Blizzard attempt to kill WoW bot bad news for copyright law

World of WarCraft is a game made of many parts: resource gathering, combat, item-creation… and some of those parts are more fun than others. A company called MDY wanted to help with the dull bits of the game, and maybe assist gold farmers a little bit, by releasing a program called Glider that allows your character to continue collecting gold and leveling while you’re not at your computer. In 2006, Blizzard and Vivendi showed up at an MDY employee’s home and threatened legal action against the company, claiming Glider violates the Terms of Service of World of Warcraft as well as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. MDY then sued to establish its right to sell its software, causing Blizzard to file its own suit to stop MDY from selling the program. The issue is whether or not Glider is breaking any laws, and Blizzard is hoping that by stretching the boundaries of what constitutes copyright infringement, it can get MDY shut down. If Blizzard succeeds, it could set a very dangerous precedent.

The question is, how is installing a third-party tool copyright infringement if it doesn’t use Blizzard’s code? This is where things get dicey. In a filing, Blizzard quotes a section from its EULA that says that “All connections to the Game and/or the Service, whether created by the Game Client or by other tools and utilities, may only be made through methods and means expressly approved by Blizzard.” In other words, you’re only allowed to play WoW using Blizzard-approved software.

By scrolling through the EULA and clicking okay, you agree, and can then play the game. Here’s where Blizzard’s logic gets slippery. To play the game, certain parts of the code have to loaded into your computer’s RAM. In effect, Blizzard says you’re making a copy of the game. Since Glider breaks the EULA, you no longer have a license to make that copy in your system’s RAM, and now you’re infringing on Blizzard’s copyright.

So you see, any program which creates a “copy” of itself in your system’s RAM—and that’s every program on your computer—makes you guilty of copyright infringement unless you have a license allowing you to do so. Public Knowledge, a DC-based public interest group defending the rights of users in “the emerging digital culture” has filed an amicus brief with the court explaining why these claims are so preposterous. PK’s arguments are sound and easy to understand. “Defendant Blizzard insists that users of its software must rely upon a license from Blizzard to make RAM copies, and users infringe copyright when they use the software in a way not permitted by the license agreement,” the amicus stated. “But the license agreement cannot govern users’ rights to make RAM copies, because that right is already reserved to users under 17 U.S.C. § 117. Therefore, Blizzard cannot claim any infringement of its copyrights based upon the creation of RAM copies…”

The law cited by PK states that “it is not an infringement for the owner of a copy of a computer program to make or authorize the making of another copy or adaptation of that computer program provided… that such a new copy or adaptation is created as an essential step in the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a machine and that it is used in no other manner.” It’s going to be hard to argue that using your RAM to run World of Warcraft isn’t an essential step in playing the game.

Public Knowledge doesn’t seem to want to side with either party in these suits. “This is a case pitting distasteful gaming behavior against an unsavory over-assertion of copyrights,” Sherwin Siy, Public Knowledge staff attorney stated. Blizzard is trying to stop a company from profiting from cheaters, but in doing so it may alter EULAs and TOS agreements, to the detriment of users.

“Under Blizzard’s theory, a copyright owner could not only contractually impose the most onerous restrictions on its customers—restrictions that undermine rights guaranteed by copyright and First Amendment law—but could also enforce those conditions with the threat of copyright law’s high statutory damages,” argues Public Knowledge in its brief. “Blizzard’s attempt to use contract to alter and displace those aspects of copyright law it does not like, while using copyright penalties to construe and enforce the terms of that alteration, is untenable, and the Court should not endorse it.”

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