Welcome to another exciting edition of The Lawbringer, where your questions about the esoteric topics revolving around WoW and MMOs potentially get answered, usually if the question is compelling. You know the drill -- ask a question, and maybe I can hash it out or at least point you in the right direction to get things under control.
Mailbags are fun, and updates are even more fun. This week, we have a couple of questions from the mailbag and an update to the situation with Rogers Communications up in Canada. Remember back a few months ago, when the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission demanded that Rogers find a way to stop the admitted throttling of World of Warcraft data because it appeared to be peer-to-peer traffic? Well, the Canadian government wants a plan by Tuesday. More on that in a bit. Questions first, yes?
Our first question is a common one, coming from reader Kristina, asking about the legality of selling items based on or related to World of Warcraft in Etsy stores:
Question for the Lawbringer. I remember the first time I found WoW paraphernalia in etsy; I was so excited. Horde earrings, hearthstone charms, amigurumi characters, it's all on there. I've always been curious about the actual legality of selling these things on etsy, and have considered putting my own craftiness to use. Are there any issues with selling WoW related crafts on websites like Etsy?
Thanks for the email, Kristina. There are issues with selling World of Warcraft stuff on Etsy, mostly associated with products that use in-game art or Blizzard assets for profit. The big issue, really, is that you could be taking Blizzard's property and using it without the proper license, earning money from the unauthorized use of its property. There are many factors to consider, but the two biggest ones are if you are making a profit from the sale of goods and whether Blizzard cares enough to ask you to stop doing what you're doing.
The Horde symbol fashioned into earrings is probably not going to be as big of an issue as, say, coasters with official art on them that Blizzard made for the game boxes. A hearthstone charm is probably going to be less of a concern than (and I had to look up what they were) amigurumi stuffed figures. It's all a matter of scale, whether you're potentially cutting into the business of what Blizzard is selling, and whether or not you garner enough attention as to be the target of a cease and desist.
The Horde symbol, the appearance of a hearthstone, and other "likeness" crafts are in a weird area. On one hand, it's all art that Blizzard has made for its game and that it owns. On the other hand, the Horde symbol is a fairly simple design. There are tons of variants of the Horde symbol and other symbols in popular fiction, mythology, and more that very closely resemble the symbol. It might just be one of those times when the symbol is too broad. However, an Etsy shirt with Thrall on it is going to raise eyebrows, because he is a protected character owned by Blizzard.
My advice, if you're going to sell on Etsy, is to keep it simple and keep it small. At any point, you can be asked to remove what you're selling, but you're not going to get sued or brought to court over it. Blizzard will just ask you to stop. If you have any questions about specific items, shoot Blizzard an email about it and see what they say. It can't hurt, can it? The takeaway from this question and answer should be that inspired-by items are not necessarily going to get you in trouble, but full-on replications or using too-similar or copyrighted characters will most likely get you in trouble.
Our next email question comes from Morusa, who asks whether or not addons themselves violate the World of Warcraft Terms of Service that we agree to every time we log on and connect to the game.
I was reading through the terms and conditions when they changed today (I'm not usually sad enough to do this!) and I noticed 3 conditions that seem to conflict with the use of addons, was just wondering what you thought about these?
Heres the screenshot of the terms :
Morusa @ Dragonblight EU, if you end up using this anywhere, could you please give a shout out to my guild (i am GM) we just hit 25 yesterday and our name is 'Dark Wings' thanks!
A big congratulations to Dark Wings on the Dragonblight (EU) server for hitting level 25. Enjoy your awesome scorpion or lame lion, depending on your faction. The truth is that the Terms of Service conditions do not affect addons in the slightest because addons coded in Lua, according to the addon rules, are not third-party programs or modifying the game's code. Addons and Lua coding are built-in to the game and allowed. The problems and programs associated with those Terms of Service excerpts are third-party programs like Glider or addons that have an out-of-game component, like many "pay-for" leveling guides and gold making addons.
Addons that exist in-game only, run off approved Lua code, and exist solely within the framework of WoW are not against the ToS unless Blizzard makes a judgment call to that effect. AVR was broken and removed from the game because it was Blizzard's prerogative to remove a disruptive addon. Glider was a program that existed outside of WoW and automated player actions and manipulated the game through server commands usually unauthorized by the client. So yeah, the only types of programs and software that the ToS are referring to with those segments are third-party programs running outside of WoW and not within its Lua framework.
With addons, you are not actually rewriting WoW code or changing the way the game works. Rather, the game is reading the Lua files and doing whatever it can with those files. It's a read-only affair, usually, considering you also cannot change addon code mid-game without restarting WoW completely. That's how it all works in a nutshell. When you install an addon, you aren't changing the way WoW is installed or works. WoW stays the same but has new information to read and acts accordingly, as long as everything is written correctly.
A few months back, I wrote a Lawbringer about Rogers Communications in Canada's openly admitting that it throttles WoW-related internet traffic because it appears as peer-to-peer traffic to its packet inspection whatever-they-use. The same thing had been happening here in the United States, especially on the east coast, but no one would own up to it. Rogers confirmed that it was a possibility here by confirming its same deep-packet inspection throttling up in Canada.
The Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission sent a letter to Rogers notifying them of the complaints from gamers that its traffic for certain games over the internet was uncommonly slow and performance was terrible. Rogers was tasked with figuring out the problem and responded that it had worked something out and all was better. All was not better. According to Ars Technica, Rogers has until Tuesday, Sept. 27 to respond with a plan for fixing its Internet Traffic Management Practices to stop an "underlying dilemma" of how this WoW traffic is routed. This is a big step for gamers who want an open, free internet access not manipulated in arbitrary fashions. We're still a long way off from victory, but at least someone is listening.
After the Tuesday deadline, we will see what Rogers comes up with. Hopefully that type of approach can be used across the board in other subsystems and make the issues with throttling a non-concern in the months and years ahead. What we really need are bigger pipes. Come on, dark fiber. Where ya at?
If you have a question for the Lawbringer, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org with something resembling The Lawbringer in the title, or hit me up on Twitter at @gomatgo. See you guys next week.
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 email@example.com.