Blizzard Asks Judge to Forbid Open Source

by Ostatic Staff - Jul. 30, 2008

Now that I've got your attention, don't worry too much: Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind the popular World of Warcraft online game, isn't trying to shut down open source software entirely. But in a recent legal filing (reported by the Virtually Blind weblog), they are asking a judge to take an unusual move: prohibiting a developer from releasing a particular bit of code as open source. Read on for the details.

Here's the backstory: last year a company named MDY Industries filed a suit against Blizzard seeking to have MDY's product Glider declared legal. Glider is a World of Warcraft bot - that is, a program that will automatically play the game for you. Blizzard doesn't like bots, bans them, and wants them out of the game.

Unfortunately, this strategy backfired for MDY: the US District Court ruled in favor of a summary judgment motion on Blizzard's part, and found that MDYwas guilty of copyright violation and tortious interference with Blizzard's business. The case is still in litigation, but the main question now is the size of the damages (or whether MDY can win on appeal, of course).

Blizzard has followed up to their summary judgment with another filing asking for some permanent injunctions, and this is where open source comes in. Along with asking the judge to shut down MDY's servers, forbid further development of the application, and forbid them from helping other bot developers, Blizzard is asking for one more thing:

the injunction should preclude MDY from releasing the Glider source code to third parties, especially those located abroad and over whom it may be difficult or impossible to gain jurisdiction in the United States.... Some Glider users have suggested on internet forums that MDY provide the Glider source code as "open source" software - free for use.

Putting aside the confusion between "free" and "open source," this would at the very least be an unusual remedy. It also shows that there are still edge cases where the ideals of the free software movement (which is certainly a part of the open source movement) bumps up against the legal system. On the one hand, the very existence of licenses like the GPL depends on copyright law. On the other, forbidding the release of code as being too dangerous to a copyright seems like an overstepping bit of prior restraint. However the court rules, though, there's likely to be some precedent here that open source advocates will need to be aware of.