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EU court rules publishers can't stop you reselling software

The ruling could make trouble for companies such as Apple and Valve.

The European Court of Justice has ruled publishers cannot stop you from reselling software, even if you've downloaded it from the Internet. In other words, the ruling means you're allowed to sell downloaded software second-hand.

The ruling, spied by Eurogamer, could prove potentially troublesome for companies such as Apple and Valve, which sell non-transferable apps and games.

"An author of software cannot oppose the resale of his 'used' licences allowing the use of his programs downloaded from the Internet," the Court's press release states, going on to claim that right of distribution for licensed software "is exhausted on its first sale".

The verdict springs from a clash between tech behemoth Oracle and German organisation UsedSoft, which lets people buys used licenses for software. Oracle tried to stamp out the practice, but the court has sided with UsedSoft.

The ruling goes as far as to say you have the right to sell downloaded software "even if the licence agreement prohibits a further transfer", which could mean any EULA you clicked 'okay' on no longer has power.

The Court does say that if you do sell your digital goodies, you have to make the software on your own device "unusable at the time of resale".

The ruling seems to deal specifically with licences that can be resold -- there's currently no way to sell Android or iOS apps you've purchased, and it's hard to know to what extent this decision will affect digital downloads like apps or games, and whether companies such as EA could be forced to change their processes as a result. I've reached out to these companies for some extra comment on this story, and I'll update this article if I hear back.

Publishers are fond of digital downloads -- not just because they eliminate packaging and shipping costs, but because they can't be resold. The games industry has been particularly tough on the pre-owned market in recent years, with many new games coming with single-use codes that make second-hand copies not worth buying. The PlayStation 4 is also rumoured to include a feature that permanently ties any new game to a single PSN account.

I spoke to Julian Heathcote Hobbins, a spokesperson for the Federation Against Software Theft, who told me it was very difficult to tell at the minute whether the ruling was likely to cause any change in the software industry.

"Without strong intellectual property rights, you won't get investment in new products," Heathcote Hobbins warned me. In other words, software-makers will want to know they have control over their digital treats.

Should we be allowed to flog our apps and programs? Let me know in the comments or on our Facebook wall.

Update 4 July: Added comment from the magnificently named Julian Heathcote Hobbins.