Steam: Revisited

By Shamus Posted Thursday Sep 6, 2007

Filed under: Video Games 45 comments

I gather from comments left in my year-and-a-half-old post on Steam that the service has cleaned up its act and is a lot more user friendly these days. A couple of visitors didn’t notice the age-old timestamp and thought I was either lying or stupid. So, I’m writing this post to sort of acknowledge the change in Steam and update my comments on it a bit.

I’m glad Valve fixed the various bugs and annoyances with Steam, although it happened too late to help me. The only thing worse than intrusive DRM is intrusive DRM which doesn’t work right. (And when DRM doesn’t work right, it never fails on the side of leniency. No, it always fails in a way that locks paying customers out of their media.) “Offline mode” is now a proper feature and not a hack, and Steam will let you play a game even if patches are available. So, in my bullet-list of grievances against Steam, a few of them can now be crossed out.

Having said that, I still abhor the idea of online activation. I have a drawer full of games from the mid-to-late 90’s that offer to “check for updates” once the install is done, and while the games themselves work fine, the patching service has gone the way of Pompeii. It’s long extinct, and if I want that patch I must go on some sort of archaeological dig and hope the thing is buried somewhere on FilePlanet. If those games had online activation, I’d be locked out of them now. So, this complaint against Steam still stands: I don’t want to buy a game that will turn into an expensive coaster the moment the publisher perishes or loses interest. I don’t want to pay for something I don’t own, and if I have to ask for permission then I don’t own it.

My other gripe is that Steam denies me resale rights. Again, if I owned the game, I could trade it in or sell it. I used to do this all the time. The trade-in from one game would finance the purchase of the next. The only games I would hold onto were the ones which I thought I might play again, or the ones so bereft of value that I wouldn’t be able to trade them in. With Steam, once you register the game you can’t transfer it to anyone else. You can’t give, sell, or lend it. All you can do is throw it away.

Losing resale rights is less of an issue now than it was two years ago. EB Games and Game Stop no longer accept PC games as trade-ins, so this point is moot now. But the inability to lend a game is outrageous.

I don’t have anything against people who use or enjoy Steam, and I understand the appeal of downloadable games, getting updates without hunting for the patch, and the other conveniences provided by Steam. I’m glad the service works for some people, and now that it actually works I admit the thing has merit. It’s better than recent alternatives. (Compared to the jerks at 2kGames, Valve comes off looking like Lawrence Lessig.) But I’m old enough to remember the days when my obligations to the publisher ended at the cash register, and I’m always going to resent their efforts to take up residence on my computer.

On top of all of this is the sheer futility of the entire effort. The point has been made so vigorously before on so many sites that I experience a sense of weariness just bringing it up: All of these layers of security are utterly bereft of value. Valve is denying me resale rights and hassling me with activation for no benefit to anyone whatsoever.

So, Steam is no longer a terrible product which infuriates me. It is now a user-friendly and well designed product which annoys me. (Although it still needs a “bugger off when I’m done with you option. There is no reason for it to live in the system tray.) I would much, much rather buy something and be done with the publisher. The fact that it now takes energy to sustain my “ownership” of the game is something that will never feel right to me. I’ve skipped the various games that use Steam so far. We’ll have to see long term if they can come up with a combination of compelling gameplay and low price that can entice me to try the service again. They aren’t doing so well so far. Serving BioShock up to Steam users with its various poisons intact was not a smart move on their part, and only reinforced my perception that they are comfortable treating customers like villainous cattle.


From The Archives:

45 thoughts on “Steam: Revisited

  1. Telas says:

    There’s an “exit” option, and an uncheckable “run when Windows starts” box in the options.

    Is that what you mean by a “bugger off” button?

  2. Inane Fedaykin says:

    Just a small nitpick. You can lend someone a game by simply giving them access to your account. If I wanted to lend it to my buddy in Holand from my home in Canada it would normally be a bit of a no go but I just have to give him the password and he can download and play. Of course, it’s nice that I have friends I can do this with and not worry about my account being stolen but I imagine this doesn’t work for everyone. I would like to say that I agree with you though, my gripes with Steam have been known as ‘unreasonable’ at times.

    Oh well, I’ve still got versions of half life and counter strike from before steam and they still run.

  3. MintSkittle says:

    I think what he means is that steam continues to run in the background when you play games on steam, so it takes up processing power that could be spent running your game.

  4. Shamus says:

    Actually, I just want steam to close when I’m done playing the game. It annoyed my closing the game, and then closing Steam.

  5. DGM says:

    We'll have to see long term if they can come up with a combination of compelling gameplay and low price that can entice me to try the service again.

    How about Portals? I tried Narbacular Drop after reading your blog entry on it, and I have to admit that this is an even cooler idea than the gravity gun.

