Blizzard Gets Super Aggressive With Cease & Desist Letters

from the way-to-piss-off-fans... dept

Bradley writes in to alert us to the news that, in the last month or so, the lawyers over at Blizzard have been quite busy sending out an awful lot of cease-and-desist letters for pretty much anyone having anything to do with the game World of Warcraft. Among those hit with C&Ds are iPhone apps, web comics and others. The latest involves a popular fan site, called WarcraftPets.com that was apparently selling some things to support the site -- which is apparently a huge no-no to the lawyers at Blizzard (though, it's not clear why they went after some free iPhone apps as well). The whole thing doesn't make much sense. Why is it so problematic that a fan site that's helping to promote the game can't make a little profit for helping promote the game? And, yes, when it comes to trademark law, there is a duty to protect, but that's only in the cases of clear confusion. If there isn't likely to be any confusion, there shouldn't be an issue.


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  •  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2009 @ 12:35pm

    For only a dollar a day, you can literally keep a lawyer alive

    May I ask a question? What else are the lawyers going to do?

    Back in the 1980s it was chasing ambulances, and Gloria Allred has kinda made that into a joke. It seems many bottomfeeders decided to move on or up to IP and Trademark Law. So Suing Warcraft fans puts food on the table for the hungry lawyers, and what is wrong with that?

     

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    big al, May 20th, 2009 @ 12:57pm

    for a dollar....

    If you feed em they multiply.....

     

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    Shaun W, May 20th, 2009 @ 12:57pm

    Favourite game developer

    Blizzard is by far my favorite game developer due to both the entertainment and technical quality of their games. However stories like this just make me saddened and disappointed. I hope that this is more their distributors than the actual game developers (whom I greatly admire) but even that wouldn't make it much better - the actions are still happening.

     

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    PRMan, May 20th, 2009 @ 12:58pm

    WarcraftPets.com

    Looking at the site right now, it's not at all clear to me that this site is NOT selling official WoW items and in fact run by Blizzard.

    Typically, any business using someone else's trademark in their name and then selling products associated with that trademark is definitely in the wrong. By definition that IS confusing.

     

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    Sam Robb, May 20th, 2009 @ 12:58pm

    The most annoying thing about this...

    ... is that it's foolish. It always seems to be:

    "Hey, sir? Guy who's a rabid fan of our stuff? Yah. We're going to sue you."

    Instead of:

    "Hey, sir? Guy who's a rabid fan of our stuff? Listen, you really can't be doing what you're doing without our permission.

    "Fortunately, we're willing to give it. Here's a link to our 'rabid fan' FAQ. All you need to do is sign up, agree to the TOS, and you'll be OK. We'll even host your stuff for you - as a matter of fact, we'll throw in some extra goodies if you let us do that.

    "Oh, you have a store? Mmm. OK, that's a *little* more work, and you'll have to agree to just sell stuff through our store front. We get final say on anything before it goes up, and we split the profits, 50/50. Pretty fair, I think - you're using our stuff, but we're getting your mad creative design skillz. Everybody wins.

    "Oh, and if you don't take us up on this generous offer, *then* we'll sue you. Have a nice day."

    Hmmm. Now that I think about it, this is probably a business plan waiting to happen. "Hello, Blizzard? I'm a representative of Marketing Without Being a Jerk, Inc. We'd like to talk to you about how you can, you know, make *more* money by not letting your legal department be complete tools. Unless they have to."

     

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      DJ, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:33pm

      Re: The most annoying thing about this...

      Oddly enough, that's the way things USED to be. When it became more profitable (and, more importantly, possible) in the short term to just sue a person's entire blood heritage for everything they were ever worth is when things went south.

       

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      Headbhang, May 20th, 2009 @ 4:02pm

      Re: The most annoying thing about this...

      That, sir, is a good hypothetical thing going on.. Kudos for that. The problem is, lawyers (and the management who hires them) are fuckin' idiots. That is, they won't get it. Therefore, they'll stay out of touch of reality and, as consequence, they'll lose out on the opportunities. Well, deserved I say. Keep fucking up and losing to your own idiocy until you can hire someone smart to take charge. Kthx.

       

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      Cixelsid, May 21st, 2009 @ 5:32am

      Re: The most annoying thing about this...

      Man I like this comment a lot. Techdirt should start a rating system for its comments.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:02pm

    These are tough times we're in

    These are real tough times we're in. I doubt many attorneys want to be known for this type of work, but sometimes you have to suck it up and do something you wouldn't normally do to stay off the street. It's like that time in College when you did that gay adult video to pay for rent. You didn't like it, but it's just what had to be done at the time. And just like regular people, lawyers have to eat, pay rent, and their car leases too!

    Suing fans keeps them from living under the bridges, filing for unemployment, selling the 40 foot Yacht or foregoing the upcoming yearly members-only golf greens dues. So I hope they don't loose their morals or values during these very tough and trying times.

     

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      Peter Dragon, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:31pm

      Re: These are tough times we're in

      We've all been through the "gay adult video to pay for rent" situation. But who says I didn't like it?!

      But seriously...screw those lawyers.

