Some Good, Some Bad In New Ruling On Whether Or Not WoW Bot Infringes Copyright

from the no-contributory-infringement dept

It's quite a week for First Sale issues in copyright (and it's only Tuesday!). We already had the Supreme Court's non-decision stalemate on the Costco/Omega case, and now we've got another of the trifecta of first sale cases in the 9th Circuit. As you may recall, that court is considering three rather important cases concerning first sale rights, with the first one (Vernor v. Autodesk) already decided such that you no longer actually own most of the software you thought you bought.

Today, the court came out with its ruling in the MDY vs. Blizzard case, which as we noted had a really troubling district court ruling. This case was controversial because it involved a bot maker that let people automate certain tasks in World of Warcraft. Many people sided with Blizzard in this case because they just hate bots and people who use them -- but I don't think they considered the larger copyright issues raised by the original ruling, which said the bot software itself, called Glider, infringed on Blizzard's copyright. If you want a thorough understanding of how tortured the court's logic was in that case, just read William Patry's summary at the time, where he notes that absolutely nothing Glider did appeared to violate Blizzard's exclusive rights as laid out in the Copyright Act, so the judge effectively made stuff up -- saying that because using the bot violates the terms of service, it makes the "copy" of WoW (even if it was legally purchased) "unauthorized," and thus infringing. Thus, according to the ruling, Glider was responsible for contributory copyright infringement.

Thankfully, the appeals court appears to have walked back most of that part of the ruling. While it tips its cap to the Vernor decision, and says that you don't own your copy of WoW, but merely license it, it says that just because the Glider software might violate the terms of service, it doesn't mean that copyright law is automatically violated. It points out that there are lots of ways you can violate a software license that have nothing, whatsoever, to do with copyright's exclusive rights, and thus, just violating a terms of service shouldn't mean you violate copyright law. Thus, using Glider does not directly infringe on Blizzard's copyright (in this instance), and therefore, there's no contributory infringement on MDY's part, because there's no direct infringement that it could contribute to:
Were we to hold otherwise, Blizzard -- or any software copyright holder -- could designate any disfavored conduct during software use as copyright infringement, by purporting to condition the license on the player's abstention from the disfavored conduct. The rationale would be that because the conduct occurs while the player's computer is copying the software code into RAM in order for it to run, the violation is copyright infringement. This would allow software copyright owners far greater rights than Congress has generally conferred on copyright owners.
That said, MDY still runs into trouble due to the (you guessed it) ridiculous anti-circumvention clause in the DMCA. The court finds that MDY effectively "trafficked" in circumvention tools with Glider, in getting around Blizzard's anti-bot software, called Warden. Here, the ruling gets right back to being troubling. While it discusses the Federal Circuit's ruling that said third party providers of garage door openers were not violating the DMCA by getting around anti-circumvention tools in garage opener technology, because no copyright was violated beyond the circumvention, it says it chooses to ignore that decision -- saying it doesn't believe Congress intended the DMCA to work that way. Now, it's true that this court is under no obligation to follow that ruling, it's still troubling.

There is a further discussion about exactly which parts of the DMCA are and are not violated here, which begins to get really down in the weeds, so I'll skip the discussion on that for now, but you can read the entire ruling after the jump.

Filed Under: anti-circumvention, bots, copyright, dmca, first sale, glider, world of warcraft
Companies: blizzard, mdy

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  1. icon
    dandover (profile), 15 Dec 2010 @ 6:40am

    What might this mean for the GPL?

    If I correctly understand this ruling, the idea is that because the use of "bots" is not something covered by copyright and, is in fact, not even a copyright-related concept, then using a "bot" can therefore not be a copyright violation. At first, this might sound sensible.

    However, the GPL conditions redistribution of modified versions on inclusion of source code. Inclusion or omission of "source code" is also not something covered by copyright. Indeed, "source code" is not even a copyright-related concept. So, following the 9th circuit's logic, would a judge rule that failing to distribute source code of a modified GPLed program would not be a copyright violation, but merely a breach of contract?

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