Blizzard Entertainment has just scored another victory in its campaign against "botters" - or rather, makers of bots
. The company had already won a judgment against bot-maker MDY on grounds of interference; now it has won on DMCA grounds, and not everyone is happy about that
To back up a bit: Blizzard makes World of Warcraft the insanely popular online multiplayer fantasy game(*).
MDY makes and sells a program that plays the game automatically (called a "bot," for "robot"). Many players resent bots and botters, and Blizzard has waged war against them for years. However, the bots are popular. Apparently over 100,000 copies of MDY's bot, called Glider, have been sold at $35 a pop.
The question raised in this case, which was just decided in an Arizona court, are whether Glider violates the DMCA by "circumventing protections" as Blizzard claims. It appears that all sides agree that Glider does not decrypt anything, hack anything, nor break any security. It uses the legitimate credentials of the player.
Timothy Lee, at ars technica, calls this "DMCA hairsplitting" and I think he's right. I further think he is correct in pointing out that Judge Campbell has made a decision with some bad implications. This gets a bit detailed, so bear with me...
Campbell drew a distinction between components of the game, thus: the bits stored on disk (called "literal elements") and the bits encountered by the game player during the course of the game (called "non-literal elements"). Part of the World of Warcraft client ensemble is a program called Warden that attempts to control how the client operates and can be accessed while it's running. Campbell decided that Glider did not violate the DMCA with respect to the literal elements, but because it attempted to evade or circumvent detection by Warden while the game was running, it did violate the DMCA with repect to the non-literal bits. Confused yet?
MDY's argument rested on the thesis that these non-literal bits were not protectable by the DMCA because they don't constitute a separate copyrighted work. If that's true it doesn't matter what interaction Glider and Warden have. Campbell rejected MDY's contention that the non-literal bits were too ephemeral, since they could be captured by recording software. That seems reasonable - all kinds of ephemera have been ruled copyrightable for various reasons. More interesting to me is MDY's contention that the ephemera weren't solely Blizzard's work. The ephemera are created in the interaction of the game and its many players.
This is significant as it describes pretty much every "Web 2.0" content-sharing site such as Facebook or LiveJournal. In these sites, too, the named software company provides a vehicle or environment into which users place their content interactively. For example, LiveJournal strongly resembles a blogging system in which individual registered users write postings on which other people add comments. Attempting to apply Campbell's logic to the blogosphere would be troubling at best.
Judge Campbell also agreed with Blizzard that violation of the game's EULA meant that the gamers no longer had a license to play the game. This is extremely troubling in that the logical extension of this reasoning is that any violation of a EULA involves forfeiting your license to that software. I don't know about you, dear reader, but I'm quite certain I've violated more than a few EULAs and am probably in violation of some right now. I don't think that means I give up my licenses to those software programs, nor do I think it means I'm infringing the copyrights of those programs - or at least I don't think it should mean that.
Finally, there's an additional twist in that Cambell ruled that MDY's founder Michael Donnelly, who wrote the Glider bot, was also personally liable for the infringement because he should have known that his and his firm's actions were illegal. Donnelly's good faith argument was rejected.
Lee makes the point that Blizzard is misusing the DMCA in this case. A law on copyright is not an all-purpose behavior-control mechanism. Sherwin Siy, Staff Attorney for Public Knowledge, made this case pretty clearly last year when PK filed its amicus brief in the case. Blizzard appears to have won on merits other than the DMCA and I hope they'll withdraw this claim before it has to be appealed up.
(*) Your humble author is himself a confessed WoW addict, who has spent more than a few hours battling botters and other in-game cheats. I'm not at all impartial on the topic, just in case you had any illusions.
February 6, 2009
OK, enough with the funny stuff. The new Obama administration is shaping up to be a disaster for Copyfighters everywhere. In particular the new Department of Justice is stacked with lawyers who've been on the wrong side of copyright and intellectual property lawsuits for the last eight years.
First off, there's the #3 man at Justice, Thomas Perrelli, accurately described by CNET as "beloved by the RIAA". Not only has this guy been on the wrong side in the courtroom, he's fingered as instrumental in convincing the Copyright Board to strangle Web radio in its crib by imposing impossible fee structures.
Then there's Neil MacBride, who used to be the Business Software Alliance
's general counsel. The BSA, to its credit, hasn't been suing teenagers. Generally their name is associated with large-scale raids on companies that are mass-producing illegal copies of software
. Still, it's an industry flak group.
Then there's the #2 man, currently slated to be David Ogden. If that name only rings a faint bell it's because you have to cast your mind back to Eldred v Ashcroft, the argument on whether retroactive copyright term extensions were legal. Sitting over there on Ashcroft's side? That's Mr. Odgen. For extra-bonus ick points, Ogden also was involved in defending the heinous COPA legislation, fortunately now dead and buried (but not forgotten).
The capper on this line-up of suspicious characters is Donald Verrilli, now up for Associate Deputy Attorney General. This specimen of legal acumen is front and center in the Cartel's jihad, having appeared for Viacom when it sued YouTube, for the RIAA against Jammie Thomas, single mother. And if we peer back a little farther, we find Verrilli's dirty fingerprints on MGM v Grokster.
So what does all this portend? Well, if you ask Julian Sanchez over at Portfolio.com he thinks it's a tempest in a teapot. He thinks they'll all behave and recuse themselves properly and just because a lawyer consistently goes to bat for a certain kind of client doesn't mean much about their professional views. Lawyers are paid guns, after all, and the Cartel's side has consistently paid well.
Declan McCullagh, over at CNET, is much less sanguine, pointing out that many of these cases are still ongoing (e.g. big lawsuits against YouTube) and further noting that Vice President Biden showed a great deal of hostility toward free use when he was in the Senate.
I'm on Declan's side. To the extent that someone has to set the tone of this administration in dealing with intellectual property matters, it's looking pretty grim.
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: Laws and Regulations
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: Humor
February 4, 2009
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: Humor
February 2, 2009
Jeph, the writer of the webcomic "Questionable Content" has a long and thoughtful post on his LiveJournal about the unfortunate rift between comic artists who are working for print syndication and those who are working for online publication.
Jeph starts from the blog post by Neil Swaab that paints online comic artists as merchandisers first and artists second. It's true that most people who are living as Web comic artists do so not by selling the comic itself, but by selling associated merchandise.
Swaab seems to be making a bucket of broad assertions, each of which Jeph deals with in turn. Jeph points out that a comic artist can easily farm out the merchandising and online store maintenance, probably at less headache than dealing with print contracts and syndication details.
Further, he asserts that QC is making enough from advertising to cover his server and office costs. This is interesting in that ad revenue has definitely declined in the past year or more, and QC is far from a low volume site. Indeed, more traffic should help an ad-supported site, but it does also drive up bandwidth and server costs.
The majority of the post deals with the ideas of making Web comics pay-subscription, sponsored, and donation-driven. All of these are familiar ideas to Copyfight readers and there are a few examples of each of these models being attempted in the online comics domain. In my observation most places use a combination of these methods, but mainly subsist on merchandising.
Which is not, per se, bad, but points out once again that we're not making progress in figuring out good replicable business models for this stuff. What Jeph seems to appreciate most is his fans, and the need for artists who want to make it in this medium to adapt. Amen.
+ TrackBacks (0) | Category: Big Thoughts