Blizzard Entertainment has obtained an $8.7 million judgment against game hack maker Bossland for intellectual property infringement and circumvention of technological access controls, continuing to lead the legal crusade against botting.
Last July, just one month after the release of Overwatch, Blizzard filed a complaint in California district court against the German corporation, alleging trafficking of circumvention devices, inducement of copyright infringement, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement, intentional interference with contractual relations, and unfair competition. While most of Blizzard’s legal claims against Bossland are fairly common, such as copyright infringement and unfair competition, its circumvention claim is anything but. Blizzard has been a pioneer in the development of new law under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, successfully arguing in a prior 2010 lawsuit that a separate cause of action exists for circumventing technologies designed to control access to copyrighted content, even without demonstrating copyright infringement. That court relied on statements by Congress, which noted that “[t]his is roughly analogous to making it illegal to break into a house using a tool, the primary purpose of which is to break into houses.”
In its suit against Bossland, Blizzard claimed that Bossland had built its business around malicious software designed to bypass technical security measures and enable users to cheat at Overwatch, World of Warcraft, Diablo 3, Heroes of the Storm, and Hearthstone at the expense of its “legitimate customers.” These programs include “HonorBuddy,” “DemonBuddy,” and “StormBuddy,” and “HearthBuddy,” four bots which enable users to automate their gameplay and otherwise manipulate Blizzard games. Additionally, Bossland created a program called “Watchover Tyrant” which facilitated users cheating in the then-brand new game Overwatch by allowing them to see where other players are situated on the map, among other things. Blizzard argued that Bossland’s hack programs had caused massive and irreparable harm to the studio because they undermined players’ faith in the fairness of Blizzard’s games, thereby alienating users and diverting “millions or tens of millions of dollars” in revenue.
Remarkably, Bossland did not appear in court to defend itself against Blizzard’s claims. Nevertheless, last week Bossland was found guilty of 42,818 counts of violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and accordingly ordered to pay the minimum allowable amount of $200 per act of circumvention, totaling in a staggering $8,563,600 of statutory damages. Additionally, Bossland was ordered to pay $174,872 for Blizzard’s attorneys’ fees and $1,763 for lawsuit costs. The total judgment against Bossland for infringing Blizzard’s content within the United States amounts to $8,740,235.
Currently, the HonorBuddy website remains generally active, proclaiming falsely that “botting is not against any law.” However, United Kingdom visitors are currently blocked from access to the HonorBuddy website, receiving a message that the sale of its programs to “any person resident in the United Kingdom, constitutes an infringement of Blizzard’s intellectual property rights and an inducement to players of Blizzard’s games to breach their agreements with Blizzard.” How long Bossland will allow the website to remain accessible in the United States remains to be seen.
Author, Ma’idah Lashani, is an Associate at Morrison / Lee. When not playing games, Ma’idah is doing her legal thing in the areas of game dev and intellectual property.