Blizzard sued by WOW guide author

Twenty-four-year-old takes developer to court after being banned from selling his own "how to" guide over eBay; plaintiff says guide doesn't violate copyrights.

Makers of the wildly popular "World of Warcraft" online game now face a lawsuit from an eBay seller who claims he was improperly barred from selling copies of his own unofficial gaming guide.

Filed Thursday in a California federal court, the complaint alleges that Blizzard Entertainment, its parent company Vivendi Universal, and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) were wrong to order eBay to terminate auctions of "The Ultimate World of Warcraft Leveling & Gold Guide," a book penned by 24-year-old Brian Kopp of Bronson, Florida.

The multiplayer online game of wizards, warriors, and monsters has now attracted a following of 6 million subscribers worldwide since it debuted in 2004--among them, active virtual guilds.

During several months beginning last August, Kopp sold several hundred copies of his guide, which contains tips on playing the game and accumulating experience, at roughly $15 apiece. Weeks after his first auction went live, Blizzard, Vivendi, and the ESA began sending repeated takedown notices under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), asking eBay to yank the auctions because of copyright and trademark infringement concerns. The auction giant's general policy is to halt auctions when it receives such complaints and to suspend a user's account after it racks up a certain number of warnings.

Kopp filed counternotices protesting the infringement claims. Because the companies did not respond to the documents within 14 days, eBay was free under the DMCA to reinstate his auctions, which it did. But by November, eBay had accumulated enough takedown warnings from the companies to warrant suspending Kopp's account. He restarted his sales under a new username, which quickly earned suspension, too.

The companies went on to threaten copyright and trademark infringement action against Kopp. In one message quoted in the complaint, a Blizzard executive said Kopp could not lawfully sell a guide that "attempts to trade off the substantial goodwill and recognition that Blizzard has built up in connection with its World of Warcraft product." He also dismissed Kopps' claims that his book was solely meant for "educational" value, saying it clearly had a commercial purpose.

Kopp's complaint argues that his book does not infringe on any of the companies' copyrights for several reasons: The book presents a disclaimer on its first page about its "unauthorized" nature, contains no copyrighted text or storylines from the game, and makes "fair use" of selected screenshots under copyright law, the complaint said.

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," said Paul Levy of the public-interest advocacy group Public Citizen, which joined in filing the suit on behalf of Kopp. "We think this cannot be the law."

The suit seeks three major forms of relief: monetary compensation to cover, among other things, profits lost from the halted sales; an injunction preventing the entities from interfering with Kopp's book sales; and a judgment that his book is protected by the First Amendment and doesn't interfere with intellectual-property rights.

Kopp has continued to sell the product through a personal Web site and plans to continue doing so indefinitely, according to the complaint.

Representatives from Blizzard, Vivendi, and the ESA did not immediately respond to interview requests Friday.

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230 comments
taltamir
taltamir

"The auction giant's general policy is to halt auctions when it receives such complaints"

 

Actually this is not "company policy" this is THE LAW. The DMCA requires that any company remove content as soon as a DMCA complaint is filed and the ONLY way to reinstate it is for the person who filed the notice to rescind it, or to get a court order forcing it to be reinstated.

omnidum
omnidum

Blizzard is always acting like this when someone wants to help people with stuff like guidebooks, they DON'T want to give away tips to their games, it looks like...

JohnnySoftware
JohnnySoftware

How-to books are not inherently trademark or copyright violations, in my opinion. It would be interesting to note specific tangible things in the book that Blizzard took exception to, or if they sought absolute control over the publication of any how-to guides for WoW players.

AgmLauncher
AgmLauncher

Ok, by Blizzard's logic, all WoW fansites should be shut down. Kopps guide is absolutely NO different than a fansite publishing guides, tips, and tricks. Blizzard should then force the closure of all fansites for all of its products since they apparently infringe upon the same copyright laws. Let's see what Blizzard's sales figures do after that :) The precedent that Blizzard's action set is incredibly dangerous. That means accessories for Ipods are illegal to produce, aftermarket parts and upgrades for cars are illegal. It's so stupid. His book is nothing more than a fan's accessory to the game. No one has the right to tell him he's not allowed to be able to profit off his OWN intellectual creations. Kopp is 100% right. Blizzard is stepping way outside the lines.

comthitnuong
comthitnuong

wow....they made the game and hes sueing

GoGreenRanger
GoGreenRanger

To agree with an above poster. You shouldn't be sued for things you can easily find anywhere.

ziggy920
ziggy920

o well...his fun lasted lol

berak
berak

To those going on about how there are a ton of "How-to" books on any given subject, let me see if I can explain the process: Author A pitches an idea for a book to a publisher. This includes a breakdown on how this book is different from other books on the same subject, target market, and a draft outline of the book. If the publisher likes the idea, they go to the publisher of the program and say "we have an author who wants to write a book on your program." The software publisher can queer the deal for any number of reasons, including having a personal dislike for the author (for whatever reason.) In most cases, they will agree to the deal (sometimes some money changes hands between the print publisher and the software publisher.) If the above is true, then the print publisher negotiates a contract with Author A to write said book. You won't get rich, and you need to be ready to put in some long hours trying to get it done on time. Been there, done that.

