For those of you who don’t know me, I am Ryan Morrison, or “VideoGameAttorney” on Reddit. I have spent countless hours over in the gamedev subreddit helping the gaming community get informed and know their rights. As such, when I see one of “the little guys” trampled on, it really makes me lose my temper.
There are few more passionate people in the industry than those who spend their time modding and working on open source software. They know they aren’t doing it for money or recognition; they’re doing it because they love it. So when a company secretly buys a project and doesn’t tell those programmers toiling away on open source projects that they’re now effectively working as free labor, that company is playing with fire.
I have received a lot of emails about Wesley Wolfe and Mojang, and nearly all of them referred to one of the various licenses involved in this debacle. I’ve heard arguments that all of Minecraft is open source now, and I’ve heard Wesley is Hitler’s reincarnation coming to doom all those who dare to craft or mine. Neither is true, at all. Minecraft owns its code, and there is no magical license on the internet or accidental involvement on a project that changes that. In the same regard, Wesley is not doing anything shady or underhanded, he too owns his code and has every right to have it treated as he would like.
A license is a contract. There are many reasons why a contract would be void, and many conditions that make a contract invalid from the get-go. One such condition is being “tricked” into the agreement, which would include agreeing to work on a project under false pretenses. As stated above, an open source project being secretly purchased by a company, in hopes to have that company’s game be improved through it, is as close to a loophole for free labor as you will find. Free labor was outlawed in this country a while ago. We had a whole war about it.
Further, while the arguments that Minecraft is open source are ridiculous, what’s not ridiculous is that the use of Mojang’s code in the projects under a GPL would negate the entire GPL on that project. I can’t create an open source project off one of Blizzard’s games, for example, so why does anyone think it’s different here?
Finally, if I draw a picture of Mickey Mouse, that’s infringement. Disney can come after me and make me take it down or stop using it in whatever I am. But Disney cannot claim ownership over my drawing of Mickey. That’s still mine, even if I can’t use it. So here, if Wesley’s entire code library was infringing, Mojang can make him take it down. But Wesley still owns that infringing code and he can also take it down or, more importantly, tell others to take it down as well. Mojang can’t claim ownership of his code just because it might have infringed on their IP. They can just make him take it down.
There will be many headlines about this in coming weeks. There will be a lot of wild theories and arguments from both sides. But at the end of the day, don’t just believe one side is “good” and the other “bad” here. These things are rarely so simple.