World of Warcraft Gets Sued by Ebook Publisher

A 24 year old World of Warcraft ebook publisher files suit against video game company Blizzard Entertainment.

Is this a real life World of Warcraft playing out in a court of law? Whose playing the humans and who's playing the orcs in this one?

What's the suit based on?

This suit centers around the world of fan game guides, which include FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions), game walkthroughs, maps, desktop wallpaper, cheat sheets, mods, and game character guides. Some of these fan-made game guides are HUGE, some spanning 80-100 pages. And these guys make them for free. Which is just mind-boggling to me. Spending so much time actually playing the game, excelling at it, and then taking the time to write a 100 page gamefaq on the game. Without expecting any money for it. Perhaps it's just for the achievement of it? To say, “I did this World of Warcraft walkthrough.” Maybe show off to their friends. Who knows. But it's a common occurrence on many game guide sites.

So this lawsuit is based on a free game guide?

No, this is based on an World of Warcraft ebook called “The Ultimate World of Warcraft Leveling and Gold Guide” that a young man named Brian Kopp sold on the internet (specifically the auction website eBay) for $15. There are many World of Warcraft quest walkthroughs on the internet but the two top World of Warcraft leveling guides you can buy are known to be made by Brian Kopp and Joana (aka Mancow), named the Brian Kopp 1-70 Alliance Leveling Guide and Joana's 1-70 Horde Leveling Guide, respectively.

Gold, Addons, Cheats, Sex, Demo, and News all right here. Not!What is the World of Warcraft game?

The World of Warcraft computer video game is a MMORPG, which stands for a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. It's the world's largest MMORPG in terms of total monthly subscribers and players.

What you do in the game is you control a character inside the WoW game world. You can travel around the game landscape, you fight monsters, and you can talk to non player characters (NPCs) that are preprogrammed in the game as well as other WoW game players that you can interact with. What you get rewarded with in the game is money and special items, weapons, and armor that can improve the power of your character. You can also make your character more powerful by gaining experience which allows you to level up your avatar from level one up to level 60. If you get the optional World of Warcraft expansion packs, you can level up your character to level 70, level 80, or even level 90 with certain expansion packs.

You may have noticed the names Horde and Alliance in the game guides I mentioned earlier. These are the factions in which you can choose the race or class of player you can play. The Horde includes Orcs, Trolls, Blood Elves, and Tauren. The Alliance consists of Humans, Gnomes, Night Elves, and Draenei.

Okay, now I know what's WoW. But why did Brian Kopp file this lawsuit?

Turns out Blizzard Entertainment, the publishers of the online game World of Warcraft, and it's parent company, the media conglomerate Vivendi SA (formerly known as Vivendi Universal) repeatedly contacted eBay to remove Brian Kopp's Leveling Guides off the auction marketplace, thereby preventing him from selling the WoW walkthroughs.

Both Blizzard and Vivendi sent Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices to eBay, with the reason being concerns over copyright and trademark issues. As a general rule, eBay tends to drop auctions immediately when it gets these DMCA complaints and will suspend or terminate a user's account when this has happened repeatedly. Mr. Kopp feels his WoW questing guides don't violate copyright laws or trademark laws because of fair use and because he has a disclaimer stating his guide is unofficial and that his screen shots fall within fair use law guidelines. His disclaimer reads:

Brian Kopp's World of Warcraft Guide is not authored or endorsed by Blizzard Entertainment or Vivendi Universal Games, and any Blizzard or Vivendi trademarks displayed in the guide are the sole and exclusive property of Blizzard or their respective owners. This is not a copy of Blizzard's official World of Warcraft strategy guide.

What does Brian want in this suit he's filing against Blizzard?

He wants compensatory damages to cover his expenses from the lost profits due to the stoppage of sales. He wants an injunction that will prevent others from interfering with his ability to sell and publish these video game walkthroughs in the future. And he wants a declaratory judgment that his powerleveling ebook falls under the guidelines of the protection offered by the First Amendment.

What, what was the 1st Amendment again?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Oh yeah, that's right, thanks. So, what does Kopp's lawyer say about this?

His attorney Paul Levy says that, “In effect, if the video game industry's actions are upheld, then selling a how-to book about Microsoft Word would infringe Microsoft's copyright, especially if the book contained one or more screenshots of Word's user interface. We think this cannot be the law.”

Hmm, makes sense…

This case really opens up a lot of room for thought and debate. Who's right and who's wrong here? I can see the side of Blizzard wanting to protect their trademarked interest. And I can definitely see the side of Brian Kopp who wants to exercise his entrepreneurial spirit and create a downloadable product that will help people using his hard earned knowledge and expertise while at the same time giving him some cash.

UPDATE: The results are in!

Brian Kopp has won his case against Blizzard!

Legal Filing (PDF) here: Brian Kopp v Vivendi Universal Games, Inc., Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., and Entertainment Software Association