Digital Rights and Respecting Opinions

What's bringing this on? In short, a certain discussion in an innocuous article yesterday. I quickly saw a basic opinion dog-piled by a bunch of people with some really strange arguments. Even worse, I saw him essentially getting called a Luddite. This is ridiculous and you all know it.

Want me to be honest? He's not wrong about digital rights. Not by a long shot.

Now that 60% of you have gone to the comments to talk about how I hate gaming and the glorious paradise of fuzzily-defined digital ownership, I can talk to the rest of you critically.

I love Steam and online retailers. I love them to death. I get games cheap, play them where I want, and I can have more games than ever. The problem is that we've descended into a cycle of ignorance surrounding how little we legally own these binary bits. While retailers might say that we will get to keep our games when they go out of business, their legal documents tell a very different and vague story.

Does this make me right? No, it doesn't. I'm not going to be so arrogant as to think I'm the only right one here. We'll get to that.

I have three basic points to make here: my view on digital rights, how we are doing this to help you, and how respect should be applied to these discussions.


Digital Rights: Are We Being Too Soft?

As gamers, it seems like we've lost our interest firmly establishing our right to own what we do. The discussion started when the OP posted his wish to have tangible product in the form of physical media, he was instantly ridiculed for it. Since when did owning something earn you the right to be ridiculed?

I don't see this in the movie industry, the music industry, or in the book industry. This epidemic of licensing is heavily favoring video games and everyone seems to just accepted this as reality.

Digital Rights and Respecting Opinions

I can rip my DVDs, download my iTunes music as MP3s, and even get some of my e-books in their raw data format, so why the hell is it such a sin to be interested in the same in the gaming industry? There are some companies like GOG are taking this one to heart and I love them for it. They'll give us DRM-free titles that I can back up free and clear with no legal repercussions and I respect them greatly for doing so. I get games with them at every chance so I can support this line of thinking.

There are those in the audience right now that are about to point out that you can back up your games from Steam. Well... no you really can't. You can back up the raw data for the game, but you don't own it... not by a long shot. I'll turn to the Steam Subscriber Agreement, that we've all said yes to, to explain this.

2. LICENSES

A. General Software License

Steam and your Subscription(s) require the automatic download and installation of Software onto your computer. Valve hereby grants, and you accept, a limited, terminable, non-exclusive license and right to use the Software for your personal, non-commercial use (except where commercial use is expressly allowed herein or in the applicable Subscription Terms) in accordance with this Agreement, including the Subscription Terms. The Software is licensed, not sold. Your license confers no title or ownership in the Software. To make use of the Software, you must have a Steam Account and you may be required to be running the Steam client and maintaining a connection to the Internet.

For reasons that include, without limitation, system security, stability, and multiplayer interoperability, Steam may need to automatically update, pre-load, create new versions of or otherwise enhance the Software and accordingly, the system requirements to use the Software may change over time. You consent to such automatic updating. You understand that this Agreement (including applicable Subscription Terms) does not entitle you to future updates, new versions or other enhancements of the Software associated with a particular Subscription, although Valve may choose to provide such updates, etc. in its sole discretion.

This section explicitly gives Valve the ability to deny users further updates to the games they own. Okay, I'm fine with that. Well, except for that one part about "Valve hereby grants, and you accept, a limited, terminable, non-exclusive license" and that part about "no title or ownership", but I can deal with that if I know how it gets terminated.

F. Ownership of Software

All title, ownership rights and intellectual property rights in and to the Software and any and all copies thereof, are owned by Valve US and/or its or its affiliates' licensors. All rights are reserved, except as expressly stated herein. The Software is protected by copyright laws, international copyright treaties and conventions and other laws. The Software contains certain licensed materials and Valve's and its affiliates' licensors may protect their rights in the event of any violation of this Agreement.

Oh, my games are solely owned by Valve US. We have no rights to the data at all. Huh, well okay... that's fine I guess.

B. LIMITATION OF LIABILITY

TO THE MAXIMUM EXTENT PERMITTED BY APPLICABLE LAW, NEITHER VALVE, ITS LICENSORS, NOR ITS OR THEIR AFFILIATES, NOR ANY OF VALVE'S SERVICE PROVIDERS, SHALL BE LIABLE IN ANY WAY FOR LOSS OR DAMAGE OF ANY KIND RESULTING FROM THE USE OR INABILITY TO USE STEAM, YOUR ACCOUNT, YOUR SUBSCRIPTIONS AND THE SOFTWARE INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, LOSS OF GOODWILL, WORK STOPPAGE, COMPUTER FAILURE OR MALFUNCTION, OR ANY AND ALL OTHER COMMERCIAL DAMAGES OR LOSSES. IN NO EVENT WILL VALVE BE LIABLE FOR ANY INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, SPECIAL, PUNITIVE OR EXEMPLARY DAMAGES, OR ANY OTHER DAMAGES ARISING OUT OF OR IN ANY WAY CONNECTED WITH STEAM, THE SOFTWARE, THE SUBSCRIPTIONS, AND ANY INFORMATION AVAILABLE IN CONNECTION THEREWITH, OR THE DELAY OR INABILITY TO USE THE SOFTWARE, SUBSCRIPTIONS OR ANY INFORMATION, EVEN IN THE EVENT OF VALVE'S OR ITS AFFILIATES' FAULT, TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE), STRICT LIABILITY, BREACH OF CONTRACT, OR BREACH OF VALVE'S WARRANTY AND EVEN IF VALVE HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES. THESE LIMITATIONS AND EXCLUSIONS REGARDING DAMAGES APPLY EVEN IF ANY REMEDY FAILS TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE RECOMPENSE.

[...]