Zaggmeister
Zaggmeister

I'm with Kopp. Everybody who says that you shouldn't be able to make money of other people products? What about oil companies who are making money on cars?

teksol
teksol

Soon big companies will own everything what ever happened to "fair use" I hope blizzard loses big.

Hervard
Hervard

"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," said Paul Levy of the public-interest advocacy group Public Citizen, which joined in filing the suit on behalf of Kopp. "We think this cannot be the law." ^ that's the winning argument right there.

SolidStateMind
SolidStateMind

Look, the central issue here is the fact that Blizzard's Intellectual Property is the *primary reason* that Kopp is able to make money on the sale of these guides, and is why- according to IP and copyright laws- Blizzard has the right to shut him down if they don't want to arrange some sort of licensing fee or profit sharing. (In this situation, I wouldn't be surprised if they have an exclusive arrangement with Brady Games, who makes the official strat guide. In fact, it's entirely possible that Blizz's contract with Brady Games requires them to protect BG's interests by pursuing 'unofficial strategy guide' publishers. The fact that it'd be much cheaper for Blizz just to work out an arrangement with Kopp for him to give up a share of the profits rather than litigate supports that possibility.) The music analogy isn't really very good for this situation- use literature instead: you think that if someone was marketing an 'unofficial guide to the Wheel of Time', Robert Jordan's lawyers wouldn't be all over them??? The bottom line here is that, if Kopp had made a strategy guide that was usable in all MMORPGs- or even just more than just WoW- I don't think Blizz would have a case; but if you take World of Warcraft out of his strategy guide, nobody would buy it, and therefore Blizzard is in the right.

Mercanis
Mercanis

I don't get it. What does Blizzard have to gain by shutting this guy down? It looks like he's just a fan... I like Blizzard, but they always seem to get so uptight when it comes to their property rights. It's just an unofficial strategy guide.

Monster_Machine
Monster_Machine

Continuing the music analogy. What he's done is like reporting that AC/DC's best early songs were written about how fun it is to start a band and the struggles they went through to get recognition; along with mentions of how many albums went gold and how many went platinum. If Kopp's not quoting the materials in the game, he's not infringing on Blizzard's intellectual property. The whole thing makes Blizzard look like a bunch of whiners.

Seoman_aridan
Seoman_aridan

Well, I agree with Kopp, but Blizzard is gonna win simply because they pay alot of taxes to the government. Just like with gambling. If the government found a way to get a cut of all the casino profits, gambling would be legal everywhere in the US.

DFBomber
DFBomber

The reason this is such a stupid case is that Blizzard pays companies to make the guides for them and in return get some profit do to licensing. Since Kopp is getting all the profit, Blizzard will win do to licensing laws.

sasren
sasren

but kopp is not copying anything... hes not copying blizzards guide so the whole lyric thing would fail because hes not taking someone elses lyrics and sayin there his. he wrote his own book claiming its his. which it is his. so why cant he make a few dollards off of a book he created. and yeah so he created it about WOW. take cliffs notes for an example do you think cliffs notes have to get permission to write a book report on any spacific book? i dont think so cliffs notes is a summary and written in there own words.

crodude
crodude

This is all about profit. If he would have compiled the guide and given it away for free Blizzard would not have a problem. There is an official guide that Blizzard gets a percentage of the profit from. Every sale Kopp makes is a sale Blizzard does not get a percentage of. "Fair Use" does not allow sale. If I were to take the lyrics from a song, put them on paper and sell them, you can bet your butt the copyright owner would try to keep from doing so. But I could transcribe them and give em away for free. Copyrights are specifically there to keep someone like Kopp from profiting from someone elses work. He will lose.

KBV
KBV

If he states that his "book" was made for "educational" purposes, then I would sugest him doing like everyone on GameFaq, give it out for free. When he starts making money of it, he is using Blizzard name and product (which they have used millions on marketing) to earn money. I hope Blizzard wins, and that they sue him for trying to gain a commercial interest in their product and trademark. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for free guids but earning money on it, and not even asking for permission is kinda stupid.

Game-Focus
Game-Focus

go kopp go...i mean it would be a shame if he loses

godrifle1
godrifle1

For all the unauthorized windows/ms word stuff that's selling, that's fine. Microsoft benefits by getting more users. For Kopp's Unauthorized guide, it's just like a lot of fan works. Fan works are illegal since they use IP's, it wouldn't fall under parody, but companies simply don't go after because it's bad blood to do so. With this one, Kopp's making a lot of money off of it, and shouldn't be doing so. This is a FIRST where a company actually goes after them, and that company should have every right to...

