Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Cheating and modding now illegal

The decision of the judge is out in the law suit between Blizzard and the makers of the Glider bot, MDY Industries, and it is broadly in favor of Blizzard. They didn't get through with their DMCA claim, but Glider was ruled to infringe Blizzard's copyright:
"The Court reaches the following conclusions on the basis of undisputed facts, construction of the EULA and TOU, and controlling Ninth Circuit law: Blizzard owns a valid copyright in the game client software, Blizzard has granted a limited license for WoW players to use the software, use of the software with Glider falls outside the scope of the license established in section 4 of the TOU, use of Glider includes copying to RAM within the meaning of section 106 of the Copyright Act, users of WoW and Glider are not entitled to a section 117 defense, and Glider users therefore infringe Blizzard’s copyright. MDY does not dispute that the other requirements for contributory and vicarious copyright infringement are met, nor has MDY established a misuse defense. The Court accordingly will grant summary judgment in favor of Blizzard with respect to liability on the contributory and vicarious copyright infringement claims in Counts II and III."
Which means that ANY program modifying the "copy" of World of Warcraft or any other game in the RAM is a copyright infringement. Any wall hack, speed hack, teleport hack etc. now not only makes you a despicable cheater, but is now actually against the law. Any unauthorized mod is a copyright infringement. Welcome to a brave new world!
Not quite sure why you quoted 'Welcome to a brave new world' at the end and referenced it. It kinda gives it journalistic weight by linking to a definition.

Are we about to enter an age of dystopia in MMORPG dev? One where all our actions are watched and reported on. A world where we are pacified by the drug of pushing pixels around a screen. Made placid and malleable to the authorities so that we will not react...

You get the point? How is this legal judgement the catalyst for a 'Brave New World'?

In my mind, it would appear to be a straight forward common sense judgement.
I agree with gg, there is no connection to a Brave New World.

Perhaps to 1984 (control of information)?... nah tbh not even that.

It's a fair decision again scum who would ruin the gaming experience for everyone else.
A world where the developer provides interface code and players have an almost limitless ability to use or create their own mods, but bot creators are sued into submission?

Yeah. Sounds awful.

You can't create addons in WoW because of some legal right you have. Even if there was a "legal right" that does not mean Blizzard has to provide any sort of support. The modding facilities in WoW are great because Blizzard deliberately decided to allow and support the modding community.
My response to this really, really isn't printable.

I'm assuming, Tobold, that you wouldn't be happy with a three-page comment containing only the word "fuck"?

So that's an exciting new Machinima tool screwed, for starters.
OK, I've been reading the legal docs, and I'd hold off panicking until the lawyers weigh in.

Currently it seems that the court decided that WoWGlider was bad because it enabled copyright infringement by copying WoW to RAM outside of the limited rights to do so enforced by the EULA. That's not a huge legal leap.

It's still going to have Bad Effects, such as making the Machinima tool I mentioned earlier illegal (the EULA forbids the use of "third party tools which modify the WoW experience"), but it looks to be a confirmation of existing presumed law.

Still, I'm not a lawyer. I'd say wait for the legal analysis.
Hugh - I agree the headline is far more dramatic than the actual judgement. The story isn't that "mods are illegal". Rather that Blizzard are prepared to drag someone into court to prove it. It's one of those Kopp-esk moments, where a historically accepted practice is suddenly challenged, causing everyone to panic.

My gut feeling is that Blizzard's action against Glider was a rational financial move: In the long term, cheaper than employing extra staff to deal with the problem electronically. As such, this may not be the start of something bigger. Just try to make sure they like what you do ;-) .

That said, the "tortious interference with contract" is scary. Breaking the law is one thing, but becoming liable for damaging anything with the financial turnover of WoW is quite another.

(And I'm not a lawyer either.)
Obviously you didn't quote the entire decision Tobold, but I'm a bit confused. They said that Glider's use/abuse of the software violated the EULA - if this decision extends to all user modifications to the game, does that not mean that ALL UI mods are illegal and violate the terms of service? Are things like Omen and DBM now in danger?
The common WoW player, or even the common WoW cheater or WoW Machinima maker has nothing to worry about. Breaking the ToS isn't going to get anyone thrown in jail. You may get sued by Blizzard, but probably not. Blizzard is only going to go after those of whom are making large profits based on breaking/hacking/cheating their game and their other customers.
Check out William Patry's commentary here:

It's more than a bit scary when the Senior Copyright Counsel for Google concludes with the phrase "God help us" to describe the actions of a court.

