Blizzard wins $88m lawsuit against WoW private server owner

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Blizzard Entertainment has just won a substantial lawsuit against WoW private server provider Scapegaming, including a crippling award of $88 million in damages. Read on for more on WoW private servers and this case.
What was Scapegaming?
Scapegaming was a WoW private server, which permitted players to play a modified version of WoW that was not under Blizzard’s control and for which players would pay the private server provider rather than WoW. For example, it seems that Scapegaming even featured a (real money) microtransactions system, which obviously WoW does not.  Vanilla WoW is just fine for me for me (my 80 Horde DK is doing ok thanks), but I can imagine that some gamers may find attractive the idea of playing a different, non-sanctioned version of WoW.
Private servers inhabit a pretty murky world (more on them below) and so not much is known about Scapegaming. However, from some investigation it seems clear that Scapegaming is/was one of a number of interconnected WoW private servers, who enjoy apparently quite substantial player bases.  For example, you can have a look at this Youtube video for some rather mysterious allegations about the various figures behind Scapegaming and its rivals.  One thing that does seem clear is that some point Scapegaming was shut down, though whether this was as a result of this lawsuit or other factors is unclear.

So, a bit about private servers
As I said, private servers permit players to play WoW without Blizzard’s supervision and which therefore gives them the ability to manipulate the game to an extent impossible in the official servers. BUT, private servers without the dev’s consent are quite clearly illegal. Why? Because if you reverse-engineer and make available to the public a modified version of someone else’s game without his/her consent, you are committing a range of IP infringements, particularly copyright and trademark infringement. Moreover, both making and using a private server would involve breach of the WoW terms and conditions, entitling Blizzard in principle to shut down WoW game accounts of both the private server providers and their users. In fact, if such servers are provided to the public for profit, then under many jurisdictions this could potentially be a criminal as well as a civil matter for the server providers. Beyond that, private servers cause commercial and creative problems for the dev because they are outside of his revenue stream or his creative control. In other words, they are pretty much always going to be BAD NEWS for developers.
Blizzard itself is certainly alive to the dangers posed by private servers. In around 2002, it took legal action against the owners of Bnetd, a reverse-engineered clone of Battle.net and therefore in effect a private server itself (you can read more on that here) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bnetd. Beyond that, Blizzard has taken legal action on a number of other occasions when third parties have attempted to introduce changes to WoW without its consent (see for example the WowGlider litigation).

So, at this point, let’s have a quick look at what we know of the Scapegaming case.

