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The Lawbringer: Mailbag 2.0

Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Running parallel to the games we love and enjoy is a world full of rules, regulations, pitfalls and traps. How about you hang out with us as we discuss some of the more esoteric aspects of the games we love to play?

I love getting emails with questions in them! Incidentally, people also love mailbags. Right? Right? Of course you do. Also, based on my images, can you tell that I've been leveling through Grizzly Hills?

After the last two weeks of gold selling/hacking and crazy currency discussions, I found my email littered with questions that I had neglected. At the end of last month I also ran a mailbag feature, but some of these questions were so fun and provoking that I had to answer them publicly. One interesting thing about legal questions and answers is that you're obviously not getting the whole answer, because there are a million and one factors that go into questions and answers in the legal world. Rather, you're getting the beginnings of a concept that you might want to further your knowledge of. Fun times! Learning is fun! Let's learn together.

If you have a question for the column, please email me at mat@wowinsider.com, and include a subject with "Lawbringer Question" or something easily categorized/sorted like that!

Barter me gently

The first email we've got today is from Blacklance on the Kirin Tor server. He wants to know why gold just can't be made account-bound like heirloom items to stop gold farming, selling, and hacking.
Hi Mat,

Was just reading the latest WoW Insider Lawbringer article about Gold-Farming and it got me thinking about a discussion my friend and I had recently on the subject...

Why can't Blizzard make all Gold Account-Bound? Wouldn't that almost
single-handedly wipe out the Gold trade? It would at least stop the Level 1 Gold beggars in the Capital cities!

I'm sure this discussion must have been had before now, but I have never
seen it discussed anywhere. Are there any reasons why this cannot be done? Am I missing something?

I would love to see a column written on this subject, and to hear the
reasons why or why not this should happen.

Regards,
Blacklance - Kirin Tor
Thanks for the email, Blacklance. Making gold account-bound is certainly an option but not an option players would like, I would think. The purpose of gold is to be liquid, to be spent on a variety of items and easily traded. One of the purposes of liquid currency is having an ascribed value that makes it a trading medium. "Liquid," for our purposes here, just means that you can turn gold into other items through purchase or items into gold through sale.

A bartering system, which would most likely replace a liquid currency system, uses the item's inherent value and the need/want from each member in the transaction. I need flasks, and you need armor. It's harder to make a piece of armor, so you give me more flasks for this one piece of armor. We come to an agreement, make the trade, and the "worth" of each item does not translate out of our single transaction, for the most part. Everything is very self-contained.

There is a reason human beings invented currency: Bartering sort of sucks. It works in small economies where people roughly have the same ins and outs, needs and wants, as it were. Larger economies, like World of Warcraft's, thrive on currency because of the mechanisms that perpetuate said economy. The auction house would be a serious mess without currency -- people would suggest a trade and you would have to go through each one until you found the right trade you would want to make. It would be an unwieldy system, and currency just makes things easier.

Sure, with currency you get the gold selling and hacking problem, which is why getting rid of currency for an already established game is a blessing and a curse. The curse, of course, is that players would now have to not only keep everything they would ever want to barter in their bags, but the entire nature of the game would have to be changed.

Gold as currency is here to stay. Fighting gold selling is about limiting the importance of gold on character progression and fighting the security loopholes, not necessarily changing the system in such profound ways.

This space for rent

Our next question is from Ryan, who wants to know about guild sponsorships.
Hi Mat,

I've heard recently about several guilds and arena teams that are sponsored by third-party companies. Exactly how legal is this, and to what extent are benefits legal? I know that Blizzard commonly states that buying/selling gold is against the ToS because it provides and unfair advantage, which seems reasonable; legally selling gold basically turns WoW into a contest to spend the most money. But if sponsoring companies are providing players with free, top of the line equipment, does that not offer an unfair advantage? And if the benefits include monetary compensation, to the point that players no longer need to work, that clearly creates an advantage of more play time.

I understand that these sponsorships are gained through hard work and dedication, and am no way trying to implicate that sponsorships should be illegal, but exactly how legal are they?

Thanks for your time,
Ryan
Thanks for this great question, Ryan. The reason gold selling is against the Terms of Use and EULA is because you are selling something for profit that is explicitly stated in the Terms that you aren't allowed to do if you want to retain access to the game. Real money transactions on that grey market are against Blizzard's rules. Illegal? We don't really know yet. Against the rules? Definitely.

Guild sponsorships don't actually have a nexus, basis, or any kind of focal point in World of Warcraft itself. The contracts signed and the deals made are all about out-of-game representation, for the most part. Take Paragon, a guild that advertises Asus and Steelseries on its website and uses products at its events from these companies. None of that really affects WoW or Blizzard's terms, that I personally know of. When Blizzard has Paragon play the live raid at BlizzCon, there are most likely contracts in place for that, with advertisers' rights and compensation and all that. For the sponsorship stuff, though, it's not really in the game's terms.

If Blizzard is in a similar mindset with guild sponsorships as it is with machinima sponsorships (i.e. very relaxed, for the most part), then guild sponsorships are perfectly fine. An email to Blizzard, however, is always advised before doing anything with its game, just for safesies.

Making noise

Our final email comes from Caboose, who wants to know a little bit about sound effects and copyrights.
Hey Mat,

So I've been trying a bunch of new games lately since even after a huge expansion like Cataclysm I find myself increasingly more bored with the game since I don't have the time to raid anymore. In my most recent endeavor, I played the Forsaken World beta today. In less than 10 minutes after entering the game, I begin to notice that some mob sounds in the game sound an awful lot like sound effects from WoW. A few minutes later, and I'm fighting some centaur in the human lands and the females have the EXACT same sound effects as female blood elves. From the "attack grunts" to the death rattle, it's the exact same sound files. The funny part was, the male centaurs use the sound effects for female orc "attack grunts" from WoW.

As I leveled to 20, I heard tons more sounds from WoW like the vanilla scourge sounds, numerous animal noises, even their mining pick sound is the exact same pitch and timing that's been plinking in my ears for 5 years now. Can any video game just use sound effects from any other game so easily? I know the company that produces Forsaken World is Korean-based, so is it just an international copyright loophole? It's hard to get away from WoW when even if the game looks completely different, if you close your eyes it still sounds like the exact same game all over again. Mostly I just wonder why Blizzard, with its seemingly infinite corporate lawyer army, would let something like this go unhindered or maybe they just hadn't gotten wind of it yet.

Thanks,
Caboose, Area 52
Thanks for the email, Caboose. Sound recordings are protected under U.S. copyright law as sound recordings. This questions opens a huge can of worms, so I'll keep it simple and address your points quickly.

Sound effects are usually licensed out; you pay the copyright owner a requested fee for a license to use those sound effects as described. Sound departments can also license whole volumes of sound effects, like libraries, and those come with what rights you have attached. It's all nebulous and depends on the copyright owner.

Some sound recordings are also in the public domain. The most famous sound effect, I believe, is the Wilhelm Scream. You'll know it when you hear it.

As for sound effects and copyright in other countries? Well, they don't care, for the most part. China, especially, is copyright theft central, which is why a ton of knock-off electronics and technology comes out of factories in that area of the world. Copyright law in the United States is not always honored everywhere else in the world. So your Korean-based MMO just might be stealing WoW sounds and doesn't think that any action can really be taken against it. Again, it all depends on whether Blizzard is even interested in going after companies stealing its sound effects. It would be easier to do in the United States, however.

Thanks for the emails, guys!

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at mat@wowinsider.com.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, The Lawbringer

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