Botting in WoW not in breach of Blizzard copyright

It’s still not recommended to use a bot in World of Warcraft, but according to a U.S. court, it’s not a copyright violation, either.

Glider bot logo

They didn't start the fire...

Over the years that this case has been before the courts, it all hinged on one key argument. Blizzard stated that by choosing to use WoW auto-pilot program Glider, gamers were breaking the end-user license agreement (EULA), and – as a result – did not actually have the right to run the game. So, the story goes, by creating an “unauthorised copy” to play on the computer, it infringed on Blizzard‘s copyright.

The crucial point was getting the court to agree that players licensed the software, rather than owning it outright. (If the gamer owned the program, then they could make as many copies as they desired.)

Blizzard won the case in the district court, essentially stating that they own every single WoW DVD ever shipped.

On appeal, however, it’s a different story.

On one hand, the Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit agreed with Blizzard – users license copies of World of Warcraft from the publisher.

However: Gamers are now protected from copyright suits because the court argues that the EULA clause prohibiting the use of third-party tools was not a binding condition that limited the license itself. According to the court, it was merely a promise not to do something, or a covenant.

So! By choosing to use Glider, gamers are guilty of breaking a contract – but not guilty of copyright infringement. They can still get in trouble, just not quite as much.

(To clarify – using a bot is not copyright infringement. Creating a derivative work based on World of Warcraft probably is.)

World of Warcraft - Fishing

But fishing is such a drag...

This is a landmark case, setting a very healthy precedent for this sort of situation in future. As observed by the court and referenced by the Electronic Frontiers Foundation:

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.

It’s not quite this clear-cut, of course. The new decision suggests that the U.S. courts don’t seem to agree on what constitutes “copyright infringement” in cases like this one, so the issue may need to be taken up with the Supreme Court.

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