Blizzard Sues Cheating Gamers for Copyright Infringement
Two weeks ago, Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., makers of the absurdly popular World of Warcraft, filed a lawsuit against hackers of its most recent videogame, Starcraft II. Why is this important (other than the fact that I’m writing about it, and so it must clearly be a very serious and important topic)? To answer that question, let me provide a little background.
One of the best selling computer games of all time, the original Starcraft was a cultural phenomenon here and abroad, and became so popular in South Korea that it is now a sport. Professional Starcraft players are nothing short of South Korean celebrities. Games appear on dedicated television networks and players have corporate sponsorship. In 2007, one player reported earnings signing a three-year contract worth nearly $700,000. Obviously, the game is a big deal. It comes as no surprise, then, that the 12-year-in-the-making follow-up (aptly titled Starcraft II) was highly anticipated.
Computer gamers have long enjoyed the ability to “hack” and modify games they purchase at their leisure. In fact, large communities of people who enjoy creating and distributing their “mods” for free are commonplace. The added wrinkle here is that Starcraft II is primarily multiplayer, and cheating or “modding” a single player game is a lot different than doing the same in multiplayer. With a game like Starcraft II, where the core selling point is its competitive online play, any kind of cheating based on software modification can destroy the user experience and with it Blizzard’s profits.
If Blizzard does prevail on this claim, I’ll be very curious to see how much of the decision hinges on the actual language of the limited license that allows “copyrighted content into [a purchaser’s] computer’s RAM.” Blizzard should certainly have legal recourse to stop these hackers from selling cheats and ruining the experience of their product. I just hope it doesn’t come by way of a decision that could lead us down a slippery slope of copyright lawsuits against any amateur programmers that want to share their modifications of legally acquired software.