The case
In early 2010, Blizzard commenced the legal action in a Californian court directly against Alison Rees, apparently the owner/manager of Scapegaming. The details of Blizzard’s exact complaint were, as usual, set out in a formal Compaint (known as Particulars of Claim in England) – but unfortunately I don’t have access to it (yet). Still, one would expect that it gave set out the IP/contract arguments against Rees.
Then, it seems from the court record, Rees did…nothing. As seems often to be the case in clear IP infringement cases of this kind, Rees ing appears to have chosen not to respond to the lawsuit at all. As a result, it seems that Blizzard became entitled to default judgment (this is a legal procedure in which, if you start a lawsuit and the other side doesn’t respond within the requisite reply period, then you automatically ‘win’ the lawsuit because of the other side’s failure to engage in the process).
At which point the lawsuit seems to take another non-twist, because then Blizzard’s lawyers appear to have done nothing either. The lawsuit history is skimpy on detail and therefore difficult to follow at this point, but it seems that the court took a pretty dim view of this and therefore proposed to dismiss Blizzard’s lawsuit altogether because Blizzard had failed actually to ask for default judgment against Rees. Anyway, after a court hearing on the issues, the court (apparently quite begrudgingly) gave Blizzard a short period in which actually to seek default judgment, which it then did in mid June 2010. This then rolled on for some time until, in early August, the judge ruled that:
Based on Plaintiffs evidentiary submissions, the Court concludes that Plaintiff is entitled to default judgment in the amount of $3,052,339 in disgorged profits, $85,478,600 in statutory damages, and $63,600 in attorneys fees…Plaintiff Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. shall recover $88,594,539.00, and post-judgment interest thereon at the rate provided by law until paid in full, from Defendant Alyson Reeves, d/b/aScapegaming.
Let’s just pick the numbers apart for a moment. Blizzard is to recover $3m in “disgorged profits“, meaning that it was able to convince the court that Rees herself had made over $3m in profits from Scapegaming. That’s a serious amount of dough to earn from a private server. Then we have $85m in “statutory damages”, which is the amount awarded by the court to compensate Blizzard for the estimated loss caused by the IP infringements. Clearly this makes up the bulk of the award and is pretty nuclear all on its own (though NB that the amount of statutory damages awarded are often a target for an appeal later on). Finally, we have $63,600 in legal costs.
So what?
$88m in damages is a pretty crippling blow to bring against an individual and I would guess that, unless Rees is a wealthy individual living in the US (or she manages to win an appeal against that award – seems unlikely), then actually recovering anything like that sum of money may be difficult. However, the sheer size of the damages award certainly should send a clear message to other WoW private server providers (particularly any of those who have moved in on Scapegaming’s territory since the lawsuit began).
Which leads us to the last point for this post. What this case shows most strongly is that Blizzard views private servers as a sufficiently significant problem to merit lawsuits – particularly if other private server providers are earning anything like the $3m that Rees made from Scapegaming. Couple that with the fact that there are clearly other private server providers out there, and it suggests we will see more of this kind of action from Blizzard in the future. Watch this space…

Image credit: Activision-Blizzard/Wikimedia

20 Responses to “Blizzard wins $88m lawsuit against WoW private server owner”

  1. Anonymous

    And how is any individual person is going to cough up the 88 Mil? I bet alot of cash went into renting the server.

    Reply
  2. Rog

    Other points aside, what are the legalities of reverse-engineering on something already reverse-engineered? Especially something that used rather common protocols (although more obscure gameplay opcodes)?

    The information on how to connect WoW's client to a server has been around for a long time and there are numerous related open-source projects. I somehow doubt Blizzard has the legal weight to go after those, since they haven't hesitated when they (IE: Bnet, Glider).

    I know you're trying to give sound legal advice here, but it seems to be missing on some of the relevant information regarding private servers beyond this particular (obvious, easy target) one.

    Reply
  3. Anonymous

    People play on Private Servers because they think it is ridiculous to have to pay recurring fees each month for a game they bought. Blizzard makes enough money off of the game alone if it is purchased–even more from the subscriptions. If they didn't give the game away for free, this wouldn't be a problem. Look at how well StarCraft2 is doing!

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    SHIT hope they dont start going through all our computers!

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    the one thing you have to think about though is that the "recurring fees" are not straight profit, most of the money goes back into operating costs and game development.

    Reply
  6. Anonymous

    Most of $225mil a month goes to operating costs and game development? Not to mention the money they make from clothing, mobile auction house, in-game pets you buy through their store, trading cards, plush toys, Blizzcon, PPV of Blizzcon etc. Most of that profit plus recurring fees are used up? Hardly. I doubt one third of monthly subscriptions paid are used for operation costs and game development. However, the CEO needs to make his millions somehow, after all, he does live in southern California.

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    FUck all of you faggots you don't know shit about business or law. Private servers are illegal and if you want to be a douchebag and steal someone's elses property then the hammer of 88m is gonna be dropped on your broke ass and I will laugh at your face.

    Reply
  8. Anonymous

    You, jack-ass posting above me. You make yourself look like an immature twat, I advise that in the future you mind your words.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    "FUck all of you faggots you don't know shit about business or law. Private servers are illegal and if you want to be a douchebag and steal someone's elses property then the hammer of 88m is gonna be dropped on your broke ass and I will laugh at your face."

    lolololol Someone doesn't know much about grammar, punctuation, or common decency. I guess they make up for it with their extensive knowledge of business and law?