C. NO GUARANTEES

NEITHER VALVE NOR ITS AFFILIATES GUARANTEE CONTINUOUS, ERROR-FREE, VIRUS-FREE OR SECURE OPERATION AND ACCESS TO STEAM, THE SOFTWARE, YOUR ACCOUNT AND/OR YOUR SUBSCRIPTIONS(S) OR ANY INFORMATION AVAILABLE IN CONNECTION THEREWITH.

Hmm, okay. They've also explicitly destroyed your right to take them to court over any loss of ability to use your account/games. They then followed it up by clarifying that they won't guarantee us access to our software "continuously", which essentially means that they don't guarantee said right at all. They then follow these two wham lines up with a bit of vagueness:

C. Termination by Valve

Valve may cancel your Account or any particular Subscription(s) at any time in the event that (a) Valve ceases providing such Subscriptions to similarly situated Subscribers generally, or (b) you breach any terms of this Agreement (including any Subscription Terms or Rules of Use). In the event that your Account or a particular Subscription is terminated or cancelled by Valve for a violation of this Agreement or improper or illegal activity, no refund, including of any Subscription fees or of any unused funds in your Steam Wallet, will be granted.

That was... rather vague. I'm no lawyer, but case A seems pretty weird. I can see you using that in several situations where you shouldn't if you're good enough at your job.

The core of the problem here though is that Valve has firmly established that they own this data, not you. Any attempt to use the raw data without Steam's authentication automatically means you're breaking this agreement. Essentially, if Steam shuts down and you crack open the games after it does, the legal holding company for what remains of Valve can slap you and your contemporaries with a breach of agreement lawsuit. Unlikely? Yes. Possible? Definitely.

That's the problem. The poor definitions of our digital rights are requiring us to bank off the goodwill of companies rather than have clearly defined boundaries. It's setting a really stupid legal precedent that people aren't talking about enough.


We Aren't Doing This For Ourselves:

The OP was asked why he was doing this several times. Things along the lines of "you won't be around when this is actually a problem".

Digital Rights and Respecting Opinions

...What?

I'm not sitting here writing this because I want to defend anyone or to attack Valve and online retailers, I'm doing this for you.

I know, it's a weird concept. Look guys, I'm here on this rant to defend you. If there is ever an online service that shuts down and locks out its users, I don't want to have been another person who gleefully stuck my head in the sand and pretended like it wouldn't happen... I want to have been the guy that went down in history as a stupid Luddite that tried to defend those people's right to their games.

Everyone deserves a right to what they've paid for in some capacity and I want to advocate that position until the very end.


Respect (Because I Apparently Need to Talk About This):

Come on guys. This is just sad. The discussion OP came in with at least a decent opinion and then everyone made him out to be the bad guy. There are always many opinions on a situation and this entire discussion was a bunch of malformed arguments and terrible insults. It was really a sight that I hate to see in a community that should be acting like... a community.

Digital Rights and Respecting Opinions

I feel stupid for having to even include a section like this but it somehow became necessary. Just because you have an opinion doesn't make you right. There was a distinct air of arrogance coming from several parties in this discussion on the whole. The OP didn't start off by saying that your way was terrible or by explicitly calling out Steam users for being sheep or something, and yet many felt the need to get on-board the flame train and proceeded to do it to him.

He was called backwards, basically a Luddite by some, and his opinion was generally mocked and met with ridiculous commentary. Many people made reference to promises by Valve to give us our games despite there being distinct legal ammunition to not have to do so. Even more made reference to how this is just how the all-digital age is supposed to be.

Digital Rights and Respecting Opinions

...What?

Nothing is ever set in stone like that, especially in this evolving world. The discussion OP and I share a common interest in trying to change the way people look at digital ownership and apparently that's enough to get us ridiculed. The OP and I have different approaches to the problem, but it doesn't make either of us wrong. You aren't wrong either.

The truth is that there is no real way to tell what the "right" future is. The all-digital world could very well be a license world, I don't know. Until that happens though, I'll keep pulling for our rights to our content.

In short, don't act arrogant in when you enter a discussion. When you see an opinion like this, approach it as objectively as you can and try to see their side. Nothing is inherently "incorrect" in this world. Working against the norms doesn't make you "wrong".

I thought we learned about this in preschool, I really did. Be kind and respectful. I didn't see much of that at all in this discussion.


Conclusion:

The discussion OP might have come on pretty strong there, but he isn't wrong by any means. There is some really weird legal vagueness going on here and gamers somehow became fine with this. It's even gotten so bad that people attack others for merely trying to hold onto physical media, the simplest way to establish ownership.

We should be demanding that companies actually define these things in their legal documents instead of just counting on things to work out. This is a strange world and ambiguity is likely to lead us to strange places. Dismissing people for not getting on the all-digital bandwagon before we've gotten this point across is ridiculous. I'd much rather enter an all-digital market after we've managed to define these fuzzy legal boundaries.

Counting on companies to just give you things is presumptuous on your part. The Steam Subscriber Agreement is a legally binding document that you should be taking seriously, anything less is insulting to all parties. Take this seriously or the companies won't take you seriously.

Be proactive, not reactive. Be knowledgeable, not ignorant. Most of all, don't be disrespectful to your fellow commenters, everyone loses in that situation.


The discussion in question, now that you should know what not to do.

This article was made in response to my increasing displeasure with the "Hakuna matata!" attitude of the video gaming community with respect to all-digital rights. More importantly, it is also addressing the air of disrespect that many seem to have for opinions. Be kind, respectful, and approach the discussion with objectivity.

I'd like to apologize to my Anime Marathon viewers for using the time I had allotted to write my next review to instead be allocated to this. I'll get it out soon.

You can see all my articles on Dex's Corner.