Checking In: Blizzard Still Suing Hack/Cheat Makers For Copyright Infringement? Yup!

from the sigh dept

For some reason, gamemaker Blizzard has been totally smitten with the idea of twisting copyright law into an ugly pretzel to sue anyone who makes a hack or cheat for one of its games for some time now. They did this concerning Starcraft, then World of Warcraft, and then Starcraft 2. This lawsuit tactic is starting to become something of a right of passage for Blizzard’s games, but the tactic in question makes little sense. Blizzard’s argument can be roughly translated as: cheats and hacks break the EULA for the game, the game is licensed by the EULA instead of being owned by anyone paying for it, the game does regular copying of code and files while in use, therefore a hack or cheat that breaks the EULA renders all of that routine copying as copyright infringement. While this wrenching of copyright into these kinds of lawsuits has nothing to do with the actual purpose or general application of copyright law, many cheer these moves on, because cheaters within the communal games we play are annoying.

But the ends don’t justify the means, and this kind of twisting of copyright law is dangerous, as we’ve pointed out in the past. Not that that’s stopped Blizzard from utilizing this tactic, of course. In fact, recent Blizzard success Overwatch has become the latest to achieve this right of passage.

While most Overwatch players stick to the rules, there’s also a small group that tries to game the system. By using cheats such as the Watchover Tyrant, they play with an advantage over regular users. Blizzard is not happy with the Overwatch cheat and has filed a lawsuit against the German maker, Bossland GMBH, at a federal court in California. Bossland also sellscheats for various other titles such as World of Warcraft, Diablo 3 and Heroes of the Storm, which are mentioned in the complaint as well.

The game developer accuses the cheat maker of various forms of copyright infringement, unfair competition, and violating the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision. According to Blizzard these bots and cheats also cause millions of dollars in lost sales, as they ruin the games for many legitimate players.

And it might indeed be true that these cheat hacks piss off some Overwatch gamers and might even drive some of them away from the game, costing Blizzard revenue. But, and I cannot stress this enough, that doesn’t suddenly make any of this copyright infringement. To see what lengths Blizzard’s legal team is going to in order to twist this all together, one need look only at the claims the filing makes.

First, it claims that Bossland is committing contributory infringement by offering the hack, because the hack breaks the EULA, which makes accessing the game suddenly fraudulent, and all the routine copying the game does becomes copyright infringement. This, again, relies on the idea that the game is licensed rather than bought, and that breaking the EULA renders the license invalid. This has never been the way copyright has worked in the past.

Second, the filing claims that the hack’s ability to provide a graphical overlay over the regular game is the creation of a derivative work, which is also copyright infringement. Except the overlay isn’t copying any part of the game, nor is it making works expanding on the game. It’s just an overlay, or a HUD.

Only then does the filing accuse Bossland of contractual interference, which is probably the most sound charge in the whole thing. Even then, hacks and cheats have long been a staple of the video game ecosystem, with most gamemakers embracing modding communities, and even embedding cheats within their own games. This has changed somewhat with the rise of online multiplayer games, where these kinds of cheats break the game in some ways, but still, entering into a legal challenge over all of this instead of jumping back into the fray of game development to try to keep the cheaters out seems strange.

And filing all of this in a California court has pretty much everyone, including the folks at Bossland, scratching their heads.

TF spoke with Bossland CEO Zwetan Letschew, who informed us that his company hasn’t received the complaint at its office yet. However, they are no stranger to Blizzard’s legal actions.

“There are over 10 ongoing legal battles in Germany already,” Letschew says, noting that it’s strange that Blizzard decided to take action in the US after all these years. “Now Blizzard wants to try it in the US too. One could ask himself, why now and not back in 2011. Why did Rod Rigole [Blizzard Deputy General Counsel] even bother to fly to Munich and drive with two other lawyers 380 km to Zwickau. Why not just sue us in the US five years ago?”

While Letschew still isn’t convinced that the lawsuit is even real, he doesn’t fear any legal action in the U.S. According to the CEO, a California court has no jurisdiction over his company, as it has no ties with the United States.

It should be noted that much of the time these legal attempts by Blizzard don’t result in wins for its legal team. And that’s not even taking into account the questions of jurisdiction and/or what a California court ruling will result in for a company abroad. I’m a little lost as to why Blizzard is even bothering with this, to be honest.

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Comments on “Checking In: Blizzard Still Suing Hack/Cheat Makers For Copyright Infringement? Yup!”

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50 Comments
Anarres (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Copyright is an exclusive right to copy, make derivative works of, distribute, publicly display and perform, a work.

