Valve has failed to convince a court that it didn't infringe EU law by geo-blocking activation keys, according to a new ruling. The company argued that, based on copyright law, publishers had the right to charge different prices for games in different countries. However, the EU General Court confirmed that its geo-blocking actions "infringed EU competition law"and that copyright law didn't apply.
"Copyright is intended only to ensure for the right holders concerned protection of the right to exploit commercially the marketing or the making available of the protected subject matter, by the grant of licences in return for payment of remuneration," it wrote in a statement. "However, it does not guarantee them the opportunity to demand the highest possible remuneration or to engage in conduct such as to lead to artificial price differences between the partitioned national markets."
The original charges centered around activation keys. The commission said Valve and five publishers (Bandai Namco, Capcom, Focus Home, Koch Media and ZeniMax) agreed to use geo-blocking so that activation keys sold in some countries — like Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Latvia — would not work in other member states. That would prevent someone in, say, Germany buying a cheaper key in Latvia, where prices are lower. However, doing so violates the EU's Digital Single Market rules, which enforces an open market across the EU.
The five developers were given a reduced fine of €7.8 million (over $9.4 million at the time) for cooperating, but Valve decided to fight and faced the full €1.6 million, or more than $1.9 million penalty. In a statement back in 2021, Valve said that the charges didn't pertain to PC games sold on Steam, but that it was accused of locking keys to particular territories at the request of publishers. It added that it turned off region locks for most cases (other than local laws) in 2015 because of the EU's concerns.
The court rejected the appeal and backed the original EU Commission's decision that the companies’ actions had “unlawfully restricted cross-border sales” of games. As a result, Valve is still subject to the original €1.6 million fine — but it has two months and ten days to appeal. Engadget has reached out to Valve for comment.