Blizzard Beats Bot

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The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled on the Blizzard v. MDY case, largely affirming the district court's finding that MDY's bot ("Glider") for playing World of Warcraft (WOW) violates the WOW Terms of Use and violates anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA. However, the 9th Circuit found that the violation was breach of a contractual covenant not a breach of a condition of the license and applied a somewhat different analysis to the DMCA claims. The net result still largely favors Blizzard and a permanent injunction was affirmed.

We previously prepared an advisory on the District Court decision.

The Court found that the use of Glider violated the Terms of Use prohibition on bots. However, unlike the district court, the 9th Circuit ruled that this was a breach of a contractual covenant not a breach of a condition of the license. One significance of this is the different remedies available for breach of contract and copyright infringement.
 
The DMCA claims related to whether Glider violates DMCA sections 1201(a)(2) and (b)(1) by circumventing WOW's Warden, which is intended to detect bots. The Court ruled in Blizzard's favor with respect to "dynamic non-literal elements" of WOW.
 
In reaching its decision, the Court refused to follow a Federal Circuit decision (in the Chamberlain case) interpreting the DMCA. The 9th Circuit ruled that Section 1201 (a) creates a new anti-circumvention right distinct from copyright infringement while section (b) strengthens the traditional prohibition against copyright infringement.  In contrast, the Federal Circuit in Chamberlain found that the DMCA coverage is limited to a copyright owner's rights under Section 106 of the Copyright Act, and required a "nexus" to infringement. The 9th Circuit refused to adopt any requirement for an infringement nexus. The tension between these appeals courts may set up a show down in the Supreme Court.

The Court went on to find that MDY did violate Section 1202 (a)(2) of the DMCA with respect to the dynamic non-literal elements of WOW.  But the Court found that Glider does not violate DMCA Section 1201(a)(2) with respect to WOW's literal and individual non-literal elements, because Warden does not effectively control access to these WOW elements.

The Court also found that the tortious interference with contract claims were not preempted by the Copyright Act, but that factual issues prevented a proper summary judgment finding. As a result, it vacated the district court's summary judgment ruling on this issue and remanded the issue of personal liability for MDY's CEO.

Perhaps serendipitously, the decision was handed down just days after Blizzard's release of Cataclysm the third expansion of WOW. More than 3.3 million copies as of Cataclysm were sold in the first 24 hours of release, which according to Blizzard, makes it the fastest-selling PC game of all time.

Here is a copy of the 9th Circuit decision.