European court rules that downloads are resaleable

Licence agreements can't stop your statutory rights, the ECJ rules

The European Court of Justice has ruled that consumers have the right to resell downloaded software as "used", even if the software is sold under a license that prevents it.

The case (pdf) concerned Oracle, the enterprise computing company, which sued a German firm UsedSoft. Oracle allows customers who have paid for a license to download copies from their website for use on up to 25 computers, as well as offering free access to updates, and it does so under an agreement which gives the customer "a non-transferable user right for an unlimited period, exclusively for their internal business purposes".

UsedSoft allows that license to be resold, contravening Oracle's agreement. It buys the access to the download site from users, and sells that access on.

The court was asked to consider whether the European first sale doctrine applies to downloads. For physical goods, it has long been held that exclusive rights to distribution are exhausted after the first sale. So, for example, HMV can have the exclusive right to sell One Direction's new album, but they cannot prevent you buying the album and then selling it on yourself – even if they make you sign something beforehand. It decided that when a right to use software for an unlimited period of time is exchanged for money, that constitutes a sale, and thus the first sale doctrine applies.

Importantly, the court also ruled that the right to updates is sold on, preventing one possible route around the judgement. Oracle must treat owners of second-hand software the same as those who buy it new for the purpose of software updates.

The right to resell still requires the first owner to remove the software, and it doesn't allow you to "split" multi-user licenses and sell off unused capacity. But it is nonetheless a major blow for users in the digital age.

However, although the judgment gives users the legal right to resell software, it doesn't mandate that retailers make that right practical to exercise. If you want to resell your copy of Angry Birds, you'll have to give your entire iTunes account over to whoever wants to use it. A thriving resale market is unlikely to emerge anytime soon.

The eponymous "Angry Birds", whom you may now resell. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Paul McMillan
Show Hide image

"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

0800 7318496