Are Botting Programs a Form of Copyright Infringement?
Online gaming continues to grow in popularity as technology keeps improving and game developers continue to innovate.1 But have you ever find yourself playing a game where you are grinding for hours and hours for items? This process can get very tiresome and people have started to create bots, which automate everything and save you the time and effort of doing it yourself. Games try their best to prevent these botting programs and ban those who use these cheating methods, but one other way to stop this is just to sue the source.
Blizzard Entertainment, the very successful computer game developer and publisher founded in 1994, has filed a lawsuit in November against James Enright (aka “Apoc”) and 10 unnamed defendants for copyright infringement, intentional interference with contractual relations, and breach of contract.2 Enright allegedly created “HonorBuddy,” “DemonBuddy,” and “StormBuddy” bots for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, Diablo 3, and Heroes of the Storm games respectively.3 This is not the first time that Blizzard has taken such action either in regards to one of the games currently at issue. Most recently back in 2013, Blizzard won a lawsuit against Ceiling Fan Software, who made bots for World of Warcraft, for $7 million and deactivation of the illegal software.4 The current suit presents a similar tone in that Blizzard alleges that Enright’s creating and maintaining of these bots were unlawful and caused significant harm to Blizzard, with Blizzard seeking monetary damages and shutting down the bots.5
There has been some controversy here regarding the legality of bots in terms of copyright infringement and violation of the end-user license agreement. Blizzard owns valid and registered copyrights in each of the games affected in the lawsuit, including the source code underlying them.6 In order for the botting software to be created and maintained, it required Enright to download the games, disassemble their code, form his own product, make copies, distribute it for profit, and update it as the game changes.7 Blizzard never authorized any of this, which violates the end-user license agreement.8 Under 17 U.S.C. §106 of the Copyright Act, owners of a copyright have exclusive rights, such as to reproduce and distribute the copyrighted work, and Blizzard did not give out any licenses to Enright.9
But are these bots really illegal? Zwetan Letschew, CEO of Bossland GmbH, came forth and asserted that his company owns the “HonorBuddy” bot with no connection to Enright, and then pointed to an expert opinion compiled in 2012 on behalf of Gossland GmbH for their own lawsuit with Blizzard, which argues that what these bots are doing have no negative and anti-competitive effects on the game.10 Despite that argument however, Blizzard claims the bots have caused negative effects on their games, especially with higher in-game prices for items, and there has been no argument against the copyright infringement claim directly.11
The lawsuit has just begun, but based on Blizzard’s history in dealing with botting programs, it seems to be that this is a clear violation of Blizzard’s copyrights and the end-user license agreement, but we will have to wait and see.
See Online gaming internet traffic in North America from 2011 to 2016 (in petabytes per month), Statista, http://www.statista.com/statistics/267207/forecast-for-internet-gaming-traffic-in-north-america/ [https://perma.cc/AV2R-6NMC].↩
See Complaint at 1, 5, Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. v. James Enright et al., No. 0973-16757724 (C.D. Cal. filed Nov. 9, 2015).↩
Id. at 1.↩
Tyler Lee, Blizzard Wins Legal Battle Against World of Warcraft Bot Maker, Ubergizmo (Oct. 17, 2013), http://www.ubergizmo.com/2013/10/blizzard-wins-legal-battle-against-world-of-warcraft-bot-maker/ [https://perma.cc/DZ4R-2W2P].↩
See Blizzard Entertainment, supra note 2, at 11-12, 16.↩
Id. at 12.↩
Id. at 11.↩
17 U.S.C. §106 (2002).↩
See Ernesto Van der Sar, Blizzard Sues Bot Maker for Copyright Infringement, TorrentFreak (Nov. 11, 2015), https://torrentfreak.com/blizzard-sues-bot-maker-for-copyright-infringement-151111/ [https://perma.cc/G3VM-ESLT]; see also Prof. Dr. Wolfgang. Broll, Expert opinion on the influence of bots on the economy and gaming enjoyment in MMORPGs (Mar. 29, 2012), http://www.scribd.com/doc/289396753/Expert-Opinion-Bots [https://perma.cc/6BZE-5XEK].↩
See Van der Sar, supra note 10.↩