       

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      Eponymous Coward, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:39pm

      Re: These are tough times we're in

      Rule 34 in action here, I'm gonna go register www.habeus-cockus.com for some gay adult lawyer porn stuffs.

      All hard-pressed attorneys (see what I did there?) feel free to send audition tapes.

       

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        Eponymous Coward, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:49pm

        Re: Re: These are tough times we're in

        Mildly redundant there with the "gay adult lawyer porn". Sorry about that. Also thankful that this isn't an actual page, at least not yet.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2009 @ 2:20pm

          Re: Re: Re: These are tough times we're in

          Hmmm.
          Do you think there's a market for this?

          I can conceptualize a little bit of the homepage now- Two dudes in suits with their pants down and someone who looks like Judge Judy in the Background banging her gavel, with huge text that says "OVERRULED". Then there will be a community aspect to it, where "members" are called "Jurors". Hot Attorney on Attorney Action with a vid rating system of 1 to 5. Don't get a "1" which on the site constitutes a "hung jury" and a 5 is a "mistrial"-- it's so good, you want to view it again.

          Of course, everything would be protected by DRM and users will have to use a Court-Approved playback device that decrypts the data and attaches to the computer. This is to protect attorney/client privilege. Jurors will not be allowed to talk about the "trial/action" outside of the "courtroom/website".

          It's so ridiculous, it may actually work... What was that .com suggestion again?

           

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    Richard, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:19pm

    Anyone remember freecraft? It was an OSS project (for Linux which was not even a supported platform for WC2 ) run by students. They were shut down with a C&D threat . It's worth noting that there was NO trademark infringment at all. It was another instance of big business using the legal system ( and it's associated expense) as a blunt instrument that they use to bludgeon the little guy into submition :(

    Let's lobby for a law that forces the plaintive to pay for the defence of the defendant if plaintive's net worth is > defendant's * 10. If plaintive wins , the judge orders the rembersment ?? Something needs to be done as the very system which is supposed to deliver justice, is used as an instrument of destruction.

    Sent from my iPhone

     

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      Eponymous Coward, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:43pm

      Re:

      "big business using the legal system ( and it's associated expense) as a blunt instrument..."

      This sent from a poster who makes certain we all know he's using an iPhone. That, ladies and gentlemen, is just a fabulous bit of farce. Psychotic multi-touch lawsuit barrage, anyone?

      Apart from that, I agree with the general bent of the post.

       

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    sam Robb, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:20pm

    Repsonse to PRMan

    At least part of the problem, from the fan point of view, is that Blizzard *knew* about this.

    They really can't claim that they didn't. In their latest game expansion, which has been out for months now, they explicitly included a pet shop run by Breanni (the pseudonymn of the person who maintains WarcraftPets.com). According to developers, this was an *intentional* homage to WarcraftPets as a fan site.

    So you can see the problem... "Hey, Breanni. Great site. Like it a lot. Love it so much, we're going to make an in-game tribute to you for the effort you've put into making the WoW community interesting and fun! Oh, and we're been meaning to tell you - kept forgetting, you know how it is, eh? - but we're going to sue you if you don't shut down your store. Have a nice day!"

    Yah, it's more complex than that. However, it does look a *lot* like a stab in the back, at the very least.

     

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      Michael B, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:45pm

      Re: Repsonse to PRMan

      Sounds like Breanni has grounds for a countersuit, since they used his name without permission.

       

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        another mike, May 26th, 2009 @ 2:00pm

        Re: Re: Repsonse to PRMan

        Her. You can visit her avatar at the Menagerie in Dalaran.

        Maybe Breanni should have opened a separate commerce website. IRLPets.com?

         

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    Anonymous Coward, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:26pm

    Blizzard or Activision?

    With all the recent legal activity I suspect that these legal orders have more to do with the recent Activision take over. Having been a blizzard fan for a long time, and a warcraft blogger, these moves are highly suspect.

    I would never have thought Blizzard would do thing like this because it is so unlike them. They have a strong connection with their fans because of the support the fans receive. Activision on the other hand is just a greedy self absorbed entity that only bought blizzard because it was really they only development house that hadn't trashed its rep and was still making money.

    This doesn't bode well, I fear that blizzard will go the way of Square-enix, a once awesome visionary company, ruined and corrupted by corporate greed and completely out of touch with its own fan base.

     

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      DJ, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:40pm

      Re: Blizzard or Activision?

      That sort of thing seems to be happening more and more. I remember when EA games bought out Westwood studios, and disperssed them, then tried to make a C&C game (Generals), that ended up just plain sucking ass (and not in a good way). A lot of big-wigs in the software industry seem to simply be all about getting on the "band-wagon".

      Reminds me of the scene in the movie "Big" where the corporate guy has a "great idea" to market a transformer that turns into a building...

       

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    Ender, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:41pm

    Blizzard Punishes Fans, CCP (EVE) Rewards Fans

    Thank god I left that terrible game years ago. Blizzard has let everything go to their head and have become exactly the oposite of what they stood for pre wow.....

    Eve Online on the other hand loves their fans supporting them in anyway they choose... Even with Iphone apps.

