The European Union’s Court of Justice has rules that publishers have no legal right to prevent people from reselling digital games that they have purchased.
“An author of software cannot oppose the resale of his ‘used’ licences allowing the use of his programs downloaded from the internet,” is the official stance of the court.
The court goes on to say that the right covering a game’s distribution is “exhausted on its first sale”.
So, yes, that means if you’ve bought a game from Steam, Origin, GamersGate or wherever else, you’re free to resell that game no matter what the terms of the End User License Agreement might say.
“Therefore, even if the licence agreement prohibits a further transfer, the rightholder can no longer oppose the resale of that copy,” the ruling continues.
“Where the copyright holder makes available to his customer a copy – tangible or intangible – and at the same time concludes, in return form payment of a fee, a licence agreement granting the customer the right to use that copy for an unlimited period, that rightholder sells the copy to the customer and thus exhausts his exclusive distribution right. Such a transaction involves a transfer of the right of ownership of the copy. Therefore, even if the licence prohibits a further transfer, the rightholder can no longer oppose the resale of that copy.”
However, if you’re thinking of selling your digital copy you must make your own copy “unusable at the time of resale”. Meaning you must no longer be able to access the digital content yourself.
If you do continue to use it that would “infringe the copyright holder’s exclusive right of reproduction of his computer program. In contrast to the exclusive right of distribution, the exclusive right of reproduction is not exhausted by the first sale.”
It remains to be seen what Steam, Origin and company have to say about the ruling.
Source: European Union Court of Justice