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According to the GTA 4 EULA:

LICENSE. Subject to this Agreement and its terms and conditions, Licensor hereby grants you the nonexclusive, non-transferable, limited right and license to use one copy of the Software for your personal non-commercial use for gameplay on a single computer or gaming unit, unless otherwise specified in the Software documentation.

And I don't really understand. Why do I need to buy a license? Doesn't copyright law only grant an exclusive right to copy or publish a work?

I assume this is the correct section since it references computer programs.

Nature of copyright in literary, dramatic and musical works

112.—(1) For the purposes of this Act, unless the contrary intention appears, copyright in a literary, dramatic or musical work is the exclusive right to do all or any of the following acts:

(a) to make a copy of the work;

(b) to publish the work if the work is unpublished;

(c) to perform the work in public;

(d) to communicate the work to the public;

(e) to make an adaptation of the work;

(f) to do, in relation to an adaptation of the work, any of the acts specified in paragraphs (a) to (e);

(g) in the case of a computer program — to enter into a commercial rental arrangement the essential object of which is the rental of the program.

(2) If a computer program is embodied in a machine or device and cannot be copied through the ordinary use of the machine or a device, subsection (1)(g) does not extend to entering into a commercial rental arrangement in respect of the machine or device.

(3) In subsection (2), “device” does not include —

(a) a floppy disc;

(b) a CD‑ROM;

(c) an integrated circuit; or

(d) any other device that is ordinarily used to store computer programs.

So if Steam (I assume with a license to create a copy of GTA 4), creates a copy and sends it to me, why do I need a license to use the game? I'm not copying or publishing it.

Is it just a contract, saying "we will give you this copy if you agree to X, Y and Z"?

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3 Answers 3

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You are making a copy

GTA doesn’t work if you don’t have a copy installed on your computer. Steam doesn’t make a copy (legally, their software is obviously involved in physically transferring the data), you do when you press the download button.

Is it just a contract, saying "we will give you this copy if you agree to X, Y and Z"?

Not exactly. It would be more accurate to say “we will allow you to make a copy if you agree to X, Y and Z". They also facilitate the making of the copy but it is the permission to copy that is the heart of the licence.

In common law jurisdictions, a licence is a contract. In civil law jurisdictions they are their own different thing with slightly different rules.

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  • Just to clarify, this means "the exclusive rights to copy" refers to whoever is commanding the copying process to happen, not whoever is doing it physically? For example, for a physical book, if the bookstore goes to the back and makes a copy (and sells it to me) on my request, I will be the one making a copy, not the bookstore? But since IRL they made a copy before I even bought it, legally they are the one making the copy, not me. Apr 14 at 5:06
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    @IgnisIncendio Yes, if you have a right to e.g. copy a work, you can have an agent exercise that right for you. Even though money hasn't yet changed hands, they're still producing the copy on your behalf.
    – Cadence
    Apr 14 at 5:44
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    @Cadence and both the agent and the principal are liable if the principal does not have permission (and the agent knows or should know this).
    – Dale M
    Apr 14 at 12:52
  • I wonder if it's possible to, as a software developer, make a copy (as the developer) and sell that to the customer instead, to preserve consumer rights. But that's probably something one has to talk about with their own lawyers. Apr 18 at 11:25
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You can always do two things legally: Anything that copyright law allows, plus anything that a license by the copyright holder allows you to do.

What copyright law allows you to do is quite limited. Usually I wouldn’t want to pay for software with only copyright law permissions. For example, I bought some software years ago; since then I have replaced my laptop twice with a newer model. Copyright law wouldn’t have allowed me to move the software to the new laptops. Fortunately it came with a license that allows me to use it on up to six computers in my household, so i didn’t even have to remove it from the old laptops. Without that license I would have been stuck.

US copyright law says that if you have the right to use some software you always have the right to copy it into RAM as needed to run it, and you always have the right to create one backup. Still, there are many things you couldn’t do without a license.

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  • Thanks. However, unfortunately I'm not really convinced by this answer. First, isn't it more of "anything is legal unless it is illegal"? Secondly, under Singapore law (of which this question is tagged), section 238 of the Copyright Act 2021 allows "Copying electronic compilation or computer program when essential for use" which would cover copying into RAM. Singapore law also allows unlimited backups under section 237. Apr 18 at 11:23
  • Copying into RAM would be covered. Transferring the software to a new computer while deleting old copies wouldn’t even though it seems a very fair thing to do. I had a license to install the software on multiple computers; that’s most certainly not legal without a license.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 19 at 1:44
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if Steam (I assume with a license to create a copy of GTA 4), creates a copy and sends it to me, why do I need a license to use the game? I'm not copying or publishing it.

When you go to a physical gaming room, you're not copying anything either, yet you pay for admission.

Kind-of same here: only the gaming room is yours, yet the software is not — you're only licensed to use it.

Is it just a contract, saying "we will give you this copy if you agree to X, Y and Z"?

Pretty much.

You don't get a copy unless you agree how it will be used.

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  • That doesn't work on "normal" copyrighted materials like books and DVDs: first-sale doctrine
    – user71659
    Apr 14 at 3:32
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    @user71659 How the hell are "normal" copyrighted materials relevant to this question? The software is licensed, not sold at all.
    – Greendrake
    Apr 14 at 3:53
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    I think you need to re-read the question.
    – user71659
    Apr 14 at 18:39
  • @user71659 Just did. The linked EULA says in caps that the software is licensed, not sold. What was your reference to the first sale doctrine for?
    – Greendrake
    Apr 15 at 3:11
  • Why are books and DVDs not licensed with an EULA? Answer: the first sale doctrine invalidates any additional restrictions that would be imposed. Why is software different? That's the question in the title and first paragraph.
    – user71659
    Apr 15 at 4:05

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