If what you do is not copying, making derivative works, distributing them, and such, then you’re not infringing copyright. It’s that simple.

If Blizzard had been wronged here in some other way, then they deserve a ruling to compensate them. But not under copyright law.

Some wrongful interference with the contract between Blizz and players sounds right.

I.T. Guy says:

Re: Re:

Lay of the caffeine buddy.
“And it might indeed be true that these cheat hacks piss off some Overwatch gamers and might even drive some of them away from the game, costing Blizzard revenue. But, and I cannot stress this enough, that doesn’t suddenly make any of this copyright infringement”

The issue at hand is using copyright to do so… idiot.
Rant elsewhere moron.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Also, why do some people feel the need to attack a large part of the population because they don’t like a hobby of theirs?

That’s not why I call them stupid. I don’t CARE about their hobby.

I call them stupid because gamers have demonstrated over and over and over and OVER again that they will tolerate any amount of abuse from gaming companies. This site contains a litany of them, ranging from shutdowns to DRM to ripoffs to fraud. Yet gamers continue to patronize these same companies — the ones that shit on them — because they’re too stupid to learn, even after repeated incidents.

There was a time when I empathized with gamers, as I’d empathize with anyone who’s been taken advantage of unfairly. But not any more. If gamers haven’t learned by now that Blizzard is their enemy, and that they should boycott them out of business, then gamers are too stupid to be worthy of my sympathy.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“I call them stupid because gamers have demonstrated over and over and over and OVER again that they will tolerate any amount of abuse from gaming companies. “

Yeah, I mean that’s why sites like GoG are so successful, why indie gaming has thrived over the last decade, why people have boycotted some major publishers, etc. Gamers are idiot who just buy whatever, no matter the huge numbers of demographics, technical ability, etc. involved with that mass market product, right? Are movie goers also idiots because of the restrictions they put up with that are constantly reported, or is it again just this one hobby?

“Yet gamers continue to patronize these same companies — the ones that shit on them — because they’re too stupid to learn, even after repeated incidents.”

Just like anonymous commenters prove themselves to be drooling idiots without a real point to make other than attack others or make crap up to get a rise out of people?

Wait, that’s a rather silly blanket statement that ignores the real actions of ACs who don’t do that at all, and the many positive and insightful comments that come from those who don’t create a login.

Hopefully you’ll understand how that relates to the huge numbers of gamers who patronise companies that don’t do those things, and perhaps you’ll side with them instead of telling they deserve poor treatment.

Especially since, in this case, it’s not the gamers being treated poorly but rather vendors of a product that actively serves to reduce the quality of the experience for a majority of players. Also bearing in mind that the managers and lawyers promoting this tactic are almost certainly not gamers themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

why people have boycotted some major publishers, etc.

Yet the abuses/ripoffs/etc. continue. Why?

Because those engaged in doing them are smart enough to know that they can. They can justify, rationalize, and whitewash. They can feign regret. They can write PR that talks about how terribly sensitive they are to the needs of the gaming community. They can issue some kind of inconsequential token compensation.

And then they can do it all over again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Why?

Because gamers will go right back to them as soon as they have the Next Big Thing. “Yeah, I know they’re assholes, but I really want to play ABCXYZ, soooooo….”

If gamers were smart, these companies would have been driven out of business years ago. Just a little bit of self-control would have done the trick: dry up their revenue streams and watch them disappear. And you know, that would have actually been good for gamers/gaming, since it would have gotten rid of some of the worst offenders and provided an object lesson for the remaining ones.

But that isn’t how it’s gone down. And so, I’m certain, in the conference rooms of gaming companies, there are conversations about just how far they can go, just how much of a ripoff they can construct — and still get away with it. Why not? It’s profitable. And who, exactly, will do anything about it?

freedomfan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The argument that gamers are stupid because some fraction of gamers continue to patronize companies that produce games that they like but that also enforce (or try to enforce) rules and employ business tactics that the gamers do not like is a weak argument. First, there are gamers who boycott various game companies because they don’t like their rules. Second, one can dislike one aspect of something and still like the other aspects of it enough to decide that, on balance, it’s still worth doing. Deciding that costs are outweighed by benefits doesn’t necessarily make someone an idiot.

And, of course, another weakness in the argument is that the same reasoning leads to what most would agree with overbroad conclusions when applied elsewhere. For instance, many ISPs (e.g. Comcast, AT&T, etc.) have rules and employ tactics that their customers don’t like. Is every customer of theirs an idiot? Or are people deciding that what they are getting is worth the price of what they have to put up with? Or (even more likely) are customers deciding that they don’t have time to keep track of and be outraged by every unlikable thing done by anyone with whom they do business.

