Video game company Blizzard often appears to be a study in contrasts. At times, it seems to recognize the changing nature of the technology landscape, embracing scarcities
, giving people reasons to buy
and even coming out against DRM
. But, at the same time, it tried to retroactively ban anonymity
in its forums, and has been notoriously litigious, even going after
organizations who promote its games.
However, perhaps the most troubling (and highest profile) issue involving Blizzard is its lawsuit against a guy who made a bot for doing things within World of Warcraft. While we recognize that such things can be used to "cheat," the problem was Blizzard's attempt (successful so far) to drastically stretch
the meaning and intent of copyright law, to suggest that making such a bot infringes on its copyright. Beyond the basic questions of how the decision in the case was at odds
with the basic concepts of the First Sale doctrine, the real problem was that nothing the bot does actually violates copyright law
. The judge had to seriously twist both the letter and spirit of copyright law to come to that conclusion (and if you don't want my analysis on it, try copyright expert William Patry's
, who noted):
The critical point is that WoWGilder did not contributorily or vicariously lead to violating any rights granted under the Copyright Act. Unlike speed-up kits, there was no creation of an unauthorized derivative work, nor was a copy made even under the Ninth Circuit's misinterpretation of RAM copying in the MAI v. Peak case. How one might ask can there be a violation of the Copyright Act if no rights granted under the Act have been violated? Good question.
To get to its result, the court had to first find that WoW, even though sold over the counter, was licensed not sold. In so finding, the court declined to follow the recent Vernor opinion in the Western District of Washington, believing it had to follow other Ninth Circuit precedent. I agree with the Vernor court that the other precedent (MAI, Triad, Wall Data) do not hold that over the counter software is licensed, not sold. (WoW may be purchased online too, but I don't think this changes the analysis.). Having found there was license not a sale, there still had to be a breach of the license in order to permit an infringement action to lie, and recall here that the claim is not one for direct infringement, but rather secondary liability; there was no privity between the parties. There was in fact no provision in the license that barred use of WoWGlider. The court took the extraordinary step of stitching together two unrelated provisions to create one. You have to read it to believe it, but it took the court 8 pages to go through this hard work, and why? Was the court offended by what it regarded to be cheating? If so, God help us if law is being reduced to such subjective, non-statutory grounds.
While the appeal in that case is still ongoing
, it appears that Blizzard is using that precedent to go after more folks who have made tools for "cheating." The company recently banned thousands of players
from Starcraft II for allegedly using such cheat codes, but reader Jay
was the first of a bunch of you to point out that it's also suing three creators of cheat codes
using the same dubious claims of copyright infringement.
Now, let me make it quite clear: I completely understand why Blizzard and many players of Blizzard games hate
cheat codes and find them unfair and damaging to the overall gameplay. However, even if you think such cheats and hacks are the most evil thing out there, you have to admit that it's no excuse to misuse copyright law to punish the makers of those cheats, knowing that the end result could be precedent that negatively impacts all sorts of other things online. So what is Blizzard claiming specifically? Well, to make this a "copyright" issue, they're claiming that:
When users of the Hacks download, install, and use the Hacks, they copy StarCraft II copyrighted content into their computer's RAM in excess of the scope of their limited license, as set forth in the EULA and ToU, and create derivative works of StarCraft II.
Pick apart that sentence carefully. In order to make this a copyright issue, Blizzard is claiming that (1) running a cheat code violates the EULA and the ToU (the fine print no one read) and (2) once you've violated the EULA and the terms of service, you no longer have a license for the game ("excess of the scope of their limited license") and, because of that (3) when you copy aspects of the game in a fleeting manner into the computer's RAM, it
violates the copyright.
Hopefully, you can see how problematic this is. Thankfully, for now, other cases
(in a different circuit, I believe, so non-binding on the Blizzard cases) have found that fleeting copies in RAM are not considered infringing, and hopefully the courts here agree, and toss out this kind of tortured logic that could lead to all sorts of other ridiculous rulings. If Blizzard is allowed to make these claims, then any software/content company that offers you a long license, where you don't obey each and every claim, can say you've infringed on their copyright and owe huge statutory damages.