Video game enthusiasts who try to tweak their favorite games to improve playability better not do too good a job. On Sept. 1, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis ruled that hobbyists who tinkered with their favorite games to modify them infringed the video game maker's intellectual property.
In January 1997, Blizzard, a division of Vivendi Universal Games Inc., launched "Battle.net," a 24-hour online gaming service available exclusively to purchasers of its computer games. Users can log onto the company's Web site and enter proof-of-purchase information to gain access to popular interactive games such as WarCraft II. The service has attracted nearly 12 million users who spend more that 2.1 million hours online per day playing WarCraft II and other games.
However, the games weren't perfect. To address gamers' frustrations with games on Battle.net, several users formed a non-profit group called the "bnetd project." The group not only strives to improve games' playability but also allows gamers to play games for free on its own Web site.
Computer programmers Ross Combs and Rob Crittenden reverse engineered Blizzard's games. Their tweaked versions utilized Blizzard's protocol language and worked seamlessly with Blizzard games.
Once the engineering was complete, Combs and Crittenden made the program public on their Web site bnetd.com, using the Missouri-based Internet service provider Internet Gateway, which Blizzard also sued. In a 3-0 decision, the federal appeals court ruled that Combs, Crittenden and Internet Gateway's actions constitute infringement under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.