    If Steam is tolerable these days, the Orange Box might be worth it once comes down in price.

  6. Couple of thoughts:
    – The whole notion of ‘I don’t want activation because I want to play this game in 7 or 8 years’ is more often than not a fallacy. Unless you plan to keep a WinXP system running for 7 or 8 years, you could end up with a situation like so many Win95 / 98 games that simply *won’t* work on WinXP / Vista.
    – Right now the most compatible games are the DOS games ;)
    – BTW – I have DOS, Win95 and Win98 laptops that let me get around all of that!
    – The whole resale thing is definitely true … what a pain!
    – On trade-ins, you should all check out for game trades – I’ve been a member for over a year and have ~125 trades and it has been great!

  7. Shamus says:

    There is a difference between “This game won’t work due to changing technology” and “This game won’t work because the DRM won’t let me”.

    More importantly, running old games on new tech is MY problem. Locking ME out of MY game is THEIR problem. Well, it would be if they gave a rats ass.

  8. Steve C says:

    Shamus said:
    “Losing resale rights is less of an issue now than it was two years ago.”

    … umm why?

    Illegally losing rights because someone else has more power should be 100% unacceptable to everyone.

    “'m old enough to remember the days when my obligations to the publisher ended at the cash register,”

    Your obligations to the publisher still legally end there. When they don’t, it’s because someone is abusing their power illegally. It’s called ‘Consideration’ and ‘Privity of contract.’ You have no contract with anyone but the EBGames etc that you purchased from. Shrink wrap licenses you see after the cash register are not enforcible except in 2 states and certain low district courts. (Very incompetent district courts.) And not at all in most developed countries.

    I really wish I was independently wealthy so I could win a few class action lawsuits. I’m so sick of this erosion of consumer rights. Everyone should expect more rights to be lost every year. Nobody ever challenges these power plays by software manufacturers, (they are just ignored by users) so the manufacturer tries to take a little more next year.

  9. Blurr says:

    ! thing that annoys me:

    Steam will download new games without my consent, install them, and then ask me to buy them. It annoys the hell out of me.

  10. Avatar says:

    Ironically, game companies had better watch out with the online activation thing, or hacks for those games which can’t be activated anymore may be expressly legalized; worse, it’s possible that ALL hacks of that type might be legalized. Take a look at the cell phone unlocking issue for an example of how that can bite you in the butt…

  11. Alex says:

    Unfortunately, you’re making an assumption that isn’t quite true: That you do in fact own the game. What you own, and what you have always owned, is in fact a LICENSE to play a game. There’s a reason it’s called a EULA and not, say, a EUSA.

    In the past there was really no way for the publisher to enforce that License, so you could do stuff with it like you actually owned that copy, lending it out, reselling it, etc. Now, thanks to the advent of technology they can quite easily enforce the terms of their license.

    And like it or not, it is well within their legal right to do something like this, and in fact their shareholders could even potentially hold them negligent if they didn’t. Unfortunately, short of some rather drastic changes to Intellectual Property law, I don’t see this trend reversing.

  12. Krellen says:

    Steve C: I’m curious which two states those are. I’d like to avoid them if I can.

    Alex: I’ve heard that spiel about it being a “license” a thousand times, and I don’t buy it. If actually challenged, I doubt it would ever hold up in court. There is a societal implied contract that when you buy something, you’ve bought it. End of discussion; the publisher does not have any right to limit your use of it.

    The problem lays in the fact that, to my knowledge, no one’s ever challenged it. That’s what need to happen. No matter how much it may seem the US legal system is pro-business, cases come down to juries or individual judges, and judges generally have a well-founded sense of justice; a company denying you fair use of their product that you have already paid them for violates that sense of justice. And if you can get a jury involved (unlikely, since it is, to my knowledge, the defendant’s right to call a jury, not the prosecutor’s), there’s no question which way it will go.

    Simply: no, I didn’t buy a license. I bought a game, and everyone knows that, no matter what they try to claim.

  13. See “First Sale Doctrine“. Reselling a copyrighted work is not a violation of copyright.

  14. Shamus says:

    SteveC: I guess I should have been more clear. When I said it was less of an issue, I just meant that for me, personally, it was less of a [monetary] issue. Yes: Denying resale rights is wrong and (as Steven pointed out) probably unenforceable if someone wanted to fight a multimillion dollar case over a $60 game.

  15. Miral says:

    Inability to resell doesn’t really bother me. In all my years of buying and playing games, I’ve resold exactly one of them (and regretted it about four months later when I suddenly felt the urge to replay it).

    I do quite often dig into my archives and replay games that are 5-15 years old (and yes, it’s ironic that the old DOS games are now more compatible than the old Windows games, though I haven’t had too much trouble with either). So it would annoy me a lot if I couldn’t do that any more. With the success of HL, though, I doubt Valve is going away any time soon, so it ought to be safe.

