High Court dismisses Valve’s special leave to appeal $3 million fine

The High Court of Australia has dismissed a special leave application by US-based games company Valve to appeal the decision made by Full Federal Court to uphold the $3 million penalty issued over breaches of Australian Consumer Law.

“This important precedent confirms the ACCC’s view that overseas-based companies selling to Australian consumers must abide by our laws. If customers buy a product online that is faulty, they are entitled to the same right to a repair, replacement or refund as if they’d walked in to a store,” ACCC Commissioner Sarah Court said.

As a result of the High Court’s refusal of special leave, the Full Federal Court’s decision that Valve is bound by the ACL in its dealings with Australian customers, despite being based overseas, is the final decision on this issue.

The decision seemingly puts an end to years of back-and-forth and legal battles between Valve and the Australian regulator. Unfortunately, given estimates that Steam brings in billions in revenue for Valve each year, that fine seems unlikely to have any lasting impact or effect on the company.

Steam is currently considered the largest such digital platform in the gaming space and is estimated by some to have a global market share of upwards of 75% and an Australian user-base of over 2.2 million users.

The ACCC first commenced legal action against Valve in August 2014 over allegations of misleading or deceptive conduct, specifically concerning the right-to-a-refund for Australian users of the company's Steam digital distribution platform.

In 2016, the Federal Court found Valve guilty of these allegations and charged them with a $3 million dollar fine.

In that ruling, Justice Edelman said that Valve had formed a view “that it was not subject to Australian law”, calling the company’s approach to the case “disturbing”.

Valve later appealed that fine but in December 2017 the Full Federal Court dismissed Valve’s appeal