Blizzard Bot Ruling Sets A Dangerous Precedent On Copyright
from the not-a-good-thing dept
Earlier this year, we wrote a couple times about how World of Warcraft maker Blizzard was suing a bot maker. In that case, Blizzard was claiming that the bot maker (which let users automate certain tasks to quickly rise up in experience level) was violating its copyrights first by getting around the copy protection on its own spybot (which tries to prevent such automation) and then by not obeying the terms of the license agreement. As we pointed out in May, if the court ruled in favor of Blizzard on the license agreement question, it would effectively ignore the right of first sale by letting any company simply announce that it wasn’t selling its product, but licensing it — and then create all sorts of rules well beyond what copyright allows.
Unfortunately, the judge has now sided with Blizzard in a summary judgment on this issue. The one bit of good news is that it rejected the DMCA part of the claim, saying that the bot maker did not violate the anti-circumvention clause. However, the rest of the ruling is quite troublesome. Basically, the court ruled that as long as a company selling you a product says it’s only licensing you the product (even if every other aspect of the sale appears to be a sale), then it can set pretty much whatever rules it wants — and if you violate them, charge you with violating copyright. This leads to some really tortured reasoning, because, as William Patry notes, nothing the guy did actually violates copyright. Instead, the court had to spend eight pages trying to piece together two separate parts of the license agreement to make a case that copyright was somehow violated.
This ruling flies in the face of other recent rulings that found that just because a company claims it’s only licensing you a product, it doesn’t mean that it’s true. There was the Autodesk ruling, saying that a software sale is a software sale, and the used promo CD ruling that says record labels don’t get to put extra copyright restrictions on promo CDs just because they write something across the cover. Unfortunately, the judge in this case decided otherwise. Not only does this result in bad policy (now anyone just needs to say they’re licensing you something rather than selling it, and they can put additional restrictions beyond copyright on it, effectively dismantling copyright) but it’s also a misreading of the law itself (despite what the court says). Hopefully, it will be overturned on appeal.