Over the weekend one of the largest private "vanilla" World of Warcraft servers, Nostalrius, was shut down after the team responsible for operating it received notice that Blizzard intended to take them to court over copyright infringement.
The closure is notable in light of Nostalrius' size and emphasis on recreating the "vanilla" experience of playing WoW when it first launched in 2004. The game has changed significantly in the twelve years since, and Nostalrius was one of many private servers that seek to offer players a taste of what the original experience was like -- by playing a modified version of the game without paying Blizzard.
In a letter of petition to Blizzard's Mike Morhaime, Nostalrius representatives claim that over 150,000 people were actively playing on Nostalrius, which was slowly being updated in order to replicate the original game's gradual expansion through content updates and patches.
"We dedicated our free time, health & money to recreate this version of World of Warcraft, more than 10 years after you released the first expansion," reads an excerpt of the letter. "Do you think that a policy change can be made regarding legacy servers based on volunteers work, for very old no longer supported game expansion?"
Of course, the Nostalrius team are not alone; many long-running or defunct MMORPGs have been emulated by communities of fans who want to preserve them in their original form. Some even do so with the blessing of the games' developers, as was the case when former Sony Online Entertainment chief (and original Everquest developer) John Smedley approved of a fan-operated private Everquest server, Project 1999.
In fact, last year the EFF and the ESA butted heads over a proposed Digital Millennium Copyright Act exemption for abandoned online games (think Star Wars Galaxies, not World of Warcraft), but the U.S. Copyright Office ultimately decided to amend the DMCA such that only single-player games with abandoned online components were exempt.