FBI shut down the unauthorized computer game server L2Extreme, which hosted the NCSoft MMORPG Lineage II. Owners of L2Extreme provided its 50,000 active users with service and code for the online game for a fee. NCSoft claimed millions of dollars of annual loss due to this illegal service. L2Extreme operated pirated server software copied from the NCSoft server software. Users then registered with L2Extreme to play Lineage II instead of using NCSoft’s servers.
The financial effect is of course significant, but NCSoft also had to defend its intellectual property rights. The case, at first glance, is similar to the Blizzard v. BnetD case. However, BnetD reverse engineered the Blizzard server software without direct infringement on the original software. It was a fair use copy with no copyright violation involved. Contrarily, L2Extreme simply pirated the software from NCSoft. In addition, L2Extreme was a profitable business whereas BnetD was fueled by volunteer game enthusiasts. Otherwise, the details of both cases seem very similar.
Comparing the Blizzard v. BnetD case with this event, it becomes clear that seemingly minor details are in fact the deciding factors in many copyright decisions. In one, the FBI abruptly closed down operation without proper legal decision whereas in the other, the original game company could not persuade the court of any wrongdoing on the defendant’s part. Noticeably, intellectual property laws and their applications to the game industry remains a relatively new field. Hence, it is difficult to pinpoint what is right and what is wrong. Perhaps the single greatest law which many intellectual property and gaming related cases are based on is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. However, there are many critics of the DMCA simply because of some of the consequences of invoking the Act. It remains to be seen how long the DMCA can last before undergoing major renovations. Much of that is derived from the evolutionary nature of gaming, where much change can occur in just a few years. Laws that are applicable in one year may become outdated the next year. This is the inevitable change of technology.