Wednesday, December 22, 2010

More First Sale News

Last week the Ninth Circuit ruled on the second of three first sale cases - MDY v. Blizzard. The opinion can be found here.

The case is about the use of bots (made by MDY) to assist in advancing in the World of Warcraft video game owned by Blizzard. For more facts about the case, see my previous blog entry.

Relying on the earlier decision in Vernor v. Autodesk, the first decision in the trio of first sale cases before the Ninth Circuit this term, the Court finds that the players of Blizzard are licensees and not owners of the World of Warcraft software. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft End User License Agreement specifically prohibits users from creating or using third party software to modify Worlds of Warcraft including bots.

However, the Ninth Circuit differentiates between a contract covenant which is a breach of the license agreement and not copyright enforceable conditions. Because the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court decision and determined that the MDY bot did not alter or copy any of Blizzard’s software, it was not a copyright enforceable condition and thus no copyright infringement occurred.

Next the Ninth Circuit had to decide whether MDY committed copyright infringement under the DMCA when it modified its bot to circumvent Blizzard’s Warden technology to prevent bots from connecting to the World of Warcraft servers.

In its interpretation of the DMCA (17 U.S.C. Section 1201(a)), the Court finds that the statute is meant to protect from circumvention of access controls to copyrighted works including decrypting and descrambling works. This does not necessarily affect the exclusive rights under Section 106 of the Copyright Act. The Court notes that this is a departure and differing view from the Chamberlain decision in the Federal Circuit requiring that the circumvention interfere with one of the exclusive rights under Section 106.

Based on this interpretation, the Court finds that MDY does not violate Section 1201(a)(2) for the literal elements and individual non-literal elements of Worlds of Warcraft because the Warden technology does not control access to the Worlds of Warcraft elements. The Warden technology does not prevent access to Worlds of Warcraft on an individual user’s computer but only to the Worlds of Warcraft servers.

However, the Court finds that MDY violates Section 1201(a) for the dynamic non-literal elements of Worlds of Warcraft. The Ninth Circuit explains the dynamic non-literal elements as analogous to the audiovisual display of a computer game which is independently copyrightable from the software program code. Because Warden does prevent access to the audiovisual display of the Worlds of Warcraft from its servers, MDY’s efforts to restructure its bots to circumvent the Warden technology is an infringement.

The Court reversed summary judgment for Blizzard for tortuous interference with contract because there were triable issues of fact.

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