(And, of course, there are some people who literally have no choice in whether to purchase some product/service from a given company. But, the vast majority do.)

Skeeter says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I find the Article’s Writer highly protective of Germany’s Bossland cheat-coder, ‘highly interesting’. He misses to explain one simple tenant of law: When you are proposed with a EULA (End User License Agreement) will violate and thus terminate your LEGAL USE of Blizzard’s COPYRIGHTS (as well as patents and trademarks relative to the game), and the user CLICKS THROUGH the EULA, he is in fact, legally ACCEPTING the terms of use! Thus, in ANY court of law, the user is now LEGALLY HELD RESPONSIBLE for his actions, which in this case, have been intentionally listed by Blizzard.

Basically, Blizzard told you in the EULA, what you can and cannot do in the game, explicitly what will happen to you if they catch you cheating, and you clicked right through it, ACCEPTING THEIR TERMS (the old adage, NEVER agree to a contract you don’t like raises-its-ugly-head here).

As for what Bossland is doing, it is clearly illegal, as it requires several things to work. First, they had to open and play the game. This meant that they had to ACCEPT THE EULA too! Then, they used a reverse compiler to decompile the code, so they would know how to code the cheat engine. Now, they had to intentionally compile a EULA-breaking, code-shifting program of their own (let’s just call this digital code bomb-building, for lack of another layman’s term that fits as well).

This is no accident, this is illegal, and it is EXACTLY what Blizzard accuses them off – A RIP OFF, A VIOLATION, and A VIOLATION OF LAW (not to mention, a violation of EULA contract acceptance). There’s a reason they’re hidden in Germany, they KNOW they would be in legal trouble instantly if they were in the U.S. for what they are doing.

Anarres (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

He misses to explain one simple tenant of law: When you are proposed with a EULA (End User License Agreement) will violate and thus terminate your LEGAL USE of Blizzard’s COPYRIGHTS (as well as patents and trademarks relative to the game), and the user CLICKS THROUGH the EULA, he is in fact, legally ACCEPTING the terms of use! Thus, in ANY court of law, the user is now LEGALLY HELD RESPONSIBLE for his actions, which in this case, have been intentionally listed by Blizzard.

No. In US copyright law, there is a limitation explicitly for copyright over computer programs, which says that the copy the program does in the normal course of running, is not covered by copyright.

That means that merely running the program, even if you accept the EULA, is not infringement, as a normal user merely starting it, no matter if companies claim otherwise in their EULA (they shouldn’t anyway).

Think about it, how could it be otherwise? If you buy a game, and your sister comes to your computer and clicks on the icon to start your game, it would be copyright infringement. That would be absurd in my view. Mind you, she might be greeted with the login page, and since you didn’t and shouldn’t share your account with her, she’s unable to play. That’s expected. So she will just close the game. But in Blizzard’s theory, she’s infringing copyright. And if you told her to go to your computer and look at your games, then you could be deemed contributory infringement under this crazy theory.
Remember such EULA is typically personal, non-tranferrable.

That’s one of the troubles with Blizzard’s claim of “infringement” for any act not explicitly allowed in EULA.
I don’t think it’s the law: there are acts people do which don’t amount to infringement even if EULAs don’t allow them explicitly. I don’t think it should be the law, either.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I call them stupid because gamers have demonstrated over and over and over and OVER again that they will tolerate any amount of abuse from gaming companies. This site contains a litany of them, ranging from shutdowns to DRM to ripoffs to fraud

Just like people who continue to go to the theaters despite crap treatment from both theater and film studios.

Just like people who continue to buy from major labels, despite the attrocious treatment said labels provide and the anti-customer actions they engage in.

Just like people who continue to buy from MS/Apple, despite the way they treat their customers like walking wallets and/or sources of valuable data.

Hmm, you know it almost seems like it’s not a problem with stupid gamers so much as a problem with stupid(or in most cases uninformed) people, and focusing on the ‘stupid gamers’ line is missing the forest for the trees.

Anonymous Coward says:

Like most gamers I dislike the players that use the cheats to get a big unfair advantage over the other regular players. But rather than twisting copyright to try and fix the problem one easier way to help take care of the problem would be by just moving the cheating players on to a separate server made up entirely of and for those cheating players.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If it were that easy to identify cheaters so they could be moved to a “cheater server”, then there would be no problem. But it’s actually a very difficult thing to do.

