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Blizzard v. Bossland: Game Over for Video Game Botting?

Posted in Civil Procedure, Copyrights, Infringement, International, Law Suits

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I’m a rules follower. Going back to the days of the Game Genie—a device that allowed gamers to play Super Mario Bros. with infinite lives or the Legend of Zelda with infinite bombs—I have always preferred the satisfaction of beating the IMG_0016game by its own rules.

 
Like the video games that have progressed since the Nintendo NES, the corresponding cheat codes have become increasingly more sophisticated. Bossland is a company that creates and sells entire programs dedicated to hacking and cheating in popular video games, such as World of Warcraft, Overwatch, and Diablo 3, all made by Blizzard Entertainment. Many of the Bossland programs allow users to create “bots” that play the game automatically without any user interaction so that the user can, for example, achieve a higher level character without the usual effort. This is a practice sometimes referred to as “botting.”

 
Blizzard has been fighting companies like Bossland for years. Since 2013, Bossland has sold approximately 118,939 products in the United States alone. Blizzard estimates that 36% of these products were cheats for Blizzard games. In June of 2016, Blizzard sued Bossland in the Central District of California. According to Blizzard, the Bossland cheats give users an unfair advantage, reducing the enjoyment of the game for other players. Blizzard alleged, among other causes of action, that Bossland violated an anti-circumvention provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The DMCA provides:

No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that—
(A) is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title;
(B) has only limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title; or
(C) is marketed by that person or another acting in concert with that person with that person’s knowledge for use in circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.

17 U.S.C. 1201(a)(2). Within its games, Blizzard has “technological measures” that operate to prevent users from using cheats and hacks, but the Bossland programs are designed to work around Blizzard’s measures. At first blush, Bossland’s programming seems like the very type of circumvention efforts that the anti-circumvention provisions of the DMCA were designed to protect against. But the DMCA was enacted in response to internet file sharing concerns. In 2009, Blizzard was involved in a similar lawsuit against another cheat company. Many were concerned that a ruling in favor of Blizzard would overly expand the DMCA to allow for recovery under any circumvention of any type of technological control. Jef Pearlman of Stanford University suggested that “because anything can contain copyrighted works,” a ruling in favor of Blizzard could suggest that “any access to anything becomes a DMCA violation.” Blizzard did win its 2009 case, and the judgment was affirmed on appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

 
Late last year, Bossland motioned to dismiss the lawsuit for a lack of jurisdiction over the Germany-based company. The district court denied Bossland’s motion. After that attempt, Bossland apparently stopped defending the suit altogether. As a result, Blizzard obtained from the court a default judgment against Bossland. The judgment awards damages to Blizzard based on available statutory damages under the DMCA. The DMCA allows a plaintiff to collect a minimum of $200 per violation. Blizzard alleged 42,818 violations of the DMCA, and because Bossland did not dispute any of them, Blizzard obtained a judgment of statutory damages to the tune of over $8.5 million.

 
Bossland maintains on its product websites that “Botting is not against any law.” While perhaps technically true, the circumvention of digital copyright safeguards is.