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Legal News: Blizzard files lawsuit against Starcraft 2 hackers
by Zachary Strebeck on 06/06/14 08:50:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 
Both of these give the player using the hack a competitive advantage in a multiplayer game that is supposed to be fair.

On May 19, Blizzard Entertainment filed a lawsuit in a federal court in California, alleging that 10 unnamed people were involved in the creation and sale of software that “hacks” Starcraft II. The hack named in the complaint, called the “ValiantChaos MapHack,” supposedly removes “fog of war” from the map and automates actions, among other things. Both of these give the player using the hack a competitive advantage in a multiplayer game that is supposed to be fair.

I’ll use this post to clear up a few things brought up in the complaint that gamers may not know about.

Why are they suing a bunch of “John Does”?

When you don’t know the precise identity of the people you are suing, but want to begin the process, some courts allow “John Doe” defendants to be named. Then, during the course of the trial process, defendants can be identified as more information about them is discovered. The complaint is then amended to reflect the defendant’s identities.

Why are there so many different causes of action?

Generally, when you sue someone, you want to plead as many alternative legal theories up front.

The complaint alleges multiple causes of action against the Doe defendants. Generally, when you sue someone, you want to plead as many alternative legal theories up front. If you don’t, you will probably be barred from suing them on that theory later.

So, the prevailing strategy is to get every plausible cause of action out there. The complaint can be amended later to remove them if the discovered facts don’t support that cause of action.

Would you infringe on this guy's copyrights?

Would you infringe on this guy’s copyrights?

 

Why are there three types of copyright infringement?

The complaint is alleging three types of copyright infringement:

  • Regular old copyright infringement: The first allegation says that the defendants themselves copied Starcraft 2 code and made a derivative work when they created the hack.
  • Contributory copyright infringement: This allegation says that the defendants knew about others committing copyright infringement by using the hack, and that they “induced, caused or materially contributed” to that infringement.
  • Vicarious copyright infringement: This final copyright allegation says that the defendants are liable for the infringement of the users of the hack. This is because they have control of the infringing conduct and they get a direct financial benefit from it (from selling the hack and getting donations from users).

The other allegations involve infringing the DMCA’s anti-circumvention laws, breaching the Terms of Use for Battle.net and Starcraft 2, and interfering with those agreements when it came to the users of the hack.

What will the outcome be?

Assuming that Blizzard’s attorneys can locate the defendants and provide proof of the allegations in the complaint, the case seems pretty cut-and-dry.

Assuming that Blizzard’s attorneys can locate the defendants and provide proof of the allegations in the complaint, the case seems pretty cut-and-dry. A prior lawsuit involving Blizzard and hackers involved defendants in other countries, which could be the case here. If Blizzard wins and is awarded the profits made from the hacks and attorneys fees, the real difficulty will be in actually enforcing that judgment. They will most likely have to go to a court in the defendants’ home countries to get them to enforce it. Then, who knows if the defendants even have any of the money.

I will be discussing this case and other entertainment law news on Entertainment Law Update podcast, recording on June 20th. The podcast features entertainment attorneys Gordon Firemark and Tamera BennettSubscribe to the podcast and check it out!

In the meantime, feel free to contact me for a free consultation if you need the help of a game lawyer.

 

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Comments


Michael DeSantiago
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I would hate to be sued by the makers of Starcraft.. let that sink in

Zachary Strebeck
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Right. Blizzard uses MS&K, quite a reputable and effective law firm. Not to be trifled with!

Walter Verburg
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Right or wrong, this seems like a fairly extreme move to stop hackers. Has this happened before, or is it more commonplace than I realize?

Dave Bleja
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What's extreme about it? These people can potentially destabilise the entire starcraft multiplayer ecosystem, using stolen code they sell on the black market.

It's serious business. We're not just talking about a one off act of vandalism or ddos attack.

Zachary Strebeck
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I agree with Dave. This is a game that has professional players. If they allow even the impression of cheating into the game, don't you think that will have a serious effect on players' perception of the game? Plus, the alleged hackers are profiting off of their wrongdoing, according to the complaint.

This has happened before with Blizzard, back in 2010 - http://www.gamespot.com/articles/blizzard-sues-starcraft-ii-hacke
rs/1100-6282171/

Micah-Shalom Kesselman
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I imagine the perception that this is an extreme move has a lot to do with the use of copyright in these types of cases. I think many people (admittedly, I'm one of them) feel that copyright law is not the proper venue to force people to behave properly in games they otherwise legitimately license.

In fact, wasn't that more or less the ruling in the Blizzard's case against the WoW botters? That the actions, at the end of the day, were a breach of covenant but not a condition?

Brian Kehrer
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I realize this isn't a legal question - but how were hackers able to break fog of war unless it's being calculated client side?

I mean - automated actions, that was bound to happen, but hidden units and fog of war? It sounds like some information is being distributed from the server that should not be...

Seems like Blizzard wanted to keep server costs down, and in doing so opened up the system to some pretty bad hacks, and now is attempting to fix it with lawyers...

Esteves Aurélien
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I think you need a basic understanding of RTS networking :
http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/131503/1500_archers_on_a_28
8_network_.php


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