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.