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.