    (I don’t have that much confidence in 2kGames, which is another reason why I don’t want to buy BioShock, even through Steam.)

  16. Alex says:

    Re: the first sale doctrine
    Sure, you can resell the particular copy that you bought, ie the disc. Do it as often as you want. Catch is that you can’t necessarily resell the license to use said disc. Computer programs are tricky from a copyright perspective, since technically every time you use a program you are making a copy of it (into RAM). From a legal perspective, you do not have that right to copy something you buy, only the copyright owner does. Just because I bought Harry Potter does not mean that I can photocopy it.

    Of course, if you deny all copying rights then programs-for-sale becomes a dead paradigm. If no one can copy your bits into memory, then no one can use your program, and no one will pay you. On the other hand, you don’t want to sell your copying rights either, since then everyone who buys your program can make infinite copies of it and sell it, keeping the profits for themselves.

    Thus comes the middle road: A limited copy license. At absolute minimum, this license provides the licensee the ability to copy the licensor’s bits from hard drive to RAM and back again an unlimited number of times, and the ability to copy the licensor’s bits from disc to hard drive (or server to hard drive for downloads) once. Anything else is like dealer incentives on leasing a new car: Nice to have, customer satisfying, maybe even implicitly expected, but not strictly necessary. And a license, being basically a contract, is usually non-transferable unless otherwise stated.

    Like I said, that’s pretty much the state of things as they are now, and how a lawyer might argue it. They could change, but it would require a fairly major rewrite of copyright law.

  17. Shapeshifter says:

    I wonder if there’s an age gap here. Are younger gamers (who grew up with game companies/publishers claiming they were all-powerful gods and you should be thankful they were LETTING you play their games) more likely to accept this sort of bullshit than older ones? (It would be an interesting study.)

  18. Dihydrogen says:

    Alex, if you buy a game you have a legal right to make personal copies of said game (i.e. it is perfectly legal to have it in memory, burn a copy of the disc, copy onto your hard drive, etc. as part of fair use for personal use. However it is not legal to circumvent copy protection due to the digital Millennium Copyright Act. So, While it is illegal to back-up the CD it is legal to own a backup.

    Also, if you buy Harry Potter and photocopy it you are doing nothing illegal as long as only you it and no one else reads the actual book while you read the backup. The backup is really only useful if you don’t want to damage the book by reading it. However, usually you have to break the spine of the book to photocopy it which defeats the purpose.

  19. Shamus says:

    I should note that I wrote a post about what Dihydrogen mentioned above. You can see it here.

  20. Daemian_Lucifer says:

    Steam wouldnt be so bad if it was:
    1)Reserved for only those games not purchased on discs
    2)Those games were much cheaper.
    This would turn those games into pure rentals,so you paying for the game would actually be paying for the right to just play the game for a while but not own it,just like an account in MMO games.

    However,like shamus says,when you buy a disc,you should have every right to sell it afterwards,or reinstal it 10 years later even if the company bankrupts.Publishers prohibiting this drastically decrease the value of their products.

  21. Ravs says:

    A bit obvious perhaps, but I suppose it’s always in the consumer’s gift not to buy the game if it has online activation codes and if enough people did this then online activation might become a thing of the past.

    The point, I guess, is analagous one you made in your post about pointing out the ‘back’ button to people who criticised your post: Bioshock and DRM: My apology. ‘If you don’t like the fact the game doesn’t give you absolute rights of ownership, then don’t buy it.’

    I would be worried if the games production world was run by a monopoly where consumers didn’t have any choice but to agree to limited rights of use, but that isn’t the case here.

    Having said that, I’m glad you’re fighting the good fight in bringing the issue to the attention of lots of people (including, I hope the publishers), because as an opinion former (which you are) – publishers will see that the buying public will not necessarily take their ‘security paranioa’ lying down and may decline to buy the game in large numbers. I feel sorry for the developer in those circumstances, but then it would be a lesson for developers to pick their publishers more carefully.


  22. Elton says:

    I generally agree with the article; Steam does sound pretty annoying, still. just a couple of nitpicks:

    If DRM fails on the side of leniency, how would the user ever know? You only detect errors when it fails to deny you access, I’d think.

    And denying resale rights (which pisses me off too) does benefit the publisher, doesn’t it? I buy most of my games on ebay (and consequently get a lot of games cheaply that I’m just taking a stab at, but wouldn’t buy new) but if a game I was dying to play was not transferable, I’d suck it up and buy it new. I’d think the number of purchasers who refuse to buy the game because of denied resale rights would be less than the number of cheapskates (like me) who’d end up buying the game new (if it was really good). I’d just end up buying a lot fewer games if all no reselling was possible.

  23. kamagurka says:

    Well said.