Seoman_aridan
Seoman_aridan

Everyone, think of it this way. EVERYTHING is influenced by SOMETHING. You don't think novels have anything to do with each other? Everybody, everytime they write or make anything, rips a few things from this movie or a plot similar to this book. How did God create Mankind? IN HIS OWN IMAGE!

cusoker
cusoker

OK so i quickly looked up what Kopp is claiming as fair use: and hes got NO case what so ever. Fair Use IS only for face to face educational purposes in the class room. Copyrights also include: print, artistic creation, music, PHOTOS (ie screen shots), computer creations, and movies/video. As far as people citing GameFAQ's as a reason Kopp should win, they dont infringe on copyright laws since titles, ideas, names, and facts dont fall under copyrights (although some do fall under other copy laws). Also, GameFAQ's does not use screenshots, so they arent violating copy laws. Basically it comes down to the fact he made a monetary gain, using a product with someone else's photos, and was outside of fair use protection. Blizzard has every right to go after him under copyright laws to defend thier intellectual properties.

cusoker
cusoker

Kopp has no case. As i understand it "fair use" only pertains to face-to-face teaching in a classroom setting. There is no fair use when a commercial endevor is persued, as in selling a strat. guide with WOW on the cover and screen shots in the book. Fair use also only covers a certain amount of photos from one author or source, anything over that amount is copyright infringement. If it was truely for "educational purposes" as he claims, then it would have to be done in a class room setting face-to-face to avoid infringing on the intellectual properties. As far as all the Word and such self help books, I dont know how they do it, but its up to Microsoft to decide if they want to enforce copy laws. As much as I hate most copyright laws, i think Blizzard, Vivendi, and ESA win this fight in court.

dryden555
dryden555

Blizzard is all about the $$.

lelio
lelio

The one thing that stands out for me is that there has been no legal judgement against the guy. Blizzard is taking the law into their own hands.

sir_brizz
sir_brizz

Some people are just dumb. It's not illegal to charge people for a service, which is what he is doing. Also, unofficial guides don't pay royalties unless they explicitly state they do. It's a matter of identifying who owns the copyright on the things you are talking about, which he clearly did.

trancejeremy
trancejeremy

If you can't make unofficial guides or walkthroughs, then Gamefaqs will have to be shut down. Game magazines will have to stop having walk throughs and even hints. AFAIK, whether or not it's being sold doesn't have any effect on IP laws, but even if it did, it would still affects sites like this which sell memberships and have advertising.

trancejeremy
trancejeremy

If you can't make unofficial guides or walkthroughs, then Gamefaqs will have to be shut down. Game magazines will have to stop having walk throughs and even hints. AFAIK, whether or not it's being sold doesn't have any effect on IP laws, but even if it did, it would still affects sites like this which sell memberships and have advertising.

defanual
defanual

Bascially this means you can write guides/faqs/walkthroughs and fan websites about a commercial game, but you can't sell any aspect about that game, even if it's based on your opinions/ideas, right? It's funny, as a developer myself, i'd be flattered that someone took the time & energy to make a (i assume) commercial quality guide to my game (bit like a fan site, only with a commercial edge). Just the free advertising/marketing/word of mouth alone would be a pleasure! But, i'm not a blizzard (yet ;)). I guess it's different when your a big company, you don't think like that anymore, it all becomes official, business, suits and lawsuits! One thing i would say though, it would probably be best to put the 'unofficial' part on the front cover as well as the inside, other then that, i think he's in his legal rights.

CDWJUSTIN
CDWJUSTIN

Hmm....Blizzard is full of shi... i mean potatos blizzard is full of potatos...let the man do his thing

eddy2785329
eddy2785329

I like blizzard as much as the next guy but they've changed after wow's mega success, first the gay rights things and now this, they're kickin the little guy ......I thought you were cool BLizzard what happened......

