Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Not This Shit Again

Okay, now Valve has changed the Steam Subscriber Agreement to, among other things, forbid class action lawsuits.

It seems to be the fad lately, with Microsoft, Sony, EA, and probably others having already done the same thing.

The thing that gets me is that this is in a EULA, a dubiously legal document to begin with.  Being that it's drafted entirely by them and for all intents and purposes is trying to trump law, you'd think the people it applies to would have some say in what goes into it, since we're forced to agree to it.  But no.  The difference?

It's not a contract.  Therefore, as far as I'm concerned, nothing in it actually matters.  It's a purely one-sided agreement that they give themselves the right to change at any time.  Disagreement means forfeiting goods you have legally paid for.  To me, that's just wrong.

To highlight exactly what I am saying, I will refer to digital distribution services that unfairly restrict your right to do what you want with what you purchased as "encumbered digital distribution" services.  This effectively differentiates Steam from GoG.  On GoG, all games are unencumbered and once you purchase them, that's it, you own the copy, no questions asked.

This also highlights a point about encumbered digital distribution that's been lurking in the shadows all along.  You do not actually OWN the copies of the games or whatever you purchase digitally.  Compare that to physical distribution.  I look up at my stack of jewel cases for games released before encumbered digital distribution was all the rage.  Nobody can ever deny that I own a copy of StarCraft, its expansion Brood War, Diablo II and its expansion Lord of Destruction, Myst, Riven, etc. because I have those physical copies there to show that I do indeed own a copy of those games.

But with encumbered digital distribution, you never own the copy of whatever you just purchased.  You're just paying for the license to be able to use it so long as you remain on good terms with the company you're paying.  You don't get the same rights with the good you just purchased as if you had an unencumbered physical copy.  For instance, you can't lend it or resell it, both of which are perfectly legal to do with unencumbered physical goods.

The other thing that disturbs me about encumbered digital distribution: it depends on the life of the controlling company.  If they go bankrupt, what happens to your purchases?  Most likely, you'll lose them.  That would never happen with unencumbered distribution.  Given that things can turn from awesome to crap in a company almost in an instant these days, it's definitely something to keep in mind.

So if you want me to enter into a contract for the use of your service, that's fine.  Call it a contract, and let me negotiate the terms so that it benefits me as much as it benefits you.  So long as you make poor attempts at disguising a contract as a one-sided agreement, I will continue to declare that it doesn't apply because I was forced into it under duress.

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