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Federal appeals court decision on internet gaming bots
Posted 1/5/11 : A federal appeals court decision on internet gaming bots could have implicaions for online gambling
The legal publication Law.com reports that US lawyers are currently pondering a federal appeal court decision that shut down a bot used for internet gaming on the famous "World of Warcraft" website.
The decision was handed down by the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals against Michael Donnelly's Glider bot, which plays the game "World of Warcraft" on autopilot for its users in their absence on other activities.
The case was originally brought before the courts by "World of Warcraft" owner Blizzard Entertainment.
The court ruling is based on copyright, finding that the Glider program violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act because it circumvented technology designed to protect copyrighted material.
Users do not actually own their software, the court ruled, but merely license it. Consequently, users of the bot were violating their software licensing agreements.
However, using a bot does not in itself amount to copyright infringement, the court controversially noted in overturning an earlier decision by a subordinate court in Arizona.
If that were the case, then software copyright owners like Blizzard would be enabled to take action on grounds of copyright against any "disfavoured" conduct by a licensee, the court opined.
Donnelly's MDY Industries locked horns with Blizzard Entertainment when the developer created the Glider bot for his personal use, later selling it to Warcraft gamers under his company brand. In a counter-move, Blizzard launched Warden, a program that blocked Glider. This started a development struggle as Donnelly created a counter-program to Warden and promoted it as a product.
The court was told that in total, Donelly's Glider project generated $3.5 million in revenues for his company.
Law.com reports that there appears to be consensus among legal minds that the federal appeals decision arms companies with an effective way to prevent other entities from abusing their software.
The Ninth Circuit's ruling allows Blizzard to seek contract damages for violating its software licence agreement, although it denies the company the large damage awards and injunctions typically awarded for copyright infringement.
One litigator told Law.com that the decision will be used as a guide when software licensing agreements are drafted; it will help ensure that deals are tailored specifically to make it easier to file claims against unauthorised add-on programs, such as bots.
However, some law experts saw the decision as a positive development for bot builders.
"They don't have to worry about violating copyright laws now," said Neil Smith, an IP partner who represents video game companies, who noted that by taking away the threat and fines of copyright infringement, the ruling could actually encourage companies to start making add-on programs.
He also pointed out that smart phone application developers could be encouraged to develop bot software by the decision, and that ultimately it may be a sounder strategy for gaming companies to allow add-ons and raise extra revenues by imposing a fee.
Social media game maker Zynga, which offers online poker applications on Facebook (see previous InfoPowa reports) told Law.com that it will block unauthorised programs from being used on its games. Zynga legal spokesman Jay Monahan said there remained a number of ways that gaming companies can take action, naming breach of contract or cyber-tresspassing.
"The [Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals] ruling is in no way a green light for applications that want to access websites contrary to their rules," Monahan said.
The case may yet have a sequel, Law.com notes. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals interpretation of the copyright laws differed from that of the Federal Circuit court, introducing a conflict that could see the issue going before the US Supreme Court for a final resolution.
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