  24. Robert says:

    Until Harper sucks up to Bush some more, in Canada at least it’s perfectly legal to circumvent the copy protection and make a copy of your game (or movie), as long as you don’t use that copy to violate copyright by, say, giving it to a friend.

    In Australia it’s actually illegal for companies to prevent users from using legally-purchased products, which includes DVDs bought on vacation, which is why Australian DVD players don’t look at region codes.

  25. Tom says:

    Thanks for the update on Steam, and thanks for your previous article about Bioshock. I had no idea there was anything Steam-related about Bioshock. I was planning to buy Bioshock after the DRM was relaxed, but if it uses Steam, it’s a no-go. After my terrible experience with Half-Life 2, I will never buy a Steam game again.

    I never even finished HL2, and I’m sure Steam wouldn’t let me re-load it anyway, since I’ve long forgotten all my registration information…so it’s a coaster. Set of coasters…

  26. Miako says:


    I believe the legal decisions have said that you may have two copies of any program (on two different computers), so long as you only use one at a time.

    Classic example is software that you use both at home and at work.

  27. Deoxy says:


    All the arguments you’ve made regarding license boil down to this: the companies are magnanimously granting me the rights, through that license, THAT I ALREADY HAVE.

    ALL the stuff you’ve said about copying, etc? I already hav those rights. By granting those same rights through license, they are trying to convince people that they ONLY have those rights because of license, but that is wrong.

    Now, as Dihydrogen pointed out, they’ve managed to buy an end-run around this “problem” (that is, pay off Congressman for the DMCA, and SCOTUS allowed this end-run, which is ridiculous… almost as ridiculous as “campaign finance reform”, their running on which stood the 1st Amendment on its head, protecting everything BUT political speech, which is the polar opposite of what the people who wrote it clearly understood it to mean, as judged by what laws THEY believed were just peachy), but that still doesn’t make it ethical (and I can far more about ethics than law).

  28. quadir says:

    I’m glad you took a second look at steam. Valve is far from perfect, and they have a lot of cool ideas that end up not as cool in the end. I don’t think steam is one of those.

    Shamus mentioned resale rights,
    – someone pointed out you don’t own the game, and they are right. Should you be allowed to lend a game to a friend and then they beat it and never buy it? No. You might as well just burn them a copy, which would be pirating.
    – Valve IS however aware that word of mouth works better when you can just hand your buddy a cd and say “don’t take my word for it, try it out yourself!”

    They solved this problem:
    – Many games on steam, from valve and other developpers/publishers have guest passes that you can give to your friends, allowing them to try out the game, but not lasting so long that they’ll beat it and never buy it. This is the actual game, not a demo, which are also offered on steam for many games. This is similar to what MMOs do.

    – Free weekends, several developpers say, “try our full game for the weekend” especially for multiplayer games. This is cool because down the line after a year of updates you can revisit something and see if it’s worth it.

    Shamus you also said steam doesn’t give you anything, although I think you may just be talking about how online activation doesn’t give you anything. In the latter you’re right, it lets the publisher control something you never got the rights to do.
    Steam does add value, even when running in your system tray not playing games:
    – Downloading updates when not playing, nothing ruins a gaming session more then going to launch to play with a friend and waiting 10 minutes for it to update.
    – Friends system that lets you know when you friend goes to play a multiplayer game and making it easy to join them.
    – Adding voice communication to ANY title, even non-steam ones.
    – xbox live like gamer profiles, if that’s your thing.
    And it’s free. I think I’m done. Steam does a few things I don’t like but which I agreed to, and it does a lot of things I do like.

    For those of you mentioning that you won’t be running legacy systems to play old games as an argument for online activation though, I point out virtualization has made this a moot issue, just open win95 in vmware, it’s not slow since hardware is so much better then it used to be when you were running that OS.

  29. Windblade says:

    I’ll be honest, i’m loving steam, and I’m 30 years old and a gamer since i was 12. Part of the reason I love steam is that I’m UK based, with a fairly large HD. the current exchange rate (all steam games are priced in $) means that I get a hefty discount compared to store purchases if I dl the game through steam rather than buy it at the counter.

  30. Alex says:

    To those who say that you have the right to copy something solely because you bought it, even for personal use, you don’t. It’s called ‘copyright’ for a reason, it gives you the RIGHT to COPY something. It’s not called ‘copyforprofitright’. Just because you are photocopying Harry Potter for personal use doesn’t mean that it’s not illegal. It just means that there’s no way for the copyright owner to stop you.

    “What about fair use?” you say. Fair Use as a term has a fairly narrow definition as codified in law (Title 17, Section 107 of the US Code), that really just covers some basic First Amendment usage: Criticism, Parody, News Reporting, etc. Nowhere does it mention ‘A copy on my home and a copy on my work computer’. It is entirely different from usage which is fair, which is not actually written down anywhere, but as far as I can tell is based entirely on judicial precedent.

