Is Unauthorized Access Of Software As A Service The Same As Software Piracy?

from the start-pondering dept

Earlier this year we wondered if the rise of "software as a service" would wipe out the software "piracy" question, suggesting that once you set up software so that it was hosted somewhere else and a user needed to login into it, you could better control unauthorized use. However, as with anything, people adapt. NCsoft, makers of the popular multiplayer online game Lineage apparently helped the FBI bust a "renegade service" that had about 50,000 "unauthorized" users playing the game (the company calls them illegal users, but that could be questioned). This reminds us of the old Blizzard/Bnetd case, where some programmers created bnetd as an alternative to Blizzard's battle.net service, which many felt was too slow. Blizzard eventually sued and won their case, and there are definitely some differences in this particular case, but it does raise the issue of whether or not these types of "unauthorized" servers could become the equivalent of "piracy" as software increasingly moves to a hosted model -- already, the FBI has replaced the website in question with their own anti-piracy warning.

It's true that these two cases involve both client and server software, as opposed to a completely hosted model -- but you could see similar actions occurring with hosted software as well. In the meantime, it certainly looks like NCSoft is exaggerating the damage that was done by this service, claiming that they lost around a million dollars just in the bandwidth costs of people downloading their free client software to use on the unauthorized server. Of course, the problem is that their client is free, and it doesn't come with any implied warranty that users will absolutely sign up and pay for the official version of the server. Do they accuse those who simply download the game but never sign up of also stealing from them? Either way, the more you read about this case, the more confusing it gets. Another report says that the people running the site sold "pirated" versions of software to people, but that doesn't seem true at all. They may have used illegally obtained server code to create an alternate server -- but the software people were using was available for free, so it's hard to see how it was "pirated." No matter what, it seems clear that cases like this are going to keep challenging the questions about how people view "piracy" and unauthorized access to both software and services online.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    A chicken passeth by, Nov 21st, 2006 @ 9:31pm

    The difference here is that the clients aren't sold - they're licensed. Thus modifying the client code to run on different servers is illegal, even after the game's main server itself is offline and the client's otherwise useless.

    Complete, utter nonsense. But the law's the law, innit.

    I'm wondering where all the WoW users will go when Blizzard decides to shut down their servers when the next big thing comes up. Then again, they'll probably have already switched and not even know the difference. That's MMORPGs for you.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2006 @ 9:31pm

    Long live the software pirates!

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 21st, 2006 @ 10:04pm

    The DRM laws can trow you in prison....

    for just a typo when you try to log in as an authoized user. it it is digital and the owner of the server doesn't like you, then there is some violation you are guilty of.

     

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  4.  
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    Narco Tom, Nov 22nd, 2006 @ 5:47am

    Cable TV already established this

    The cable TV industry years ago established that unauthorized access is theft of service and the same as piracy. What's worse is that satellite entertainment providers can claim theft of service despite the fact that they enter your house without your consent.

     

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  5.  
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    Araemo, Nov 22nd, 2006 @ 7:55am

    Re: Cable TV already established this

    No, that is ENTIRELY different. Unauthorized access to cable TV is accessing content that Cable_Company is broadcasting, without their permission.


    This is like connecting Cable_Company's set top box to Satellite_Company's signal, WITH Satellite_Company's permission.

     

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    Araemo, Nov 22nd, 2006 @ 7:58am

    Re: Cable TV already established this

    Or, I suppose, to be more accurate, this is like using the Cable_Company's software on your own set top box to access content sent by Satellite_Company. Is that legal? Well, if you didn't pay Cable_company for the software, definitely.

    If you DID pay Cable_Company for the software, you're in the clear, but if Satellite_Company is using Cable_Company's head-end software without paying for it(Which is what this case is about), Cable_Company is doing something illegal.

    The site that was taken down was also distributing cracked versions of the lineage client, so you could download a pirated client and connect to the pirated server.

    Bnetd, as I understand, was a re-implementation of battle.net, and Blizzard only got them shut down on the grokster grounds(Inciting piracy). It was a shame too, because eventually battle.net WILL shut down, and I'll still want to play Starcraft.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2006 @ 10:05am

    Bnetd, as I understand, was a re-implementation of battle.net, and Blizzard only got them shut down on the grokster grounds(Inciting piracy).
    You understand incorrectly. BnetD was shutdown simply because its developers admitted to agreeing to Vivendi/Blizzard's EULA and such development was a violation of that EULA. The ruling in the case was essentially based upon contract law not copyright violations.

     

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  8.  
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    SlyTex, Nov 25th, 2006 @ 2:50pm

    The whole thing really sucks. Yea the pirating is illegal, but at the same time alot of the time the reason people refuse to pay for l2 or leave it is because of the glaring problems the game has with farming, botting, and power leveling that NCsoft NEVER takes care of. I can kind of understand not wanting to pay a company that wont even hold up their own EULA rules just to make a few extra bucks. I pay to play l2, I really like the game alot. Very good game underneath it all but the cheating is rampant.

     

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