On Intellectual Property…

So, we’ve got a new hubbub going on in the gaming world, this time dealing with Blizzard/Activision and their legal action to shut down a private server that was running version 1.12 of the World of Warcraft MMO.

No small amount of gamers have rushed to the defense of private server, Nostalrius, with a number of arguments, be it Blizzard no longer supporting that “legacy” content to the Nostalrius developers not using Blizzard code to host the client.

And what these people don’t seem to understand is that none of those arguments matter in the slightest.

For the same reason you can’t take whole passages of a book and try to publish them as your own, or try to screen movies in a theater without negotiating the rights to do so… you technically can’t host a game (even if you don’t actually have the game present or use the original game’s code to communicate between players) without the expressed permission of the entity that controls the copyright to that intellectual property.

Because with any media, you don’t actually buy the content.  You buy the right to access it by the terms the controller of the IP allows.  You’re buying the physical book the words are written on, not the words themselves.  You’re buying the disc that the game or movie is programmed on, not the game data itself.

(This is why digital games are such a weird area to navigate, as customers are realizing they don’t technically own anything on their Steam list, and could lose it at any time regardless of how much money they spent.)

It’s not about the code or the game data.  It’s about the World of Warcraft IP itself, and using that IP outside of the terms that Blizzard set in their license agreement.

I’m not interested in defending Blizzard’s motives.  They’ve done plenty of pretty vindictive stuff to their own customers that I would never claim they’re doing anything for good of anything more than their own pocketbook or the perception that it would help their bottom line.

I’m not going to claim that the people who ran Nostalrius are thieves or terrible people.  They were just dudes that wanted to play a version of a game that Blizzard had no interest in supporting any longer.

But until someone successfully challenges the legality of EULA in regards to intellectual property, that’s the means that Blizzard (or any copyright holder) can and will use to “protect” that property, and they can enact that right whenever they wish and change their mind at any time.

The ability to protect that IP is important to creators, especially ones that use that protection to secure the ability to sustain a livelihood to create more content for others to enjoy.  And that’s why I have to support their efforts, even if I don’t think they’re using it in a constructive way.

Because a world where they (and by extension I) don’t have that power will be a very rough era for people who create.

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