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The Lawbringer: A rookie's guide to the TOU

Welcome to the Lawbringer, Wow.com's weekly guide to the intersection of law and the World of Warcraft. I'm Amy Schley, a new law school graduate and your tour guide through the rabbit hole of contracts, copyrights and other craziness.

Greetings again! We're on part three of an examination of the various legal documents to which we must consent in order to play our beloved World of Warcraft. Parts one and two examined the End User License Agreement; this segment will look at the Terms of Use ("TOU").

The first thing you'll notice as you examine the TOU is that it is quite similar to the EULA. This is by design -- while one of the EULA's provisions is to agree to the Terms of Use, the repetition increases the likelihood we'll actually read it. There are quite a few differences, including the code of conduct and the naming policy.

The first thing to notice is that the Terms of Use is the agreement for subscribing to the service, not for licensing a copy of the program. As such, all the complicated issues of "do I really own this?" or "does violating this agreement make me a copyright violator?" don't apply. Violations of the Terms of Use remain squarely in the realm of contract law. That being said, however, the EULA is "incorporated by reference" in the TOU, which is lawyer-speak meaning that any violation of the EULA is also a violation of the TOU. As such, I would highly recommend not violating either.

Next we come to the "license limitations." These are repeated from the EULA, but I want to go over them again. You may not cheat at the game, make money by selling gold or services, modify the program files, run private servers or data mine files (unless Blizzard gives you permission). Additionally, you may not disrupt or help disrupt someone else's computer or someone else's game experience.

After that comes a provision on eligibility. To play, you must be a legal adult in your country of residence, and you may allow a minor child to play on your account. For reasons why, see my previous column on Kids and Contracts.

Moving on, the next provision deals with ownership of the game and the related intellectual property. Quite simply, it all belongs to Blizzard. This provision is again a repeat of a similar one in the EULA.

WoW accounts

Finally, we come to something new -- rules regarding WoW accounts. First, Provision Five requires us to provide accurate information -- personal and financial information and an unused product key -- when we create an account. Should any of that information change, we have an obligation to update it. Next, Provision Six declares that we must create a username and password. We are not allowed to share our passwords or accounts unless an exception is made elsewhere. (e.g., parent and minor child.)

Section Seven is in all caps so we don't miss it -- we do not have any property interests in our accounts. Without that property interest, we cannot (as a legal matter) sell, exchange or even give away that account. Perhaps the best (though still imperfect) analogy is that of a bodily organ. While my lungs are undeniably "mine," I do not have a property interest recognized by the law that would give me the right to sell one. Likewise, while we may consider our WoW accounts to be ours, we lack the legal right to sell them to someone else.

Last in this section is Provision Eight. Blizzard is reserving the right to suspend, terminate, modify or delete accounts at any time for any reason. Repeat: At any time. For any reason. The provision goes on to note that most action taken under this provision is for violations of the EULA or TOU, which is to be expected. After all, simply banning accounts because a GM woke up annoyed one morning is hardly good for business. But while Blizzard may not do that, do not become complacent and think that lack of action is because it can't.

The code of conduct

The TOU then moves from WoW accounts to the code of conduct. We as players are responsible for obeying the code, and this code is not exhaustive. It is interpreted by Blizzard, and Blizzard may modify it to deal with any new behaviors.

First up: the rules relating to player and guild names. Names cannot be chosen to impersonate other people. They can't be vulgar, obscene, offensive, defamatory, hateful or racially or ethnically offensive. They may not be the same as a pop culture icon or celebrity. Using trademarks is forbidden, as well as using names belong to any religious figure or deity. No names can refer to drugs, sex, alcohol or criminal activity. Gibberish, leetspeak and names that form phrases are out too. (Insert sarcastic comment here about how everyone on your server needs to change their names.)*

The next part of the code of conduct relates to chat and player interactions. People in chat are not allowed to post "unlawful, harmful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, vulgar, obscene, hateful, sexually explicit, or racially, ethnically or otherwise objectionable" material. Posters in chat may not use macros to fill up the chat box or advertise for gold farmers. We can't impersonate Blizzard employees, harass or stalk other players, communicate with opposite-faction players or post personal information in game or on game forums. Furthermore, players may not defraud other players, and what may constitute fraud is totally in Blizzard's discretion. (Insert sarcastic comments about trade chat here.)

Finally, the code of conduct section closes with a few rules on game play. Blizzard considers most in-game activities permissible game play, included PVP and corpse camping. To violate the code, a player must go beyond what is considered "fair," which can be done by using program bugs, hacks or other EULA violations or "anything Blizzard considers contrary to the 'essence' of the game." Yes, that's deliberately vague. Otherwise, how could Blizzard adapt to the wide variety of questionable behaviors 11 million players can think of?

The remainder of the TOU is substantially similar to the EULA, so I'll just hit the high points. Players are responsible for their login information; as such, Blizzard has no responsibility to help players who have been hacked. Blizzard does not recognize any sale, gift or trade of accounts from one player to another. If you buy an account from someone and he doesn't hand over the username and password, Blizzard has absolutely no obligation to provide you with the information. Blizzard can change the agreement at any time, and players have the ability to terminate our obligations at any time. The game is provided as is, and Blizzard doesn't have any liability if an account is hacked. We can't sue Blizzard for not performing its end of the agreement in cases of terrorism, riots, wars, strikes or acts of God. Blizzard is using Warden to monitor our computers while we play. If we have a problem with any of these provisions, we can resolve it in binding arbitration.

I hope this helps explain the TOU; stay tuned for next week's examination of the recent modified Battle.net Terms of Use.

*Some of you may notice that the name of previous mascot of this column, "Bringeroflaw," is technically a violation of this naming policy. In order to set a good example, I have rerolled a tauren warrior wearing blood elf paladin mail named "Solon." Solon was an ancient Greek who was famous for ... bringing law.

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law, contact Amy at amy@wow.com, @wowlawbringer on Twitter, or whisper Patent in <It Came From the Blog> on Zangarmarsh (US-H).

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