One of the ways that companies can be sued is if a bunch of plaintiffs band together under a class-action lawsuit. This provides those folks the ability to sue even if their own specific piece of the pie is too small to normally do so. As of late, companies have been updating their terms of service and subscriber agreements to outlaw users from doing just such a thing. With an update to Steam‘s subscriber agreement, beloved Valve Software is the latest to prohibit class-action lawsuits.
They’re outlawing the practice in traditional Valve fashion, however. Their blog post on the matter attempts to be as transparent and understanding as possible. For a huge corporate overlord, it’s downright amiable. Even so, agreeing to the new terms effectively means relinquishing legal rights, and that’s always a sketchy course of action. Valve explains their decision fairly well though:
On Steam, whenever a customer is unhappy with any transaction, our first goal is to resolve things as quickly as possible through the normal customer support process. However in those instances in which we can’t resolve a dispute, we’ve outlined a new required process whereby we agree to use arbitration or small claims court to resolve the dispute. In the arbitration process, Valve will reimburse your costs of the arbitration for claims under a certain amount. Reimbursement by Valve is provided regardless of the arbitrator’s decision, provided that the arbitrator does not determine the claim to be frivolous or the costs unreasonable.
Yes, that’s right: Valve will reimburse any legal fees occurred in small claims even if the plaintiff doesn’t win. This is a little bit of give when they’re attempting some take; they know that just removing the ability to form class-action lawsuits might cause a riot. They’re trying to stymie the tide by making a compromise — a gesture of goodwill. In effect, Valve is still trying to be the proverbial good guy by paying for small claims fees.
One little sticking point here is exactly what happens if a user doesn’t agree to the terms. Valve only licenses these games to players via Steam and can therefore take them away. If users opt out of this subscriber agreement update, they could likely be cut off entirely from the games they thought they owned.
- Netflix already added a similar clause to their agreement
- Sony did so with The PlayStation Network’s terms around the time they got hacked
- An appeals court ruled terms of service violations aren’t misdemeanors
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