Copyright infringement only occurs WHEN the copyright holder says it does. Blizzard could easily approve projects such as the Machinima tool, just as an author can allow their book be copied by a third party.

Players should be cheering the decision, because it finally gives legal recourse to the developers to protect their game.

Could this go overboard and be taken too far? Yes, but the judgment is very specifically written as to not be used as a blanket example across the copyright spectrum. It simply gives Blizzard the right to pursue actions against commercial entities making money off of their endeavors through dubious means.

In the end, Blizzard has a RIGHT to protect its customer base from those deemed to be cheating it.
If my little brother sits at my computer all day and farms mats on my toon for me, is that cheating?

If we had physical robots (like the Jetsons!) and my robot farmed mats for me, is that cheating?

WoW Glider is just a tool, not cheating. It does a mundane task.
UI mods and such like that are not illegal or in danger. Blizzard provides you with the language and commands with which to make those mods. This glider is a seperate program from WoW that runs and controls your character for you to farm stuff or gather nodes while you are out or at work or wherever. That is why they sued, these people are making a lot of money selling this program to cheaters. Blizzard banned thousands of users of this program a couple months ago and is now hoping to make sure this program doesnt keep being updated to dodge Blizzard's cheat detection software. I applaud this decision.
I am a lawyer, and here's my take on the case.

Basically it reinforces a bad turn in the law that started with the millennium copyright act, and has gotten progressively worse. The issue is not with WoW, but with the wider implications of the case. It gives more power to copyright holders, takes power from citizens, reduces creativity, makes innocuous acts illegal (and hence "bad"), and will slow innovation and ultimately economic growth.

I won't justify all that here, it would take too long, but if anyone is interested in the all details they can email me, I have a few papers on related topics...

Basically what is happening is that less and less of what you buy is actually yours. Imagine when you bought a house the person you bought it from listed all the things you were allowed to do in it, and anything else would be illegal. The same thing is happening here, and it's a restriction on freedom.

Depending on the copyright owner it might be a small or large restriction, but basically they are being given more power and you (the final user) and being given less.

Blizzaerd is a relatively nice company, but there are many I would not trust with this power. For instance, Sony has already installed root-kits as part of their programs; this ruling could make it illegal to tamper with such a program, as it's their copyright, even though it's running in your computer's RAM.

Even ignoring the worst case scenario, it's bad law. Some of the best uses of programs and innovations come from modifications not foreseen by the original creator. This ruling restricts that creativity, even on your own computer, and in the long run that hurts everyone.

You can argue that you might not get caught, but you might. Besides there is a stigma associated with breaking the law; the court is basically saying "use this only as the copyright holder wants you to, or else you're a bad person." The illegality also prevents you from distributing and selling such an innovation, even if you do risk inventing one.

Overall, the court could have come up with a better method of ruling in Blizzard's favour without the negative wider implications of this judgement. It's a very unfortunate decision.
It gives more power to copyright holders, takes power from citizens, reduces creativity, makes innocuous acts illegal (and hence "bad"), and will slow innovation and ultimately economic growth.

Give me a friggin break.

It also means software developers can actually enforce their eula's rather than being token click throughs. Copyright holders are citizens too!

They were also pipped on tortuous interference, which is probably the most applicable point in the case.
As a lawyer, I think you need to reread the analysis provided on this case that is covered all over the Internet. It is specifically worded and adjudicated as to not serve as an example for other cases. In essence, the whole point of the ruling here is to give Blizzard legal recourse against this specific company that has FAILED to provide a plausible defense for their actions.
Good, it should be against the law.
I couldn’t agree with you more. I wrote something similar today. Our collective hate for botters clouds the issue that this is bad law that stifles innovation. To quote what I wrote on my site: “Imagine if Windows had a section in the EULA that said only ‘Microsoft Certified’ software programs are authorized to use the operating system. By [Judge] Campbell’s interpretation, these types of limitations in scope are enforceable by COPYRIGHT law.”

