We've been here before a few times. Back in 2008, video game giant Blizzard initially won
a very dangerous ruling against a World of Warcraft bot maker, saying that if (as most software companies do) the End User License Agreement (EULA) says that you've only licensed the product, rather than bought it, then any violation of the EULA can be a violation of copyright law. Copyright expert William Patry, at the time, pointed out how insane
such a ruling was:
The critical point is that WoWGilder did not contributorily or vicariously lead to violating any rights granted under the Copyright Act. Unlike speed-up kits, there was no creation of an unauthorized derivative work, nor was a copy made even under the Ninth Circuit's misinterpretation of RAM copying in the MAI v. Peak case. How one might ask can there be a violation of the Copyright Act if no rights granted under the Act have been violated? Good question.
Thankfully, the Ninth Circuit mostly walked back this ruling
(though with a bunch of other problems...), noting (as Patry did in discussing the earlier ruling) that nothing was done that actually violated copyright law. It might violate a contract, but not copyright. This ruling, however, has not stopped Blizzard from continuing to go after bot makers with copyright claims. It went after some Starcraft II cheat creators
in 2010. And just last year it went after a few more
Starcraft II cheat creators, using the same twisted copyright theory.
And now, as TorrentFreak first pointed out, it's done so yet again
-- this time filing a lawsuit against James Enright, who had built up a series of gaming bots for use in World of Warcraft, Diablo and Heroes. And, once again, Blizzard claims that it's a copyright violation, again arguing that violating the EULA is a form of copyright infringement.
Defendants have infringed, and are continuing to infringe, Blizzard’s
copyrights by reproducing, adapting, distributing, and/or authorizing others to
reproduce, adapt, and distribute copyrighted elements of the Blizzard Games
without authorization, in violation of the Copyright Act
More specifically, Blizzard is trying to make this a copyright claim by saying that he violated the EULA by reverse engineering their games to make his bots work. But that's not copyright infringement. It further claims that he's engaged in "tortious interference" because he's convincing other players to break their EULA's with his bots.
Now -- as in past such stories -- it's quite clear that many people are not happy
about the use of cheats and bots in these games. It may be absolutely 100% true that they diminish the gaming experience for others and present a real problem for Blizzard. In all likelihood, they probably do violate the EULA that Blizzard uses on those games that forbids such activities.
But that shouldn't make it a copyright violation
Blizzard can go after them for breach of contract. Or it can cut them off from its service. Or it can change how its games work to try to prevent bots. But that doesn't mean it gets to twist copyright law to use it against something that has absolutely nothing to do with copyright. This seems like yet another case of copyright immigration
, where copyright law is used to go after "some bad thing" because it's such a powerful law with such powerful remedies. Blizzard has been doing this for nearly a decade now, and it's high time a court told them to knock it off.