Earlier today, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against a group of gamers who wrote a work-around to Blizzard's Battle.net
multiplayer gaming service. The three programmers had written a program dubbed 'BNetD' that functioned similarly to Blizzard's free service.
According to Yahoo News
, the gamers found the Battle.net servers "frustrating and limiting". In response, they developed an improved version, which included a number of additional features they felt would benefit the online community. An unfortunate result of the new code was that it neutralised the copy protection baked into Battle.net, which intensified the legal response from Blizzard.
Defended by the non-profit civil liberties organisation, Electronic Frontier Foundation
, the trio took the stance that they were permitted to write the code under the Fair Use Act
which normally covers such copyright issues as the ability for people to make a copy of a CD they legally own to listen to in the car.
Enthusiasts Tim Jung, Ross Combs and Rob Crittenden had hoped to escape prosecution because their alternate server code was non-profit and was merely aimed at solving many problems encountered with the Battle.net service. Since Battle.net is a subscription-free and comes bundled with Warcraft 3, they figured it nobody would mind - it is hardly the same as the bypassing of the subscription-only Xbox Live service for example.
However, the courts ruled that it was a clear violation of the End User License Agreement (EULA) - the fine print that everyone agrees to when they install the game - permitting them nothing more than the right to enjoy the software as written and patched by the company.
Blizzard was happy that the previous ruling was upheld under the provisions of the infamous 1998 Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA). It sent "a clear message that creating unauthorized servers which emulate Blizzard's Battle.net servers is without question illegal."
The letter of the law may side with Blizzard, but it is hard to see how this is anything but a single-finger salute to their army of fans: play on our servers or not at all, is the message. Naturally it is Blizzard's product, so they can do as they see fit, but this restriction is contrary to almost every multiplayer game on the market and only serves to limit their market.
"We have worked hard to provide gamers with a free, safe, secure, reliable environment on Battle.net, and this ruling is a strong validation that we are justified in protecting and ensuring the integrity of our game service," said Mike Morhaime, Blizzard's president and co-founder.
Unfortunately, some users have found the Battle.net service somewhat lacking. By outlawing community-based online play, gamers may think twice about buying Blizzard titles in the future. We would have thought they would want to as many people as possible playing the game - just look at the popularity of 'open' games like Counter-Strike and Unreal Tournament.
The trio has been barred from distributing their code, raising questions about the future legality of gaming mods in general. An EFF spokesman said they would discuss with the group whether to consider appealing this ruling. With two judgements against them, they would seem to be fighting a lost cause.
We want to hear your thoughts on this issue. Battle.net has nearly 12 million active users, but one wonders just how many more would play if they could host their own games. Have you had problems with Battle.net? Should gamers have the freedom to play on any servers they want, or is Blizzard right to protect their customers from cheating by restricting play to their own service? Vent your spleen in our News Discussion