@Anonymous who wrote ”It is specifically worded and adjudicated as to not serve as an example for other cases.”:

Here is an excerpt quoted from the summary judgment: “Users of Glider clearly violate the prohibition in section 4 against the use of ‘bots’ or any third-party software. [..] When WoW users employ Glider, therefore, they act outside the scope of the license [..] Copying the game client software to RAM while engaged in this unauthorized activity constitutes copyright infringement.” Explain to me how that is worded in a way that limits it’s use as an example for other cases. It’s pretty clear that Judge Campbell is making the connection that an infringement on the RAM copy is an infringement on copyright.

Just a quick note, the case is not over. As many folks have mentioned, this is very likely to be appealed, since MDY can easily cover that expense. Shocking decisions like this get overturned all the time and I can't see the 9th CCA buying into this huge expansion of the Copyright Act.

I would have posted this on your blog, as I also read it regularly, but it's not configured for anonymous or name/URL posting.
I don't think that this ruling will hold. I am no lawyer, but i think that in order for Blizzard to stop Glider from being comercialized, they would have to prove that Glider uses copyrighted code, and if it did, they would have to pay Blizzard a @#$@load of money for it.

It is nevertheless a very hot topic one that should be encouraged to be settled outside court to avoid setting a very dangerous precedent.

In fact i think that this deals with the very nature with the Terms of Use. The house analogy from Dan says it all.

In this case, from the little I know, we have a program that reads the program while it is loaded in memory and then based on that redung it inputs data in teh program teh same way a real user would. What is the copyright breaking on this? As for the terms of use, are they saying that i am obligated to be in front of my pc when WoW is on? They could also say i have to wear a blue hat while playing WoW as well.

I think to better analyze the repercussions of this ruling we have to forget about the botters and think on how this will impact the whole copyright issue.

If this rulling stands I bet that american courts will be flooded with lawsuits from everyone who ever got shot or lost a relative in a gun fight. And if you say that it's a matter of primary intended use, well, we can also allegate that Glider is intended to be used by disabled people. Hey, Carpal tunnel syndrome can be quite painful. :)
By the way, if i was an US citizen i would already have sued Blizzard from violating my privacy through their Warden program.

They are free to create a daemon who captures any external interference with WoW's memory structures but they are not free to scan the programs i am running.
Several of the "ideas" that blizzard has implemented in thier UI were from people who made mods and they absorbed them. Now that's illegal.

And blizzard invited all these people to the party. They advertised that you could write mods etc. I suspect with thier attempt to build an "E" sport they are manuevering to block all addons in the name of fair PVP.

But I think they'll be cutting the pipeline to a lot of really good ideas.

Getting rid of botters is good. Stopping all mods I think is not. And any body who writes a mod is now a criminal.
We'd really have to see the wording of the judgement. Hopefully the ruling is very narrow, and would not apply to more than games or gaming (including gambling etc) where the interface, timing, etc is part of the experience.

All the fears expressed here are why judges usually try to keep their decisions narrow, so they can't be taken out of context and allow, for instance, Microsoft to sue you for creating better accessibility hooks into Word for disabled customers. Or Oracle suing me for hacking some of their PL/SQL inside Financials that was broken :)

(heh I didn't read Wyrm's comment when I wrote that. Accessibility is usually the very last thought by any company. Blizzard does a better job than most just by having a configurable interface that someone can change. I know a few people that play one handed due to injuries.)
@ Sid67,

I'm not sure if I agree with you. To me, it sounds like the Judge is clearly stating what Glider is doing, and MDY failed to defend why they were doing it like Anonymous stated.

The way I read the summary judgment, Judge Campbell is trying to draw as much of his interpretation as he can from the case law in which the appellate courts made rulings. In fact, when such case law doesn’t exist, he points that out in a way that almost seems to invite an appellate court to make such a ruling about THIS case. A lot of this language isn’t about failure per se, simply language that says that existing case law from the appellate court doesn’t support Glider. It’s worth pointing out that other non-appellate case law (cited by MDY and Public Knowledge) was largely ignored by Judge Campbell in the ruling.

