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'Warcraft' maker wins round in exploit 'bot lawsuit

Court deals setback to man behind MMO Glider software, which helps characters cheat at World of Warcraft and is the subject of a lawsuit with WoW maker Blizzard Entertainment.

A federal judge has sided with the maker of World of Warcraft in its attempt to shut down a third-party application that allows players to advance more quickly in the game than they normally could.

Blizzard Entertainment won a partial victory on Monday when a court granted its request for summary judgment on copyright infringement grounds. Blizzard is suing Michael Donnelly of MDY Industries, which sells the WoWGlider (or MMO Glider) utility for $25 and has sold some 100,000 copies.

U.S. District Judge David Campbell ruled that because using the Glider 'bot is prohibited by Blizzard's World of Warcraft license, "Glider users therefore infringe Blizzard's copyright."

World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade screenshot
A scene from Burning Crusade, Blizzard Entertainment's first major expansion to its venerable World of Warcraft game. Blizzard Entertainment

He did, however, reject part of Blizzard's attempts to invoke the Digital Millennium Copyright Act's controversial anti-circumvention sections against Donnelly. (The DMCA follows a parallel track to traditional copyright law, meaning it's possible to infringe a copyright without violating the DMCA too.)

The lawsuit represents Blizzard's attempts to continue by legal means what it has been trying to do for years through technical methods.

Because World of Warcraft is so sprawling and popular--with something like 10 million active players and $1.5 billion in annual revenue--players have a strong incentive to find ways to cheat, "farm" gold, or advance in character levels more rapidly than the game's designers intended. Blizzard responded with a utility called Warden, which tries to detect illicit third-party programs.

The case is relatively unusual in that it attracted an amicus brief filed by Public Knowledge, a group that advocates scaling back copyright law. It said that Blizzard's copyright theory was overly broad and dangerous.

In his opinion, Judge Campbell in Arizona wrote: "Although the Court appreciates these policy arguments and has benefitted from their excellent presentation, the Court is not a policy-making body. The Court's obligation is to apply the law, particularly the law of the Ninth Circuit... No matter how persuasive arguments might be for positions contrary to Ninth Circuit law, this Court is not free to depart from that law."

In October 2006, Blizzard representatives visited Donnelly and asked him to stop distributing his software. He replied later that day with a lawsuit asking the judge to rule that Glider was perfectly legal; Blizzard then filed a countersuit alleging copyright, trademark, and DMCA infringement.

Neither side prevailed entirely in this round. Blizzard won summary judgment in its copyright claims; Donnelly won summary judgment on part of the DMCA claim. The rest will be resolved later, meaning the case continues until there's a settlement--or a trial and eventual verdict.

Read on for some excerpts from the court opinion:

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.

Blizzard alleges that MDY has violated the DMCA. Specifically, Blizzard claims that MDY traffics in technological products, services, devices, or components designed to circumvent technological measures Blizzard has put in place to control access to its copyrighted work and to protect its rights as the copyright owner of WoW. Blizzard moves for summary judgment on all of its DMCA claims. MDY moves for summary judgment on Blizzard's claim under 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(2). The Court will grant MDY's motion insofar as it applies to Blizzard's game client software code, but deny the motions in all other respects.

1. The parties' motions for summary judgment (Dkt. ##39, 45) are granted in part and denied in part. The Court grants summary judgment in favor of Blizzard with respect to MDY's liability for tortious interference (Count I) and contributory and vicarious copyright infringement (Counts II-III); grants summary judgment in favor of MDY on the portion of the DMCA claim (Count IV) that is based on 17 U.S.C. § 1201(a)(2) and applies to Blizzard's game client software code; grants summary judgment in favor of MDY on the unfair competition claim (Count VI); and denies summary judgment on the unjust enrichment claim (Count VII).