Last time we were waiting for news about the Grokster case, it was Cardozo law professor Susan Crawford who reminded us that there are other court battles that may have just as much, if not more, impact on the environment for innovation (It's Just As Important as Grokster). This time around, Declan McCullagh picks up the gauntlet, explaining why we should all be concerned about the outcome in Blizzard v. BnetD, the case in which open-source software developers are fighting for the freedom to reverse-engineer Blizzard video games in order to customize/extend the gamer experience:
The U.S. Supreme Court could release its decision on Monday in the much-anticipated Grokster case, which will determine whether file-swapping networks are legal to operate. Yet another, unrelated lawsuit before a federal appeals court taking place on the same day promises to be just as important.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis is set to hear arguments Monday in a case that may decide how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, or DMCA, applies to computer software and the important practice of reverse engineering.
...Now that the case is before the 8th Circuit, the ideological divide highlighted in the Grokster lawsuit is repeating itself. Lined up on one side is the Electronic Frontier Foundation (which is also providing free legal assistance), the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Consumers Union, Public Knowledge, and some law professors. On the other: the Entertainment Software Association, the Recording Industry Association of America, the Motion Picture Association of America, and law professors.
Copyright buffs, of course, may remember that the DMCA includes limited protections for reverse engineering.
The text of the law is hardly clear, but it seems reasonable to conclude that [the lower court] was wrong and the DMCA should not apply. BnetD was invented to offer people who had bought legal copies of Blizzard games new ways to enjoy them.
While our Mr. McCullagh may be overstating the case a bit -- this isn't a battle where we stand to lose Betamax
, after all -- it will certainly clarify just how much of a chokehold the DMCA has on innovation, interoperability, and free competition in an exploding market sector.
Two more must-read pieces on the case:
- Blizzard v. BnetD Hearing Tomorrow Morning: "I hear you cynics saying that the courts let the DMCA trump everything, and in this case you may prove correct, but don't forget that the issue of the DMCA and the aftermarket was also at issue in the Lexmark and Skylink cases, and those cases worked out fine." [Groklaw]
- Oral Arguments in Blizzard v. BnetD: "I think there is a reasonable chance for some sort of victory here as the lower court probably went too far. Of course, I wouldn't want to be arguing the case today ... the Grokster decision might have some impact (though it might not)." [Ernie Miller @ Importance Of...]
Given that oral arguments are today
, we may soon have an update. Stay tuned.
Update (2:30 p.m.): A few cautious words from our own Jason Schultz, who represents the programmers in the case: "The judges were struggling with the right questions. They're trying to balance copyright interests with the right to reverse engineer. They clearly recognized the public interest in reverse engineering, but they admitted this would be a hard case to decide."
A recording of the arguments will be available tomorrow, here.