That being said, the judge clearly does NOT agree with Glider. The areas I quoted in my previous comment are those in which he forms such an opinion. Taken in context with the previous wording, it may be that it’s his expectation that the appellate court will provide greater clarity during the appeals process. In any event, the specific language surrounding the central points that people are concerned about (modified RAM copy violating copyright) is pretty clear and if upheld by an appellate court would be very bad case law for 3rd party integrators.
Fantastic!!!! I'm all for cheaters getting nailed, banned, fined, imprisoned, decapitated... whatever.

And imo, copying ram and automatically injecting commands into the game so that you dont have to play it yourself is NOT the same as having your little brother play it for you, or the same as Blizzard insiting you wear a blue hat while playing WOW. Its called CHEATING, you fools !!!!

I find it really funny that you can tell by the nature of these comments, who reading this blog would be more liable to run cheat programs, and who would not.

btw outside of any legal rulings, its also a moral issue, because you're playing with other players in a shared environment.
This is not really about anyone telling you what you can do in your house, but about what you can do in someone's place of business.

The best analogy for the WoW business model offline would be a fitness gym. You pay by the month, and they hope you hardly show up. There is no problem at all if you do show up daily.
Sending your little brother or a robot in your stead, will not fly with the membership you pay for though. Neither can you offer a delivery service that specializes in putting up vending machines in the gym training area, blocking the legitimate users from using the gym as per their contract. Even if the owner of the vending machine has a gym membership.
"gg" and others it sounds like you are taking your happy pills already.

"Brave New World", and
1984" are great references.
I'll add another, the cooperate monopoly you see in "Robo Cop".
This is what we are coming here in America, can't you see that?

You are probably big WOW fans so look beyond just the moment here.
Look one, ten, if not 100 years from now in America.

Do you really want corporations to tell you what software you can, and can not run on your system?
Do you want competition to die and only have losey software shoved on you?

That's sad, very sad, are you such
a "lamb" marching the beat to slaughter?
WoW already has recourse for dealing with cheaters. Banning. Blizzard runs the server, they have every right to tell you what you can and can't do when on their server. It's the EULA.

They cannot tell you what to do with your computer. If you want to install WoWGlider, more power to you. They can ban you from using their servers, but so long as the client isn't changed they have no power to prevent you from buying and installing it.

Likewise, so long as the client remains unchanged, they should never have legal recourse against WoWGlider. Your computer, and their business are completely outside their jurisdiction. They can enforce the EULA that you entered and, as the name implies, end your license for use on their server. That is as far as their power goes.

If you can be guilty of copyright infringement, and therefore liable, for giving people the potential to break an EULA... I don't know, the best metaphor I can come up with is making bar owners liable for lawsuit because a patron drove drunk.

Point is, your expanding an entities power over things they have never been privy to before. Someone could have their whole livelihood ruined by it. So you tell me, why should Blizzard be given power over what software code people are allowed to write when they aren't stealing theirs.
What you are saying makes perfect sense for an off line game. WoW as online game is different. A player being online costs money. Bandwidth, and a whole lot of little things that add up. That is why you pay per month for the right to use the online service.

Blizzard's rules prohibit account sharing, with the only exception being a minor that is under the guardianship of the account owner. Blizzard's rules also prohibit the use of automation. Yes, they do not have any call to make regarding the software you install on your computer. They do have the right to limit your use of the online service to what you agreed to when you subscribed and paid for it: that is you and potentially your kid playing. Not your spouse, sibling, colleague, dog or bot.

In your argument, you consider the bot equivalent to the subscriber. Well, it's not. WoW works with personal subscriptions for a time period. Sharing that account with other people or botting extends the time the account is used significantly.

I know that there are wealthy or unemployed wow players who sleep only a few hours and potentially come close to a 24/7 online time of a player who bots when he is not playing himself. But how many of these people are there compared to the people who play less than 10, 20 or 30 hours per week? That is a question that is relevant for the business model's variable costs.

If WoW would be charged in Europe and the US by the hour you spent online, Blizzard could make a price model that takes 24/7 play into account. As it is, they charge an arbitrary amount that is very affordable and works out to a low and competitive price per hour of entertainment, even if you play only very little.

