even if you can force them to enable reselling games there are a ton of questions around how it's implemented and where the money goes.

          • reply
            June 2, 2017 1:05 PM

            Technically identical is not necessarily the same as equally valuable. Things can gain or lose value over time simply due to them no longer being current. In the case of media products like games, value is almost universally lost.

          • reply
            June 2, 2017 1:07 PM

            It is also going to make things a mess for hacking/botting/scripting etc. Digital service, not a product is going to be basically required for most things.