    Reply
  10. Anonymous

    actually it's common practice in business as well as those in the judicial system to use coherent sentences and proper language when addressing a statement in public. In lieu of his statement, I'd have to say that he could've been neither in business nor law.

    Lulz

    Reply
  11. Anonymous

    So what the hell, i dident get my answer for the question, if i play private server, do i pay a damn shit, or get into prison?

    Reply
  12. Anonymous

    fuck all the people against private servers, i played wow for 6 years with constant subscription. that means at 72 months at close to 15 dollars a month i spent approx. $1000usd on wow(not including all the expansions i bought at release) . mmos need to be free to play and have it set up like AoC where you can pay a one time fee for certain benifits. if i was a hacker i would completely destroy all of blizzards servers for the shear fct they make way too much money. i would like to see bliz sue me for 88 mil. the wouldnt be able to get a damn thing. my net worth is -6000. fuck the police

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

    also 88 million is bogus unless if the trial was in the usa, there is a cap on lawsuits in the states… unless its a class action lawsuite. and according to us law corperations are people so blizzard would not have been able to file a class action lawsuite for the individual people at blizzard because bye the the corperation in all is seen as a person. if that dumb bitch would have fought it at all she would have won. but i doubt she is going to pay up anyway. the worst they can do is garnish wages on a percentage of what she makes. in the us you cannot be imprisioned for your debt.

    Reply
  14. Anonymous

    ^^would be bogus unless the trial was NOT in the usa.^^

    Reply
  15. Anonymous

    got wow burning crusade and wrath of the lich king but after my account got banned from buying gold from a real money trader i sort of got fed up with blizz after all if the rmt trader was advertising in their servers why didnt their gms stop it in the first place and then they said it was my fault?!, spend $1000 on it which i dont really mind but getting banned from something thats not my fault, i just play starcraft2 now i cant really get back to wow retail after something like that as to private servers most are run by non-americans, non-europeans anyway its not like your talking to americans or europeans cause youll know their foreigners their english is funny or they dont even know simple things americans or europeans would know, the only problem with private servers is their is so much abuse from gms and donors that didnt really pay for anything i mean he/she supposed to have paid $100 but cant even buy a decent webcam or pay a decent developer, private servers have a really sort of has a bootleg feel to them unfortunately the way private servers are run i dont think a lot of people will play in them some are okay when their okay but when their bad its a ghetto and you cant really expect people in them to be honest or be straight forward sad to say

    Reply
  16. Anonymous

    donors vips gms premiums thugs to piss players off so they donate shitters really get a real job you scrubs

    Reply
  17. Anonymous

    elementary my dear watson, the thing with private servers is: all private server files are stolen reverse engineered software whether it be arcemu, trinity or such and such their stolen files get it STOLEN!!!, now said stolen files are used to open so-called private servers aka credit card phising sites, this is really where private servers make money not donations but stealing credit card numbers doh!, making sense to you now, let me make it easier for you my dear watson stolen server files>make server>lure people>steal credit card numbers get money get it now also no one from a private server has really owns a retail account why?, the blizz launcher records if you connect to a private server which is a clear violation of EULA and get you an autonatic account ban in short the modus operandi of wow private servers is to befriend and betray their run by petty crooks and criminals so goodluck if your looking for friends your srsly looking in the wrong place pal

    Reply
  18. Anonymous

    I think blizzard has destroyed any hope for a L.A.N parties witch has no lag. I understand they want to protect there games but there has to be a better way. even if you had to sign over there severs to play on your own. There severs don't get straned and L.A.N party people are happy.

    Reply
  19. Sanjay

    That’s a strange issue. Make sure you don’t have a filwaerl blocking the Remake, and that there’s no content filtering that could be blocking it. The server list is downloaded like a webpage (over HTTP) so if the Remake is being blocked that could be the problem. Is there anything unusual in your network setup? (e.g. a proxy server?)

    Reply

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