Cheating is bad, but does cheating infringe on a video game publisher’s copyright? World of Warcraft-maker Blizzard, a subsidiary of Vivendi, is trying to argue in court that it does. If this argument succeeds, it could change the way all software copyrights operate in the eyes of the law.
Blizzard is currently wrangling in court with MDY, a small company that makes a software bot called Glider that helps WoW players with tedious aspects of character leveling. While it is pretty clear that the MDY software helps users cheat, and even violates the contract Blizzard makes players accept before playing (known as the End User License Agreement), Blizzard goes a step further and says that violating the agreement violates the WoW copyright since players, after accepting the EULA, automatically create a copy of the game in their computer RAM. If the courts agree, and MDY and its customers are found guilty of copyright infringement, Blizzard could reap statutory damages at the rate of $750 per infringement. The company says about 25,000 copies of MDY’s Glider software have been sold.
A variety of organizations are chiming in with briefs to convince the courts that if they accept Blizzard’s argument, it will imply that all media companies with End User License Agreements (software companies, music labels, and movie studios) can prevent the existence of all interoperable software in court. One of these groups, called Public Knowledge, writes that if Blizzard’s argument wins in court, it would prevent any company from selling used media, such as CDs and video game discs.
Blizzard is focused on winning its case against MDY and stopping the WoW cheaters, but it is unclear if the company has fully evaluated the way its argument could change the law for all copyright-holders. The argument hinges on some unusual legal logic: Blizzard’s EULA allows users who accept the agreement to make a copy of the game in their RAM, but people who accept but violate the agreement and still make a copy of the game in their RAM are copyright infringers.
However, all software when run copy and utilize data in system memory, and buyers of any kind of software already have the implicit right to make a copy of the software in their RAM. This is an issue of a copyrights and owner’s rights. Blizzard doesn’t want to treat Wow players are game-owners, but rather as license-holders. Blizzard might have trouble in court with this part, since in past legal issues with video games, courts have treated players as owners.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and Public Knowledge imply that rather than pursuing the argument that these cheaters are copyright infringers, they should stick to a simple contract violation suit. However, contract violations don’t come with built in statutory damages, and would win less money from Blizzard.