    The ‘usage which is fair’ concept may indeed allow you to make copies for personal use, but as I said, a strict reading of the laws that have been passed by the duly elected representatives of the people gives you no such rights. Sucky? Sure. But that’s the price we pay for living in a society of laws, we sometimes have results that we don’t like. The NICE thing about living in such a society is that those laws can be changed. Don’t like a law? Tell your congressman. Congressman not taking action? Run against him.

    As I have said from the beginning, this is how it is currently, not how they will be for all time. Things can change, but it requires the laws to change. Short of that we have to rely on publishers being lenient with their license terms, and in aggregate they’re only going to be as lenient as it takes to keep people buying from them.

    Boycotts and other pressure on the publishers can help, but it’s a little like complaining about the seat spacing on airlines but still flying on them: Yes, you can effect change for the better, but the underlying nature of the relationship is unaffected. There’s a product offered under a very rigid set of conditions and you can take it or leave it, it’s just that those conditions might be more acceptable to you.

  31. Julian says:

    “- someone pointed out you don't own the game, and they are right. Should you be allowed to lend a game to a friend and then they beat it and never buy it? No. You might as well just burn them a copy, which would be pirating.”

    Should you be allowed to lend a book to a friend and then they read it and never buy it?

  32. Alan De Smet says:

    @Alex: You’ve buying into the deception that you somehow need a license to make fair use of a product you’ve purchased. Take, for example, my local Best Buy. I can walk in and by A bunch of Harry Potter stuff. I can get Deathly Hallows the book, Goblet of Fire the movie, the soundtrack for Order of the Phoenix, and the PC and console versions of Deathly Hallows. Generally speaking, all are subject to the same copyright laws. I am, in none of those cases buying a “license.” I am buying a single copy of a the work in question. Basic copyright law says nothing about licenses. Instead it says, “You may have bought a copy of this book, but your right to make copies is restricted.” This is the default state of copyright.

    Now, copies necessary to make reasonable use of the work are a clear case of fair use. My DVD player makes copies of the movie in memory to decode it. My portable CD player makes copies of the soundtrack as anti-skip protection. iTunes will happily make a copy of the entire CD, transcode it to MP3, then make another copy onto my iPod. None of these things require a license of any sort; all are fair use.

    Yet suddenly the video game is different. Now I need a license. I bought the DVD, the book, the CD, and the video game from the same store, all shelves right next to each other. None of them were marked “you’re not buying a copy of this, you’re buying a license.” There was no license agreement I had to sign before they would turn over a copy to me (that being how real software licensing is handled, the sort of thing you do if you, say, buy medical information systems software.) So I take them home and am then presented with a license agreement. If I don’t agree, I can’t play the game. Worse, if I read the license and disagree with it, I can’t return it.

    There is absolutely nothing in federal law that says you need a license to access copyright protected works you purchase. There is no federal law requiring a license to use software you have purchased off the shelf. There is some case law, but it doesn’t all agree and nothing has made it to the Supreme Court to sort out.

    This is all complete and utter bullshit. We shouldn’t be buying into this deception. You don’t need a license to make a

    @Miral: “With the success of HL, though, I doubt Valve is going away any time soon, so it ought to be safe.” If you bought Divx (the DVD competitor), well, it was backed by Circuit City, surely it’s safe. Oops, Circuit City gave up and the disc you paid for lifetime access to are disabled. Well, Microsoft’s “PlaysForSure” program is designed to ensure compatiblity between their DRMed music players and online DRMed music stores. Microsoft is huge, stable, and they promised it would Play For Sure. Oops, Microsoft moved on, and their new players don’t work with the old music, and the old players don’t work with the new store. Google, however, they’re huge and they promise to Do No Evil. So I’ll buy access to some video from Google Video. Oops, they’re shutting down access. Sure, they’re offering refunds, but I didn’t want a refund, I wanted lifetime access to the video.

    Sure, Valve may be around in 10 years. But maybe someone will have bought them out. Or new management might be brought in. And they may decide, “We’ve switched all the new games over to SteamSuperVista, and maintaining the old Steam is just a money sink. Let’s shut it off.” Trusting a corporation is a bad idea.

  33. Alan De Smet says:

    @Julian: “Should you be allowed to lend a book to a friend and then they read it and never buy it?”

    Are you mad? Can you picture the chaos such an idea might cause. You might get people banding together to create collections of books, DVDs, CDs, and (gasp) even video games, putting them all in a building that anyone can walk into and borrow things from for 30 days. Fortunately such madness has now come to pass; it would destroy our publishing industry!

