World of Warcraft bot ban ticks off world of critics
Glider crash, DMCA power grab, you name it
Analysis A federal appeals panel has upheld a ban on the distribution of a once-popular World of Warcraft bot in a sprawling ruling that is sure to anger just about everyone with a stake in the debate over whether gamers have the right to tweak the titles they play.
Tuesday's 3-0 decision from the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals said the Glider bot, which automatically plays early levels of WoW to save users time, violated provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that bar the circumvention of technology designed to prevent access to copyrighted material. Glider maker MDY Industries added the measure to evade a feature called the Warden, which WoW maker Blizzard Entertainment added to enforce terms of service that forbid the game's 10 million users from employing bots.
The ruling means that MDI's sole member, Michael Donnelly, who had gross revenue of about $3.5 million selling 120,000 Glider licenses, won't be able to put the bot back on the market anytime soon. That's sure to tick off gamers and hackers who believe they should be able to modify the software they legally acquire, as well as entrepreneurs who want to make money selling products that do just that. (WoW users who consider Glider users cheaters, on the other hand, are likely to applaud.)
The lynchpin of the ruling (PDF) is the determination that one of the DMCA's anti-circumvention provisions extends a new form of protection that is distinct from those under the US copyright act. That finding, which directly contradicted a 2004 ruling issued by an appeals court in Washington, DC, means content owners are free to wield section 1201 (a) against bot makers and modders even when there is no claim of copyright infringement.
That's sure to tick off critics who believe the DMCA has already handed hardware and software manufactures too much control as it is.
The decision also affirms previous decisions, including this one from September that people who pay money to use software are mere “licensees” of the titles, not the owners. That means the software makers are free to impose restrictions on its use that in many cases wipes away important consumer rights.
“Were we to hold otherwise, Blizzard – or any software copyright holder – could designate any disfavored conduct during software use as copyright infringement, by purporting to condition the license on the player's abstention from the disfavored conduct,” the opinion stated. “The rationale would be that because the conduct occurs while the player's computer is copying the software code into RAM in order for it to run, the violation is copyright infringement. This would allow software copyright owners far greater rights than Congress has generally conferred on copyright owners.”
The judges went on to overturn a finding that Donnelly was personally liable for a $6.5 million fine. They also ordered the lower court to reconsider the fine amount in light of the determination there was no infringement.
“This was a victory for our client,” Lance Venable, one of the attorneys representing Donnelly, told The Reg. “It wasn't what we wanted in total, but it was definitely a victory.”
He said he's confidant the ruling on the DMCA's anti-circumvention provision could be overturned should the US Supreme Court ever take up the matter. And with a split on the matter in appellate courts, it wouldn't be surprising to see the nation's highest court weigh in.
Until then, parties on all sides will have to grin and bear it. ®
A title is required, and is probably a DMCA violation
"According to this ruling, if I type "there is no cow level" on StarCraft, I'm BREAKING TEH LAW.
If I use one of those "Diablo character editors" to give my sorceress an instant lvl 32, I'M BREAKING TEH LAW.
Hell, I'm probably violating the DMCA if I type IDSPISPOPD while playing DOOM. "Oh noes! He's walking through walls!""
Actually, no, that isn't the case. The things you mention--the Diablo character editor, the Doom cheat code, and so on--are not violating an anti-circumvention measure; indeed, cheat codes built into a game can't possibly do this by definition, as they are PART fo the game.
Essentially, this ruling is not "cheating = breaking teh law," hysterics aside. It's "cheating by circumventing an anti-cheating mechanism that protects a game's database" is breaking teh law. You might not agree with that principle, but it's quite a lot different from what you're talking about.
In a subscription service where you're paying for access to someone else's resources rather than hacking a bit of software on your won computer, I think it's reasonable to bring matters of law into play. To move away from WoW for a moment, if you were to violate the rules of your country club, you could be arrested for trespassing on the golf course. That's not saying that cheating = breaking the law; it's saying that the owner fo the country club enjoys legal protection from unauthorized use.
Same is true of a gym, a public swimming pool, and so on. Even if you pay fees, you can't do whatever you want, and if you insist on violating the terms under which your membership applies, at some point the law will get involved.
Blizzard owns the servers, the databases, and the routers. Buying a boxed copy of World of Warcraft doesn't entitle a person to do whatever they want on those servers or with those databases. If someone continues to abuse those resources, eventually the law will get involved.
Easily Answered! @ gauge symmetry
Don't play the game. If the game is sooooooo boring that a bot is needed by that person to play it, then I suggest that the game is not for that person.
purpose of bots
So, people use bots to get through the early levels quickly? I thought that bots were only used for gold farming?
...surely, if the game you're playing is so mind-numbingly boring that you'd rather buy a bot than playing it, then you should re-evaluate whether you should be playing the game in the first place...?