Blizzard Still Twisting And Distorting Copyright To Go After Cheaters

from the paved-with-good-intentions dept

The road to Hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. The lesson in that axiom is that one should always be wary of the potentially adverse consequences of actions intended to be good. Blizzard, unfortunately, appears to be something of a performance art piece on this concept. For many years now it has, under the auspices of protecting the larger portion of its customers’ gaming experience, gone after hackers and cheaters in its games by twisting copyright law into a tortured pretzel. It began with Starcraft and then transitioned into World of Warcraft, both relying on a morose entwining of copyright law and terms of service. That combination essentially creates a cascade of faulty nonsense, starting with the concept that software is only licensed and not sold to customers, that ToS agreements are so binding that breaking them breaks the license, and finally that breaking the license negates the ability for fleeting copying that the software employs, creating a copyright infringement. If your head is spinning, you aren’t alone.

Yet, Blizzard continues on, now going back into the Starcraft realm to sue “hackers” for copyright infringement in the name of protecting the larger audience of the game.

Blizzard filed papers in a California court on May 19th alleging that an unidentified group of programmers infringed on the publisher’s StarCraft II copyright with a series of cheats and in-game exploits collectively known as the “ValiantChaos MapHack.” Designed to give StarCraft II players any number of competitive advantages when playing the game online, the MapHack was made available online through the ValiantChaos forum—provided that forum members paid $62.50 for access to its VIP section. The complaint Blizzard filed says that the company is taking action against the programmers in order to “protect the sanctity of the StarCraft II experience” against “hacks, mods or any other unauthorized third-party software” that undermines the competition central to the game’s online multiplayer.

It would be quite easy for any Starcraft 2 player to cheer Blizzard on at this point. I don’t play this particular game, but I’ve wished all manner of ill in the past on those that were obviously using cheats and hacks in online games in the past. Counter Strike, in particular, did more to teach me how much I hate cheaters than any other single experience in my entire life. That said, we still have the same problems as before.

Blizzard’s filing again lays out its view that its software is licensed, rather than sold in the traditional meaning — and that a violation of its ToS and EULA agreements nullifies that license. In addition, it claims both that the hacks created by the hackers (even if their copies were purchased legitimately) constituted a modified end-product, or illegal derivative work, and that this resulted in both direct and contributory infringement in the instance of every copy of the hack they provided, used or sold. It also, of course, argues that anti-circumvention clauses of the DMCA apply.

The problem with all of this is that it still relies on the twisted assumptions that Blizzard customers don’t actually own what they bought and that ToS and EULA agreements are so binding that violation of them negates the license that the company insists was all that was purchased. As I mentioned, this may be done in a valiant effort to keep most of its customers as happy as possible, but that doesn’t make it right. The wider implications of these rulings is horrifying. There simply will be unintended consequences in this that will prove to be far more harmful than any annoying game-hackers can create with their irritating products.

This may seem crappy, but the best course for everyone involved would be for Blizzard to simply jump back into the arms race with these cheaters and hackers and try its best to keep them off the company’s servers. Going the legal nuclear option and twisting copyright into the mix may only amplify the amount of harm being done all around.

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Companies: blizzard

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Comments on “Blizzard Still Twisting And Distorting Copyright To Go After Cheaters”

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Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s why it is called armsrace.
Blizzard has constant income from the game. They have the resources to force a change in the cheat programs every few weeks with an update.

The cheat developers have to constantly update their programs. Either they have to work for free, or ask more money from the cheaters that bought their program.

Blizzard’s purpose should be to raise the cost of cheat program development/purchase to the point where it’s not worth paying it.
Few cheaters are willing to pay 20-60$ per week to stay up to date.

Anonymous Coward says:

If that is the way they view this business of software, then ti should be plainly stated where the price is for the software, not in the TOS or EULA, that you agree you are renting, not buying this software.

I would not agree to such terms. Needless to say, Blizzard doesn’t have to worry about me paying them money for their products since I can’t seem to own what I bought.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Point taken, but Apple currently offer OS upgrades for free, and the upgrade path is usually pretty easy. If I had to guess, they required some functionality not present in Snow Leopard for updates (or had a lot of bugs that only affected that OS), and decided that having people on the most recent OS revisions was the easiest fix.

It’s not a great excuse, but it’s not like they’re trying to get you to spend $100+ on the latest version of the OS, as you’d have to with Windows, just because they feel like it.