    @quadir: If you’ve got a liberal enough library system, I suggest checking them out. Many are lending out video games for free! I can assure you that the libraries aren’t buying special super-expensive versions to compensate the publishers. I can also assure you that libraries aren’t stupidly breaking the law. If your library isn’t new enough, I recommend just about any video rental place, or online services like GameFly, who buy off-the-shelf copies of video games (again, not super expensive special rental editions) and rent them for a fee.

  34. Alex wrote: “Catch is that you can't necessarily resell the license to use said disc. Computer programs are tricky from a copyright perspective, since technically every time you use a program you are making a copy of it (into RAM). From a legal perspective, you do not have that right to copy something you buy, only the copyright owner does.”

    No. I’m sorry, but you’re completely wrong in saying this. Do a Google on “fair use”. Making copies for purely personal use is never against the law.

    Of course, the DMCA does make it illegal for you to overcome publishers who create DRM measures specifically to constrain and limit your legal rights. But that doesn’t mean that the publishers aren’t constraining and limiting your legal rights.

    Justin Alexander

  35. Alex says:

    I have provided a citation on the legal definition of Fair Use. Here is a link if you want it in plain black and white. Your rebuttal is “No, you’re wrong!” Provide me a similar link that says that you may make a copy for personal use, and I’ll be more than happy to change my stance on the issue. I’m not saying that it’s not ‘usage that is fair’, I’m saying that it has no basis in written law, just judicial precedent, which, like publisher permissiveness, is potentially revocable at any point.

    As for the book/cd/dvd argument, I believe that the example is rather specious. I won’t even dwell on books, since no copies ever need to be made of it in order to use it as intended.

    As for the CD/DVD argument, the argument is a bit stronger, since it’s obvious that you need to make a copy in order to use it. Fair enough, so I’ll modify my original position. As long as the copy is not into a permanent media, it is entirely proper to make copies as needed. RAM is not permanent storage, it’s merely a means of reading the copy. Hard discs, on the other hand, are a permanent means of storage, and do not by default fall under usage that is fair.

    Say you install a game/rip a CD to your hard disc, then sell the disc to your friend and get a new one for yourself. If you are able to install/rip to the second disc then both you and your friend will have a copy of the original work, for which the content creator will have been paid once.

    Lending Libraries get around this by only lending things which do not NEED to be copied to a permanent media in order to consume. Of the businesses that you mentioned, how many of them lend/rent PC titles on discs? Any? Every such service that comes to my mind only lends/rents console titles, which by design must have the original media in the appropriate hardware in order to function, exactly like CDs and DVDs, or else disables your access to them upon cessation of your subscription (a portion of which went to pay the original content creators). Copies beyond that point are at the sole liability of the lendee and not the lender, like if I borrowed a book from the library and photocopied it.

    What about ripping a CD that you bought so that you can play it on your MP3 player? Well, for a long time that actually wasn’t allowed by the law as written. It was hard to stop, though, so a lot of people ignored it. Once the music companies started having the capability to stop it, however, the lawmakers found out that they couldn’t use their shiny new iPods, and they actually started seriously re-evaluating that use case for codification. Like I’ve said and will continue saying, it’s not perfect, it’s not fast, but it’s what we’ve got.

  36. Rich says:

    “villainous cattle”


    Sorry. ;)

  37. Alan De Smet says:

    @Alex:To be clear, I’m only talking about the copies that are necessary to make use of the software at all. It is not possible to play, say, Quake III, without making a copy in some form. You can’t play it directly off the CD. Furthermore, in many of these cases you can’t play the game at all without the CD, which acts as a form of DRM that is illegal to circumvent thanks to the DMCA. So, yeah, it’s illegal to, say, keep a working copy of the game and give the original to my friend. That’s not something I disagree with.

    Ultimately I’m objecting to “What you own, and what you have always owned, is in fact a LICENSE to play a game.” It is misleading and plays into the hands of the people who want to extend the powers of copyright way beyond a balanced trade-off between creators and the public. I’d like to see the law changed to protect a consumer’s right to property. Others want to see the law changed to eliminate a consumer’s right to property, to make all media something you can only ever rent. To get the law changed, you need to change the public’s mind. And as part of this, they’re trying to change the terms of the debate, to add erroneous beliefs like “you need a license to play a game you bought.” There is no federal law supporting such a belief and only conflicting case law, none of which has been resolved at the Supreme Court.

    Per the four fair use guidelines (which are a minimum set, not an complete set), (1) the purpose and character is to make use of the software exactly as the publisher intended. The use is personal and noncommercial. (2) It is the nature of the work to be copied to the hard drive to be used. (3) While frequently (but not always) much or all of the work is copied, (4) the impact on the market value is non-existant (beyond the impact that other copyrighted works, like books, suffer by lack of a license). (Again, we’re talking about copies necessary to use the software, not backups or other copies.) Taken as a whole, it’s a pretty strong case for fair use.