Autolycus
Autolycus

the more people that know how to play, the more people that pay. That was stupid on blizzards part. Dont get me wrong, they are a great developer, but the more players , the more money...bad business if you ask me...which YOU DO, by allowing me to fill in this "add comment" box

sidescroller
sidescroller

And I highly disagree with anybody who thinks this case will lead to lawsuits against free guides. The "free" part makes it part of "free speech." It's when people try to make $$$ off of it. Then it becomes business. See? Laws *do* actually control profiteering! What do you know?

sidescroller
sidescroller

The fact that he is selling it makes it commercial. The fact that it's commercial makes it subject to trademark laws. Blizzard is arguing that this guy is using Blizzard's name and games to sell a product without a liscence. Let me put it this way. Is it okay for me to make a Nintendo fansite without permission? Yes. Is it okay for me to make a Nintendo cereal without permission? No. Same goes for the guide. Azeroth is not a place; it's a product. Oh, and why would Blizzard bother in the first place? Because it's essentially a power-levelling goldfarming guide, which is something they're working hard to discourage, as it destroys the WoW gold economy (making prices inflate) which is something we ALL don't want. Period.

cloudstrife75
cloudstrife75

i guess it means that anyone posting any kind of walkthrough on the net is violating laws too right? i mean if a free guide is posted on the net, then blizzard loses money that they would have gotten if that person were to buy the guide itself instead of looking on the net...pfff please... if blizzard wins this pathetic case then that paves the way for them...and any other company... to take anyone and everyone to court to pay royalities or penalties for their guide to a game...

kees2580
kees2580

I think this guy's got a good case - one that has widespread implications for all of us. This is not about one guy making a couple of bucks off of a homemade guide. this is about the public's right to write up a how-to-guide to anything based on a commercial product. Blizzard is jsut whining because they think this guy (and others like him) are pulling away sales of "official" guide books. Boo-hoo. They money Blizzard makes from their guides is probably less than .01% of the money they make off the game overall. I'm gonna side with the individual's rights on this one. As a lawyer, I'm also interested in the outcome of this case. I don't think there's a copyright issue here. The focus should be on trademark. the main issue is, are consumers confused when they buy this guy's guide? Do they think they're actually buying an "official" guide book made by Blizzard? I don't think so. If he goes the fair use defense route, the money will make it harder to win, but it's not the only factor.

terminus
terminus

Blizzard is now Marvel comics, wtf is going on? Are you kidding me? blizzard is making millions upon millions, and their concerned about a 24yr old kid who has made his own how to guide to make a few bucks.....when is enough, enough? These big companies need to support it's fans and community, not go and do vindictive and malicous acts like they did to this kid. I love wow, and I use to love marvel, but crap like this WILL make me boycott these monopolizing companies. That goes for you too EA !

MichaelMorbid
MichaelMorbid

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use "Wrong, sir! Wrong! Under section 37B of the contract signed by him, it states quite clearly that all offers shall become null and void if - and you can read it for yourself in this photostatic copy - "I, the undersigned, shall forfeit all rights, privileges, and licenses herein and herein contained," et cetera, et cetera..."Fax mentis incendium gloria cultum," et cetera, et cetera..."Memo bis punitor delicatum!" It's all there, black and white, clear as crystal! You stole fizzy lifting drinks. You bumped into the ceiling which now has to be washed and sterilized, so you get nothing! You lose! Good day sir!"

Eliphs
Eliphs

Just out of curiosity, have any of you *seen* this guys guide?

OPOLO
OPOLO

It's good to see him taking them to court - I want to follow this case

JHG6784
JHG6784

if the guy was doing the guild for free we wouldn't be making a big deal about this, but since the guy was trying to make a quick buck without getting approval from blizzard he's crying. Blizzard has the law on there side, especially if the case is in the United States.

sandjar
sandjar

pmps6622, Looks like you know what you're talking about. This isn't about using Blizzard's IP without authorization. This is about selling your own experience, and your own view how to play the game. Since when is our own experiences and views on how to do stuff belongs to anybody but ourselves? KamaKase, your logic doesn't hold at all. It's not like selling the script for a movie but it's like selling the way to watch that movie in the most entertaining way. I am for Kopp on this one

ImDrFreak
ImDrFreak

For those who are saying "No, Blizzard is right, this guy is profitting"... what about the guys on gameguidesonline.com? Are they "authorized"?

sasren
sasren

Honestly what has this guy done wrong???? if the manual is in his words and did not copy blizzards official strat guide they cant do anything. sure WOW is copywrited but he is not copying and selling the software. he is not copying and selling the strat guide. its in his own words. they cant do anything. he is not plagurizing nor is he commiting copywrite infrengement.

Riverwolf007
Riverwolf007

lol yea wow is a complete ripoff of eq...cept 4 the part where its fun to play

FrankieLA
FrankieLA

There's plenty of unauthorized game guides out there already. The Quake series had a bunch of guides written by Dennis Fong, clearly not attached to id. Besides, the only sales Blizzard is losing is from the hardcore WoWers who do not need the pretty pictures, basic control information, and race/profession definitions, especially those that have been level 60 for over a year awaiting interesting end-game content that doesn't require an 80-man raid. Also, these guides probably prolong a user's account for at least a certain extent of time. Time = Money = Month Subscription Blizz should stop worrying about a nosepicking game guide writer and start focusing on finishing games like Ghost, getting the WoW expansion pack ready, and creating new IP for the next-gen consoles.