Lawrence D?Oliveiro says:

Re: Re: It's an outdated OS with no support from Apple, why would they support it?

Because they still claim ?Intellectual Property? rights over it. If something is your property, it?s your responsibility to look after it.

The current copyright term lasts 90 years, I believe. Apple did not sell the software to you, it licensed it. If the licence terms can stay in force for that long, why shouldn?t we demand support for that long?

Digger says:

Re: Re: Re: It's an outdated OS with no support from Apple, why would they support it?

That’s pure lawyer-sleeze speak.

They sold you your copy of the game, first sale doctrine in tact.

No amount of “oh, but we realyl only sold you a ‘license'” will ever hold up in court.

my Anti-EULA aka SPLA that is clearly printed and posted on the side of my computer nullifies and supercedes any and all EULAs anyway, so the point is moot.

If Blizzard doesn’t want their software installed where my SPLA supercedes it, they should prevent that from happening.

Since they don’t, it’s obvious they don’t care that my SPLA supercedes and nullifies their EULA.

My SPLA is just as valid as their “modified without consent” EULA is.

Tice with a J (profile) says:

Isn't there any other way?

Is copyright the only mechanism they have, or just the only one they understand? It seems to me that, since Blizzard is the one hosting the multiplayer services, they should have the power to define what constitutes “fair play” on their services and to simply eject anyone who fails to meet those standards. Do they not have the power to do this?

jdc (profile) says:

Re: Isn't there any other way?

The problem Blizzard has is the exploit reveals to the cheaters information that they shouldn’t have. And unfortunately, that information is needed to be available on the computers of all the players. Blizzard for quite a while has been attempting to use technical measures to detect cheating and to make cheating more difficult. Some measures are:
1. Encrypting the data stream between the players and the servers.
2. The Warden program (which in itself raised a nasty publicity storm since what warden did was look for processes running on an user’s computer looking for programs and window titles indicative of known cheat programs).

And what would happen is that the cheat providers would analyze what warden was doing. Then make changes to the cheat that would bypass warden. In turn Blizzard would take note of the new cheat, modify warden to detect it and so forth and so on. As for the encrypted data stream, well it’s easy enough for a cheat program to either look at the memory image of the player’s program to get the data needed directly, or to extract the encryption key.

Basically, Blizzard is stuck in a continuous cycle of cheat, counter-measure, counter-counter-measure, counter-counter-…-counter-measure, etc.. So they’re going after the cheat providers via the legal system. And yes, they’re distorting copyright quite severely.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

How Blizzard has changed

They didn’t used to be like this.

Back when I was in college, I was very active in the StarCraft modding community. Blizzard had obfuscated their game data 7 ways from Sunday, doing some absolutely crazy things to keep people out of it, but this brilliant coder by the name of Andy Bond managed to untangle it and come up with a program to allow people to extract, modify, and patch in new data files, enabling the creation of StarCraft mods.

The whole thing violated the EULA left, right, and center. Blizzard could have sued Bond. They could probably have sued me for some of the stuff I was doing in the community. But you know what they did instead?

Instead of sending representatives to Andy Bond with a bunch of legal nastygrams… they sent representatives to him with a job offer. Today he’s credited as a developer on a couple of their games.

Michael Donnelly (profile) says:

As someone with some experience in this arena...

(yes, I am the first two letters in MDY Industries)

Actually, the derivative work claim is quite a bit different than the usual “you licensed it, you don’t own it, therefore these copies are infringing” kind of logic that was employed in the past.

In this case, the EULA and ToU are only being leveraged directly for the contract claims: breach, interference, etc. There is no more of the magical connection between copyright and the EULA.

The copyright claims are made without the EULA: derivative work and direct infringement during reversing. They may or may not be winners, but it’s at least a break from the prior methods of creating copyright infringement from thin air by writing it into a contract.

If it ever gets argued on the merits, the defendants will have to somehow get past Midway v. Arctic on the derivative work issue and I don’t see how they’re going to do that.

That One Guy (profile) says:

On a semi-related note

How much of a complete and utter loser do you have to be to cheat at games like this?

I mean, I can understand cheats in a single player game, where you’re just playing around in the game, testing stuff out you normally wouldn’t be able to do, but cheating in multiplayer? That’s basically the ultimate admission of ‘I suck so badly at this game the only possible way I could ever win is by giving myself unfair advantages.’