    To a few specific points I believe you are incorrect on:

    “As long as the copy is not into a permanent media, it is entirely proper to make copies as needed.”

    Sony v. Universal (the famous Betamax case) clearly puts forth that it can be fair use to make copies onto permanent media, for at least one fair use (time-shifting). If playing the game is fair use, then making copies onto permanent media, something that you are required to do to play the game, and that the publishers specifically designed the software to do suggests that it’s fair use.

    “What about ripping a CD that you bought so that you can play it on your MP3 player? Well, for a long time that actually wasn't allowed by the law as written.”

    Ripping to MP3 player has been protected since before personal MP3 players existed, thanks to the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992. RIAA vs Diamond confirmed it. “In fact, the Rio’s operation is entirely consistent with the Act’s main purpose – the facilitation of personal use. … Such copying is paradigmatic noncommercial personal use entirely consistent with the purposes of the Act.” This regrettably doesn’t generalize to software, as the AHRA is really audio focused. (The case never got Supreme Court review, so it could potentially be contested, but I’m not aware of conflicting rulings from other courts.)

  38. Rawling says:

    Just something I noticed no-one else picked up on:

    “I have a drawer full of games from the mid-to-late 90's that offer to “check for updates” once the install is done, and while the games themselves work fine, the patching service has gone the way of Pompeii… If those games had online activation, I'd be locked out of them now. So, this complaint against Steam still stands: I don't want to buy a game that will turn into an expensive coaster the moment the publisher perishes or loses interest.”

    If those games had online activation, a la Steam, you have no idea whether you’d be locked out, whether the publisher would still be allowing you to play them, whether they’d have bought all their old users off. Fact is, they didn’t have online activation, and evaluating the current status of patches for old games has no bearing on the future performance of games which require support even to be run.

    I agree with all you say in general, but that point’s really not fair. I’d love to see where Steam will be in 5-10 years’ time. Who knows?

  39. Alex says:

    Alright, that is a fair argument on the terms of CD ripping, backed up by a reasonable citation. Combined with the fact that it’s the point of view I feel SHOULD be codified, I’m happy to concede that point (though, as a last word, replace ‘iPod’ with ‘VCR’ in my previous comment and it becomes valid again :)

    Back to the ORIGINAL topic, though, computer programs. On further digging through Title 17, I have found This section. Subpart (a)(1) covers the copying of the program into RAM, while subpart (a)(2) covers the copying of the program onto the hard disc. There’s no mention of a limit on either, so my theory of requiring a license for copying was in fact unnecessary.

    So what does this tell us? That you can install and run a computer program lawfully acquired as many times as desired (with the requirement that the program is destroyed once you transfer or relinquish the originally produced copy) without infringing copyright. Note however that this is different from granting you the right to do so, it simply says that it’s not unlawful to do so.

    The DMCA, however, as introduced and passed seems to make something else unlawful, the circumvention of copy protection. A quick scan of the text of the act seems to confirm it. If you circumvent the copy protection on a computer program you cannot be charged with copyright infringement. You CAN be charged with an ‘act of circumvention’, however, which carries its own penalties, and as far as I can tell doesn’t carry any fair use defense.

    So, yeah, you’ve convinced me on the copyright infringement front. Small comfort, I know, since there’s now the circumvention front. Though the method is different from the one I originally proposed, the end result is the same: Content owners have the legal backing to limit your ability to install or use multiple copies of a product, since nothing that I found gave you the explicit right to those copies, it just says that if you make copies under certain circumstances you haven’t committed a specific crime.

    The remedial options that I see are 1) Complain to the publishers and get them to remove the protections (faster, but easily reversible), 2) Send a test case through the courts and get them to either overturn or circumscribe the law (slower, but harder to reverse), or 3) Force change through legislation somehow (slowest, but least likely to be reversed).

  40. Alex: “Content owners have the legal backing to limit your ability to install or use multiple copies of a product, since nothing that I found gave you the explicit right to those copies, it just says that if you make copies under certain circumstances you haven't committed a specific crime.”

    Well, yes, obviously. That doesn’t mean they should.

    If they made it legal tomorrow for me to come around and punch you in the nose, that doesn’t mean it would be ethical for me to do so.

    But I suspect we’re now in raging agreement. ;)

    Justin Alexander

  41. Krellen says:

    “Content owners have the legal backing to limit your ability to install or use multiple copies of a product, since nothing that I found gave you the explicit right to those copies, it just says that if you make copies under certain circumstances you haven't committed a specific crime.”

    Actually, I contend that this, like most laws, are not, actually, law until they’ve been defended by the Supreme Court. It’s technically law, but until it’s been up for court review, it’s unclear whether or not it violates previous legal precedent, previous legal code (which is not overwritten unless the legislation says it is), or Constitutional and societal guarantees. So while it’s true content providers can sue you for violation, it’s not actually illegal unless you lose.

