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5/6/2008
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World Of Warcraft's Legal War To Defend Copyrights Heats Up

Advocacy group Public Knowledge claims Blizzard's use of copyright infringement laws to crack down on MDY's Glide automation software is outrageous.

Public interest advocacy group Public Knowledge last week filed a legal brief against an attempt by Blizzard, the maker of World of Warcraft (WoW), to redefine software license violations as copyright infringement rather than contractual breaches.

Blizzard is suing MDY, which makes a program called Glider that automates the actions of WoW characters. This allows World of Warcraft players to better their game characters without being at their computers to play the game.

Using Glider violates Blizzard's Terms of Use, which are part of its End User License Agreement, so Blizzard could sue MDY or its customers for contract violations. But Blizzard is suing MDY for secondary copyright infringement and tortuous interference with contracts, under the theory that users have to load a copy of World of Warcraft into computer memory, a copy that's not authorized when used in conjunction with Glider. Copyright infringement carries high statutory damages.

"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," said a brief filed by Public Knowledge. "But the license agreement cannot govern users' rights to make RAM copies, because that right is already reserved to users under [the law]. Therefore, Blizzard cannot claim any infringement of its copyrights based upon the creation of RAM copies because the right to make those copies was never Blizzard's to license in the first place."

While Blizzard's desire to deny World of Warcraft players access to automation software, thereby forcing them to remain at their keyboards for hours, may be defensible from a game management perspective, its attempt to enforce this desire through copyright law would have far-reaching consequences if upheld.

According to The Electronic Frontier Foundation, Blizzard's argument would "give software vendors the power to stop the sale of software that interoperates with their product." Public Knowledge claims that a win by Blizzard would allow "software companies, record labels, and movie studios to prevent anyone from selling used media ever again."

If Blizzard's argument is upheld, other violations of software terms of service agreements could be penalized under copyright law. For example, Blizzard has rules about what names are acceptable for WoW characters. Under Blizzard's interpretation of the law, Public Knowledge attorney Sherwin Siy argues, choosing a forbidden name could expose a WoW player to a $750 statutory damage penalty.

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