Forget lawsuits, if Blizzard, or any other company catch cheaters, and after a full investigation are completely sure that they are cheaters, go the public name and shame route, let everyone know just how pathetic they are.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: On a semi-related note

Hence the ‘full investigation’ part, for something as nuclear as a name and shame or lawsuit, they’d better be completely sure the person/people involved are guilty, and it’s not just a minor ‘oops’.

Also, yet another reason ‘always online’ is so incredibly stupid, as well as a reason I’ve never played any Starcraft game past the first one and the expansion to it.

Xploding_Cobra (profile) says:

Re: Re: On a semi-related note

Not really. While playing single player, you can use the built in cheat codes to pretty much do anything you want – FAR more than any maphack can do. As far as I know, the developers put the codes in there to test various things while designing the game and then leave them there for people to find. In some cases, there are rewards for finding all the possible cheat codes. It’s pitiful that I know all this stuff but hey, once it’s in my brain, I’m stuck with it forever.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: On a semi-related note

I was going to post a similar comment but you pretty much covered what I was going to say. I don’t play video games any more. Back in the time I had an 8088 running DOS I played games like Captain Comic and Avoid The Noid. I finally just decided I was wasting too much time playing. I knew that there were cracks available but I would derive no satisfaction from reaching higher levels by cheating. It was the challenge figuring out on my own how to advance in the game that gave me a feeling of accomplishment.

Shmerl says:

I understood it differently

I understood it in a way that Blizzard claim that copyright is violated because:

1. Hackers profit from distributed exploits which are profitable because of existence of Blizzard’s product.
2. Their distribution hurts Blizzard’s product (i.e. for example upset users leave because cheaters don’t let them play normally which is a real hinder).

So it seems that Blizzard insists, that copyright allows them to go after those who profit off their product while hurting it. Is that correct or it’s not a proper application of copyright?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I understood it differently

Neither of your two points mentions copying, so no, that wouldn’t be a proper application of copyright.

There are no exclusive rights to profit off the existence of your own product. Otherwise, game guide publishers would be sued out of existence. Sales of magazines that cover Hollywood films or special effects would be sued. Manufacturers of phone covers would be sued. But even if that right existed, it wouldn’t have anything to do with copyright.

Some players might not buy the product if they can’t cheat. Unless you have numbers on what percentage wouldn’t buy if they couldn’t cheat vs. the number of players who don’t buy because of cheaters, you can’t necessarily claim that cheating is harmful.

Ox says:

IIRC, I may be wrong here but I really hope I’m not, but when you purchase or rent or whatever play on words you want to use, their product I believe on the package itself (at least on tangible items such as WoW box at Wally World) it states that you’re not purchasing the software, only licensing it. In small lettering. …really small lettering.

Now. I don’t like it any more than the next guy about this licensing bullshit – I paid for the shit, it should damn well be mine to do w/e the fuck I want with it (Online game portions being the sole exception) however if by law (or may not actually BE “law” but like a legal contract I guess? ) when I purchase the box w/software and click “I AGREE TO THESE CONDITIONS” and I am then bound to those conditions…fuck it. I just wanna play my game, man. It’s not right, I know that, but my desire to play whatever I buy is greater than my desire to tell them to go fuck themselves.

eol says:

WHile I agree with the point about the legal actions being over the top and somehow tangled and confusing, I’m surprised at the emphasis t is put here on licensing and not selling software. You talk about it as if it was something unusual these days, when it’s prety much the norm.

You think you own your Windows? Seriously?

Zonker says:

Why not simply have server accounts of caught cheaters flagged “cheater” and able to be (not required to be) blocked from joining games. Repentant cheaters or those demonstrating they may have been falsely flagged get a “probation” flag for some amount of time allowing closer monitoring before reinstating or removing the “cheater/probation” flags. Separate achievements and leader boards for cheaters and non-cheaters.

Cheaters could choose to play with cheaters, non-cheaters could choose to keep them out, people have a chance to redeem themselves. Everybody wins?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This has been done by a number of games over the years. The problem is twofold. 1) Cheaters don’t want to play against other cheaters, because it deprives them of the unfair advantage they get when playing against people who play the game right. 2) Blocking server accounts is largely ineffective because the cheaters will just create a new account.

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