I’ve always been a fan of spotlighting important legal issues that seem to fall between the cracks. So if net neutrality is “the most important public policy you’ve probably never heard of,” and if last year’s documentary filmmaking allowance was the most important DMCA exception nobody seemed to notice, then the Ninth Circuit’s February 17, 2011 decision in MDY Industries v. Blizzard Entertainment is the most important denial of a motion for rehearing that no one is talking about — especially if, like me, you love video games, justice, and legalese-laden 48-page opinions that read kind of like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.
Admittedly, the premise of this case is pretty ridiculous. But beneath that ridiculous premise, and the pages upon pages of legal minutia, is a pretty important and interesting legal issue that has real influence on your everyday life.
MDY Industries centers on a “bot” (short for robot) program called “Glider.” Using the Glider software allows World of Warcraft gamers to put a WoW character on autopilot, thereby avoiding the laborious chore of “leveling” the character and acquiring weapons and gold. In other words, Glider allows WoW gamers to skip the nascent stages of character development and proceed straight to the joy of being powerful and wealthy — something many WoW gamers will never actually experience in real life. Conceptually, using Glider is similar to “gold farming” — i.e., paying someone in a developing country to acquire virtual money for you. (It would be fascinating to know what effect Glider has had on the hundreds of thousands of gold farmers in the developing world.)
The legal fight began more than four years ago, when MDY preemptively sued Blizzard for a declaration of its rights after Blizzard’s counsel visited MDY founder Michael Donnelly at home in October 2006, “threatening suit unless MDY immediately ceased selling Glider and remitted all profits to Blizzard.” Naturally, Blizzard had been very unhappy about Glider and (among other things) the effect Glider was having on WoW’s virtual economy.
From Donnelly’s perspective, his company made $3.5 million by selling a legitimate aftermarket product that made WoW more enjoyable for many gamers. From Blizzard’s perspective, it not only had to spend money dealing with “bot” complaints from its users, but it also lost substantial revenues from gamers who otherwise would have spent many more billable-months in their quests to obtain virtual fame and fortune (e.g., instead of subscribing to WoW for one year, a player might only subscribe to WoW for 6 months, since the player could achieve more in less time). Continue reading the full story . . . »