It was described as the court case of the century (by me just now, and I’m lying). Valve Corporation, the chaps behind Steam, have been found guilty of breaching Australian Consumer Law due to Steam’s lack of a refund policy.
Of course, Valve has since implemented its own refund policy in light of this case, but they had no refund policy in August 2014 when the ACCC initially sued, so it was too little too late.
Valve’s defence was a cheeky one (I can’t help but admire it). It was essentially based around the fact that it doesn’t technically conduct business in Australia.
They went as far as admitting they provide access to an online access portal to video games through a client. As such, Valve argued that this fails to fall into the definition of ‘goods’ in Australian consumer law.
The Australian Federal Court were having none of it, though.
They found that Valve made misleading statements to consumers in its terms and conditions contained in three versions of its Steam Subscriber Agreement, and two versions of its Steam Refund Policy – these statements all focused on the rights of Australian consumers to a refund.
It was decided that Valve absolutely were doing business in Australia, and as such they were bound by Australian Consumer Law.
ACCC Chairman Rod Sims said:
The Federal Court’s decision reinforces that foreign based businesses selling goods and/or services to Australian consumers can be subject to Australian Consumer Law obligations, including the consumer guarantees.
This is also the first time Courts have applied the extended definition of ‘goods’ to include “computer software” in the ACL.
It will provide greater certainty where digital goods are supplied to consumers through online platforms.
So Valve lost, but at least they’ve set a precedent for digital goods in Australian Consumer Law. That’s the dream, right?
Kotaku reports that a hearing on relief is scheduled for April 15, but there’s no set amount for liability.
Though apparently there is a chance that in addition to any liability, Valve will have to pay up to 75% of the ACCC’s legal costs. Ouch.