    Best I can tell, the courts have not yet firmly fallen on either side of this debate; they’re still waffling back and forth depending on district.

  42. Steve C says:

    I’d love to quote specific parts of comments, but this comment is already too lengthy. So scroll up to the post # for context.

    9 Blurr:@ I’ve never used Steam (and never will) so I don’t know for sure but that certainly sounds like *Tied Selling.* That is a criminal offense likely wherever you live… meaning you can report it to the appropriate bureaucrat and they will deal with it/ignore it. Either way, it’s not your $ spent in court.

    11 Alex:@ You are right and wrong. Devil’s in the details. Take Warcraft for example. You can walk into EBgames and buy a boxed copy of Warcraft, or download a copy direct from Blizzard. You own the copy from EBgames. You license the download. Why the difference? The difference is when the other guy got your $ and when you saw the contract. If they already have your money, (box purchased) then you see the contract then it’s nothing. If you see the contract and click “agree” before they get your money (download) then it’s a EULA and a license. A month later when you pay money again for a month’s service is another (much more complex) situation… and is a EULA with some validity. Keywords: contract, consideration, adhesion.

    12 Krellen:@ Virginia and Maryland, USA. Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act. As to legally challenging EULA legal status… it has been- sort of. Like I said in my initial post, it’s gone both ways depending on district. Nothing clear cut. Plus other details in the cases result in no true precedent set. Doesn’t help that EULA writers ‘forum shop’ for a jurisdiction that will side with them.

    16 Alex:@ This time you are absolutely wrong on all parts. No country I know of has copyright protection on the *transitory* aspect. Copyright applies to performances and *fixed works*. In the USA, it’s “Title 17 Section 117 Limitations on exclusive rights: Computer programs” Even though the HD can be considered to fix the copy, section (a)(1) states it is not an infringement for copies to be made to make a computer work. Your Harry Potter example is a strawman. While world copyright laws generally treat computer programs the same as books, Section 117 (a)(2) specifically states that computer program backups are allowed.

    27 Deoxy:@ You hit the nail on the head.

    28 quadir:@ rhetorical question… Since you are opposed to lending games, should you be allowed to lend a book? Moot point. Both are legal regardless of the copyright holder’s wishes. You can even do this for profit. It’s called “renting” and why Gamefly etc can exist. (Yup, section 117 again.) You can’t keep a copy for yourself when you lend out software, other than that, lend away.

    30 Alex:@ I’m happy you took the time to learn proper names and sections of the law. It’s not a relevant section, but points for effort.

    35 Alex Says:@ Renting console games don’t have any legal protection above and beyond PC games. The same copyright laws apply to both. Renting console games are simply more economically viable.

    39 Alex Says:@ He he. I had already written everything above before reading this post. I’m glad you finally read that part and we can now agree. Sort of took my thunder. Now what do I do with this lengthy comment? Sigh… I’m still posting it! Another solution to getting around the DMCA is to live in a country other than the USA. That’s what I do.

    Finally I encourage everyone to search your jurisdiction’s legal database for key words. Educate yourself to your rights as a consumer. Wikipedia the concepts, then google those concepts with your location will likely be good enough to find the official relevant law. Don’t let your consumer rights be eroded by corporations that want to push you around.

  43. Steve C says:

    Copyright has been put into most people’s mind backwards. It is important to mentally note that consumers have no rights when it comes to copyright… NONE. It’s *authors* that have rights… specifically a finite set of transferable rights with an additional set of exceptions to those rights. For example “Fair Use” isn’t a right a consumer has, it’s an exclusion to the finite rights of the author. This is important to keep in mind because it means the laws are exhaustive (authors do not have more rights than are specifically granted to them.) Plus all of those rights expire after X years.

    Copyright law worldwide is much more restrictive on authors than most people think and copyright holders try and do get away with. But all of it is moot. Whoever can buy more ‘justice’ wins.

  44. Barron says:

    Back to the original post; the firt time I read it, the OP feels like impotent nerd rage, as did the first time Shamus blogged about Steam (really, do you think Valve really misses your money? Or that you think you have enough influence to affect their sales in any way?).

    Well, I just tried to fire up my copy of HL2 and was told something to the effect of “You cannot run this program at this time”. Same thing when I tried to start the bioshock demo. A reboot fixed the problem, but I can certainly sympathize with the rage, when the only reason I am given for not being allowed to play the game I bought is “Valve said no”. Makes me wonder why I turned down a friend who offered me a steam-free version for free.

  45. John says:

    Creative name eh?! While DRM annoys the hell out of me Valve have always maintained one thing – If they go down their last act will be to release the games. Personally, and probably stupidly, I trust Valve on this… Left 4 Dead still has me in raptures!

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