Additionally, it wouldn’t really solve the problem. WoW had a problem a while back with battle grounds in that there wound be “twinks” playing them. A twink is a player that has the highest possible level gear either because of high level friends bringing the twink into high level dungeons, or having lots of gold to purchase said gear from the auction house and having the highest level enchants placed on said gear. Since experience points weren’t granted in battle grounds a twink could stay in the same battle ground indefinitely and totally destroy any player with lessor gear. So Blizzard modified the game to grant experience points in battle grounds and thereby destroyed the twink environment. Also in response to feedback, they gave the option for players to “turn off” experience for a character and thereby be able to create a twink. But the kicker was, for those players with disabled XP, they played on a separate battle ground that only had players with disabled XP… So only twinks were on those special battle grounds. Let’s just say the twinks weren’t happy playing on a level playing field.

I bring that up because those twink only battle grounds would be equivalent to “cheat only servers” and to be honest, those cheaters want to have an exclusive advantage over other players. If they were forced to play on a special server that only had cheaters, that advantage would be negated and those cheaters wouldn’t be happy and would most likely take steps to be able to cheat on other servers so that they would once again have an advantage over other players. They simply can’t abide a level playing field, hence the reason they cheat.

SometimesItsNotAboutCheating says:

Re: separate server

This is the preferred approach.

Gives “cheaters” a platform where they can play with other people that want those same changes to game functionality.

What’s cheating to a company might not be in the mind of players…

Sometimes it’s as simple as a player wanting a different UI.

Sometimes it’s players wanting not to held back by weight on items.

Sometimes players might simply want a change to an animation style they prefer or using some DX9.dll mod that gives them improved graphics that game didn’t come standard with.

They all may like the overall game, but simply want to change some aspect to their personal preference.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m guessing that Blizzard are suing in California in the hope that the German company will not show up to defend itself and as there will be a no show by the defence the court will give a default ruling to Blizzard.

Once a default ruling has been given to Blizzard they will no doubt champion this as a win and use it to go after any other company outside of the US that provides hacks/cheats to any of Blizzard games.

Should the German company not pay any fine imposed by the default ruling (which of course can not be enforced if the Germany company have no assets in the US) then what next for Blizzard. Perhaps try and get the domain of the German company seized for non payment of fine or get the company shutdown for non payment of fine. They could try but doubtful that will work.

Let’s hope the court sees the jurisdiction issue and does not give a default ruling.

MadAsASnake (profile) says:

Re: Re:

They cannot legally serve papers if the organisation has no presence in the US. Any claims to have done so should be questioned by the courts and the case dropped for inability to serve. There should be no default judgement. Of course, when copyright is included in a case, all sense goes out the windo and anything can happen.

Megahurtz says:

Re: Re:

I know I read something about a game developer suing hack makers, but can’t recall if it was Blizzard. Might have been Valve going after some Counterstrike hackers.

Either way, similar situation. Hack maker located overseas and selling hacks. The argument was that there was a stipulation in the EULA that the licensee agreed to have any litigation take place in the US (California for Blizzard or Washington for Valve). Developer was arguing that the hack makers purchased and installed copies of the game to develop their hacks (and may have actually identified the specific purchase transactions), and thus agreed to the EULA. Hence, suing them in the US.

TheResidentSkeptic says:

Trying to kill a time honored tradition...

Although I’m getting senile here in my old age, I do recall that ALL the early games had the cheats built-in – even Castle Wolfenstein 3D had a “god mode” cheat so you could play all day.

Are they just mad that the externally made cheats are better than their own cheat codes?

well – then HIRE the cheat developers! Build ’em in and control them.

Tilting at windmills rarely works out well.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Trying to kill a time honored tradition...

“even Castle Wolfenstein 3D had a “god mode” cheat so you could play all day.”

Yes, but there’s a rather major reason why that’s acceptable and the ones being discussed here are not (hint: Wolfenstein was an offline single player game). Using those cheats deprived you of nothing except the challenge of playing the game properly. You cheated nobody except yourself, but that was your choice.

All of the games mentioned here are online multiplayer games where people who cheat actively reduce the game for everyone else. They spend a lot of time balancing the game for fair play, they don’t want cheaters.

I don’t agree with the action taken but to pretend that this is even in the same conversation as cheats on a single player early 90s DOS game is rather disingenuous.

kallethen says:

Re: Trying to kill a time honored tradition...

Cheats in a single player game aren’t usually a concern. And in fact, I would imagine Blizzard wouldn’t give that a passing glance.

Cheats in a multiplayer game, however, is problematic because it spoils the fairness. The issue is compounded even more when the game has pro tournaments. In that sense, cheats are equivalent to doping. Blizzard should absolutely do something to stop it in it’s tracks.

