The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circle has decided on the interesting and important case of MDY v Blizzard.
“You agree that you will not (i) modify or cause to be modified any files that are a part of the Program or the Service; (ii) create or use cheats, bots, “mods”, and/or hacks, or any other third-party software designed to modify the World of Warcraft experience; or (iii) use any third-party software that intercepts, “mines”, or otherwise collects information from or through the Program or the Service. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you may update the Program with authorized patches and updates distributed by Blizzard, and Blizzard may, at its sole and absolute discretion, allow the use of certain third party user interfaces.”
“Blizzard may terminate this Agreement at any time for any reason or no reason. In such event, you must immediately and permanently destroy all copies of the Game in your possession and control and remove the Game Client from your hard drive. Upon termination of this Agreement for any reason, all licenses granted herein shall immediately terminate.”
As we know, a copyright licence is an agreement that allows a user rights which they would otherwise not have. In this case, if the licence is removed, the user would be infringing copyright. MDY initiated an action to try to obtain a declaration that Glider does not infringe copyright.
“Generally, a copyright owner who grants a nonexclusive license to use his copyrighted material waives his right to sue the licensee for copyright infringement and can sue only for breach of contract. If, however, a license is limited in scope and the licensee acts outside the scope, the licensor can bring an action for copyright infringement.”
Similarly, this case is not only about MDY, it is about all MDY users. Blizzard’s argument is that each user who is installing MDY’s cheating software are in breach of their ToU, therefore in breach of the licence, and therefore are infringing copyright. MDY therefore is guilty of contributory and vicarious copyright infringement, akin to Grokster and other P2P providers. The District Court of Arizona therefore ruled in Blizzard’s favour, and MDY was held accordingly liable.
MDY appealed the decision and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the Arizona ruling. The Appeals Court agreed with MDY, and has declared that MDY are not liable for secondary copyright infringement, but might be held liable for circumventing technological protection measures. The Appeals Court explains on the important interaction between contractual covenants and copyright licence conditions:
“To recover for copyright infringement based on breach of a license agreement, (1) the copying must exceed the scope of the defendant’s license and (2) the copyright owner’s complaint must be grounded in an exclusive right of copyright (e.g., unlawful reproduction or distribution). […]
Here, ToU § 4 contains certain restrictions that are grounded in Blizzard’s exclusive rights of copyright and other restrictions that are not. For instance, ToU § 4(D) forbids creation of derivative works based on WoW without Blizzard’s consent. A player who violates this prohibition would exceed the scope of her license and violate one of Blizzard’s exclusive rights under the Copyright Act. In contrast, ToU § 4(C)(ii) prohibits a player’s disruption of another player’s game experience. Id. A player might violate this prohibition while playing the game by harassing another player with unsolicited instant messages. Although this conduct may violate the contractual covenants with Blizzard, it would not violate any of Blizzard’s exclusive rights of copyright. The antibot provisions at issue in this case, ToU § 4(B)(ii) and (iii), are similarly covenants rather than conditions. A Glider user violates the covenants with Blizzard, but does not thereby commit copyright infringement because Glider does not infringe any of Blizzard’s exclusive rights. For instance, the use does not alter or copy WoW software.
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 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.”
This is the right decision. While as a gamer I never liked what Glider is doing, their actions never amounted to copyright infringement, even if the licence itself would have been void. There has to be a clear distinction between copyright licences and contractual obligations, and thankfully MDY has clarified the important distinction.
However, this ruling comes at a bad personal time. I quit WoW earlier in the year, and with Cataclysm out, this decision has reminded me that I miss playing my mage.