Blizzard Entertainment sued a group of volunteer gamers who created free, noncommercial, open-source software to allow Blizzard game owners to play the games over the Internet. Claiming that the gamers reverse engineered Blizzard’s own Battle.net server software to make their own BnetD server software, Blizzard cited anti-circumvention violations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Both Battle.net servers and BnetD servers were available for free online to enable online game play. However, BnetD was created as an alternative to Battle.net to fix some connection difficulties that some users encountered while using Battle.net.
Blizzard attempted to stop distribution of BnetD, alleging that the software has been used to permit play of pirated Blizzard games. However, the volunteer developers did not design BnetD for this purpose, nor were they are using BnetD for this purpose. The free software was a legitimate use and could not be bluntly labeled as a piracy device. Blizzard argued that the developers reverse engineered sections of the game, thus violating Blizzard’s End User License Agreement (EULA). The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) represented the programmers and declared that BnetD was a legal free product which worked with the original product in order to benefit game owners. The court ruled in favor of Blizzard, ultimately stating that reverse engineering and emulating of Blizzard software in this case were illegal.
The consequences of the ruling were detrimental to game upgrades and user enhancements. If this decision set the precedent, user-developed programs that work with original products would be banned. Furthermore, consumer choice would be limited by the available products. Since users would only be authorized to use a certain company’s products with that same company’s accessories together, this would have a profound impact on software and game products. In a similar analogy, imagine if Brand A’s eraser had to be used in conjunction with Brand A’s pencil. What would happen if computer users were forced to run only Microsoft products with Microsoft Windows? What if gamers could only play certain games with specific designated programs and accessories? Inevitably, such precedent would drastically reduce competition in the marketplace in addition to loss of both innovation and user-generated creativity.