That said, I agree with the article’s author that dragging copyrights into this isn’t the for the best.

Skeeter says:

Cheats destroy Games

Got to take Blizzard’s side on this battle. Many times I have found games that I really like, only to encounter ‘the avatar/player that won’t die’, or ‘the guy who can one-shot kill you’, etc. Worse is when you are being ‘auto-tracked’ and are ‘sniper shot’ by someone who isn’t a sniper, and there’s no way that they are even close enough to see you, let alone target you.
How does this impact capitalism, game-play and fairness? Easy, I’m there to play the retail game, not to figure out what pirate-shop I can download the free, best-est cheat from. Ok, so I’m in a game, and maybe you are too. Do you really want a low-to-mediocre score, while the guy who cheats causes your character to stutter, die-frequently, and always come in second to you? No? Then turn-him-in. Wait, he can change user names, cheat-code a high level player again, and be 100-levels above you with a new user name in an hour.
‘That’s it!’ you scream, and you quit playing. Two games like this, and you stop buying Blizzard games, because they tolerate code-inspired cheats to kick-you every time. Blizzard just committed business suicide due to a cheat they wouldn’t pursue, and where the cheat didn’t care, they were just there for mass slaughter (forget the objective of the game).
Sadly, this isn’t the exception anymore, it’s the rule. Good Luck, Blizzard – they can’t learn to stop cheating any other way.

anarres (profile) says:

Re: Cheats destroy Games

The issue is not that Blizzard wants to stop cheaters. The issue is that Blizzard claims their actions (and users’) are copyright infringement.

It’s like I’m unhappy you entered my garden and don’t want to get out, and instead of suing you for trespassing or something, I sue you for violation of the patent I have on the locking mechanism of my garden’s gate.

Pirate Bear (profile) says:

As scummy as cheat makers are, the way to fight them is on a technical level, not an expansion of copyright law like Blizzard wants. Imagine Apple being able to sue jailbreakers for millions for copyright infringement since they broke the EULA of iOS (that can be changed at any time without notice I might add), or Microsoft being able to declare your use of Windows 7/8 to be copyright infringement because you disabled the strong-armed Windows 10 upgrade prompt. Blizzard’s argument, if accepted, would give corporations complete control of devices and software use through EULAs, which already have too much power.

Fortunately, Galoob vs. Nintendo have had courts rule on this already, finding that modifying a copyrighted work for personal use (which legally this is personal use) is not a derivative work and does not constitute copyright infringement. This lawsuit is unlikely to go anywhere for a number of reasons, and Blizzard would be better off using the money to hire extra programmers to build better anti-cheat software rather than waste it in the courts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Fact

Based on earlier rulings for Blizzard you do not own your PC. You might have paid $60 for the RAM, and some $ for your HDD/SSD but actually as soon as you install and run a Blizzard game, they are the owners of said component.

Because if you access any parts of those components Blizzard doesn’t like you to then you will loose any or all rights to your purchases, read: your account will be banned.

So if you access your legally purchased memory you will probably loose your legally purchased access to Blizzard games because Blizzard by ruling of court legally owns parts of your RAM and HDD/SSD.

Gotta love copyright, am I right?

Anarres (profile) says:

Strangely insufficient allegations

The complaint is surprising. Basically Blizz sees three categories of wrong-doers and sues two of them, for several reasons:
(1) reverse engineering:
Blizzard’s asserts that Bossland and “freelancers in US” must have reverse engineered the games, in particular their Warden. If they can prove it, and if it goes as I suspect (full copies during reverse engineering), Blizz may have a case. Purpose is illegitimate in this case, I’d say, although I’m not sure how one would prove that. Maybe via point (2).
(2) interference with contract (the EULA). Agree.
(2) unfair competition. Can’t comment much, but I note that Blizzard asks for injunction.

The most interesting thing is what Blizz doesn’t say: who are these “freelancers” or why does it believe that there are some freelancers in US who reverse engineer the games or Warden? At this stage, if Blizz doesn’t know who they are, OK, but do they know anything that would seem to relate individuals in US to reverse engineering or otherwise obtaining in some unspecified way and copying the games?

I can’t just go to court and start a lawsuit against “1-10 Does” who copied my work in an unauthorized way without saying something, anything that makes me believe that. Like, Blizz might have seen some forum names claiming they’re in US and giving technical advice to Bossland on inner workings, or anything with *some* specificity.

Clearly, Blizz needs some defendants in US, but to just add Does to the complaint and state “they’re doing it too!” can’t suffice.

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