More Corporate Disloyalty

Posted on Tuesday 4 April 2006

In a recent Security Focus article, there is a discussion about Blizzard, the DMCA, and the use of lawyerbots to prevent copyright infringement. Unfortunately, this is corporate bullying at its worst—the book they’re preventing from publishing isn’t a matter of copyright infringement, but of lost corporate profits and licensing fees. Quoting from Mark Rasch’s article:

A recent World of Warcraft case involved a WoW book by Brian Knopp that was being sold on eBay. It resulted in automated takedown notices by “lawyerbots” and shows how the legal process today can end up silencing legitimate uses of trademarks and copyrights.

The sad part is that Blizzard is actually infringing on Knopp’s right to write about and publish his own personal experiences, which he has paid Blizzard for via his payment of WoW subscription fees. This would appear to be a case of prior restraint in many ways. Under First Amendment law, at least from what i learned in journalism school, Brian’s right to publish and sell his book is absolute, unless Blizzard can prove that he is using copyrighted materials from their game unfairly, and even then, Blizzard would generally have to wait until Brian published his book.

This is not only pure corporate bullying, but corporate disloyalty, to someone who obviously played WoW quite a bit. What’s even worse is that Knopp’s book would be of great interest to many of the World of Warcraft players out there. Blizzard has a very good chance of having their corporate lawyerbots backfire, once word of what they’re doing gets out to the WoW populace. Most gamers aren’t all that forgiving of corporate strong arm tactics.

The only possible material that may be covered by Blizzard, as intellectual property, are screenshots of the game. Screenshots of the game, as are necessary in a gaming strategy guide, are probably covered by fair use as far as I understand it. Discussing actual techniques and methods to playing the game are from his own experiences, and very unlikely to be protectable material by Blizzard.

Unfortunately, the lawyerbots, which appear to be generating the cease and desist infringement notices, seem to be a knee-jerk reaction to the internet. Fair Use, as defined in the 1978 Copyright Act, has been under constant attack since the corporate interest biased Bush regime came into power. The DMCA, which has fostered the use of lawyerbots, is an egregious law that has eliminated many forms of Fair Use. The ability to backup ones own movies, for personal use and enjoyment, is illegal under DMCA, if you own DVDs.

The lawyerbots post the cease and desist notices automatically even though Blizzard hasn’t accused Knopp of any actual infringement. eBay’s response, of disabling Knopp’s account, puts the burden on Knopp—not on Blizzard, who should be responsible of proving actual infringement. Since running the lawyerbots and making false accusations has little downside for Blizzard, there is little incentive for them to do the right thing. Fortunately, it seems that Knopp has a bit more backbone than Blizzard was expecting, and he is counter-suing Blizzard. I wish him luck.

Along the same vein, the RIAA is trying to make it illegal to “rip” songs from CDs to digital format. This too is fairly ridiculous. Provided it is for personal use, the rights to use the music on computers, MP3 players and make copies of the CDs are allowed for under the 1978 Copyright Act and much of the following court case law. The music companies would like to prevent this and get multiple payments for each song—based on where and how you’re going to use it.

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