     

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    Phillip, May 20th, 2009 @ 1:46pm

    This does seem out of character for Blizzard who is usually pretty impressive as far as these kinds of things go. I'd suspect the Activision merger as well.

     

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    Ron (profile), May 20th, 2009 @ 2:25pm

    Lawyers...grrrrr!

    If you build a lawyer a fire, you'll keep him warm all night.

    If you light a lawyer ON fire, you'll keep him warm the rest of his life!

     

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    Gabriel, May 20th, 2009 @ 4:04pm

    Have none of these companies been paying attention to what George Lucas was able to do with Star Wars? Look at all the fan creations which have sprung up around those movies. Lucas seems to recognize the value of allowing his fans to promote his work for him.

    Instead, these companies continue to use intellectual property law to bludgeon Fair Use and freedom of speech.

     

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    Shohat, May 21st, 2009 @ 1:56am

    You got it wrong. Here's the real reason, quoted :

    G'morning,

    well, as you know, copyright law in particular has a lot of grey zones where the exact subject-matter is debatable. Whenever this is case, the unwritten 'sleeping dog' rule applies. Talk too loud (read: be too greedy), and the dog wakes up. I think that in the case of S&F, the current employer Computec Media AG is the one to blame here, and not the artist(s).

    When S&F started after WoW was launched in 2005, it began as fan-made, non-commercial WoW comic. They have been first promoted through several German WoW fan sites, and finally internationally, too.
    The two main characters of the comic - Shakes and Fidget - are in fact actual WoW characters which are or have been played by the authors on the realms. The comic depicts a lot of WoW settings, stuff and characters like Ragnaros, Illidan and so forth, so this IS clearly a WoW Comic.

    Two years ago, during the launch of TBC - when WoW's enormous success became obvious - a new Computec-owned competitor appeared on the German gaming market. They had bought BLASC, a popular WoW database with lots of daily visitors (read: profitable mouse-clicks) and built a new community site called Buffed.de with the usual mainstream WoW stuff around it. The database remains till today the main source of mouse-clicks which they sell to advertisers. Buffed has an online portal and a print magazine.
    In typical venture captitalist fashion, Computec then bought what they could to expand their newly established, profitable online portal, and among them were S&F.

    S&F were already very popular at this time across the whole WoW community, and each new episode brought lots of mouse-clicks from old and new fans. Of course, Buffed and Computec saw the monetary potential of the WoW comic and hired S&F (for a good salary, methinks) under the condition that Computec gets the exclusive distribution rights.
    The contract was signed, and then Computec attorneys sent out letters to all (German) competitors such as inWoW.de, WorldofWar.de and so forth, that all S&F material has to be taken offline because Computec is now the exclusive owner and distributor.

    Then came the point, I think, where the line was crossed. The exclusive contract between Computec and S&F was signed quite a while ago (over 1 year, I believe), but during that time S&F had advanced from a simple online magazine gimmick (on Buffed.de) to one of the company's "crow jewels" in terms of marketing. Now you can find them in all Computec-owned print magazines, ads for Buffed gaming PC's, cups, t-shirts, mouse-pads and all other kinds of fan articles. You have, for example, t-shirts with S&F "Hail to the King, Baby'" prints on them (with a clear visual reference to Arthas/the Lich King), and so forth.

    So, ask yourself the following: If you were Blizzard, and see this happen, wouldn't you too send your attorneys and have them slap the wrists of the "Ratte" (as Mike Schramm has put it correctly with "we smell a rat")? I think this is just what they did so far - no more, no less. No multi-million dollar law-suit, nothing.

    Before we judge about Blizzard or Activision's behavior here - yes, big bad company- we have to take a close look at the whole context of the deal which is the bone of contention. I'm with Blizzard on this one as the copyright infringement and exploit is evident in this case, considering the wide commercial use of Blizzard brands and ideas by the aforementioned companies.

     

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    JPong, May 21st, 2009 @ 5:25am

    Not Surprised

    Being a player and active in the Mod community for WoW, I have noticed some actions by Blizzard of late that doesn't surprise me.

    Since the game began players have been able to make interface mods and such, and they were able to distribute these mods as they saw fit.

    Then along came this mod called Carbonite. It was a very well designed addon that incorporated a lot of nice features. But, the full version cost $2/month, there was a free version that had the most popular features.

    They were very successful, some people didn't like that they were charging money for the full version. Eventually, they made a new version, it was free, but showed ads at certain time intervals. This was largely seen as a big no-no by the community at large and this version was mostly ignored.

    Blizzard, in their infinite wisdom, did not like this one bit, so they made their addon policy. It states that authors are not allowed to charge money for any part of the addon, they are not allowed to show ads in the game, and they are not allowed to solicit donations in the game. They can still show ads and solicit donations on the download site, however.

    Authors were generally outraged, long-time community members quit the game, others stopped developing the addons (most of those groups were not even effected by the policy, but did this as a protest), others adapted to the new policy.

    Blizzard has implemented a sort of ban on some of the remaining offenders. They are currently blocking those addons from working, I believe they base it off the name of the addon.

    All these problems, to fix about 2% of the addons. They weren't even the most popular addons as there were free alternatives to most of them.

     

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