The problem is similar to a mobile phone provider offering a UMTS/3G/Edge flatrate and someone using it to download torrents all day. That person will find their subscription canceled by the provider, who is likely to cite precaution clauses in the contract regarding unfair or excessive use.

However, even if the personal subscription vs variable cost problem would be solved, that would still leave the anti-social impact of botting in the game's community. Finding quest mobs tagged by a bot each time, finding your team in a battleground act mindless because they are just clever enough scripts to avoid being obvious but do not contribute to the team goal, those are things that are detractors from the entertainment experience of subscribers that play the game withhin the rules.
but anonymous this ruling seems to make everyone that makes any mod even one that filters your chat illegal. It goes a bit far I think. And in the end if the gaming industry and blizzard win this silly fight they've picked the innovations in games will slow down.
Yes, they do not have any call to make regarding the software you install on your computer.

@Captn: The summary judgment opens the door to make this very claim. The claims you are making about subscription vs. non-subscription model was not the point argued or won by Blizzard in the case. They established two things: 1) the scope of the license is determined in both the EULA (licensing agreement) and TOS (user agreement), and 2) modification of the RAM copy by third party software such as Glider is a copyright infringement if the scope of the license prohibits such use.

It’s largely the second point that Sara, myself and others are upset about because it allows Blizzard to do exactly what you agreed they should not be allowed to do. If copyright law is expanded to allow a EULA to prohibit third parties from hooking their software to parts loaded into RAM, then 3rd party integration is not just a potential breach in contract but ILLEGAL and subject to the fines and enforcement provided by copyright.

How is this different? Well, namely because third parties are allowed to interfere with contracts. They are NOT allowed to infringe copyright. Interfering with a contract can lead to a breach in contract between the original two parties. The wronged party has recourse (like banning or suing for damages) against the party who breached, but NOT against the third party. A third party that helps infringe copyright however, is not only helping breach the contract but helping you commit a crime. In turn, the third and first party are not only both liable in court to be sued, but also subject to punitive fines and may even have to pay the wronged parties legal fees.

The point here is that it shouldn’t be illegal for third parties to make such software hooks into parts loaded into RAM. Modifying something is simply not the same as stealing it and it shouldn’t be protected by copyright.

This has nothing to do with user mods like the chat filters you've mentioned.

It has to do with the court finding that violating the EULA revokes your license to continue to copy WoW into RAM.

The implications of that aside, if you abide by the EULA (and creating user mods is not against the EULA) then you are not making unauthorized copies to RAM.
This could be very interesting and what might change for future TOS/EULA's that are online games.

From what I understand about this decision is WOW has poor management of their own TOS and the playerbase understanding of how your supposed to "play" the game. Players have praised custom UI's and addons and mods since WOW began and as a matter of fact attribute greatly to the successful side of WoW. To retroactively pummel the pillars that hold your bridge up is business suicide and a decision like this encourages more advanced and TOS/EULA Dodging tactics for people.

A metaphor for the TOS/EULA dodging community could be someone who enters a Grocery store with the intent to get the most out of their money, and does this buy using a blackberry to "shop" for fair prices. Now the Grocery store manager states that this isnt allowed and that it is against their rules to use cell phones in grocery stores? The grocery shopper states the cell phone has nothing to do with the rules as its their own personal property (out of the jurisdiction of anyone else). SO who is correct?

I would favor the shopper, as it supports innovation and fair prices and infact promotes the grocer to provide more than a mundane offering and outrageous prices on random items.

Excerpt from the TOS: Blizzard may, at its sole and absolute discretion, allow the use of certain third party user interfaces.

This covers the in-game addons such as Auctioneer, which are allowed at Blizzard's "sole and absolute" discretion.

But what if, they changed their mind about certain addons like Auctioneer? Rather than simply break the addon like the did with the button mashers, they just decide to post a message on the welcome screen saying that it's no longer allowed.

Suddenly, on a whim, you are now infringing on their copyright and breaking the law. This copyright infringement could even result in punitive fines and you paying off their lawyer fees.

That is exactly why we don't want CONTRACTS being upheld by COPYRIGHT. If we break a contract, fine -- sue me. But making it illegal is simply an abuse of the power, particularly when what is and is not allowed is at the "sole and absolute" discretion of the copyright holder.
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