By Hiawatha Bray | September 5, 2005
It's all fun and games, till somebody loses a lawsuit. That's what has
happened to the creators of a piece of gaming software called BnetD,
and their defeat suggests hard times ahead for well-meaning technology
innovators who go too far.
But Blizzard is different. The company runs its own private network,
called Battle.net, with strict rules against cheating and vulgar
behavior. Above all, there's an absolute ban on the use of illegally
copied Blizzard games. The Battle.net system can spot a pirated copy
of Diablo II a thousand miles away, and lock it out.
Seems reasonable -- but not to a handful of gamers who want to run
their own game networks, just as they could with other titles. These
guys bought some Blizzard games, 'reverse-engineered' them to master
their secrets, and wrote their own compatible server code, called
BnetD. They weren't out to make a fast buck; BnetD was given away so
that anybody could set up a private server for playing Blizzard games.
Good clean fun? Blizzard didn't think so. BnetD servers work just fine
with pirated copies of their games. BnetD's creators didn't intend to
encourage software piracy; they even offered to include Blizzard's
antipiracy code, if the company would hand it over. Fat chance, said
Blizzard's chief operating officer, Paul Sams. "We would not, under
any circumstances, provide something that is so critical to our
business to anyone outside of the company," he said.
Instead, Blizzard went after the BnetD programmers in federal court,
demanding they stop distributing their product. The company argued
that the license inside every Blizzard game forbids the customer from
reverse-engineering the code. Blizzard also cited the Digital
Millennium Copyright Act, a controversial federal law designed to
stamp out piracy. They said BnetD violated the act by deliberately
enabling crooks to play illegal copies of Blizzard games.