And so, it begins.
Patrick at Gamersloot sent us the above extract from the C&D letter they just received from the senior counsel at Vivendi Universal (ie Blizzard's parent company). It goes on:
"Specifically, Blizzard is the owner of the trademarks and copyrights for the computer game World of Warcraft and all related content, including but not limited to all game characters, objects, and artifacts. Section 3 of the EULA specifically provides that “all title, ownership rights and intellectual property rights in and to the Game and all copies thereof (including, but not limited to, any titles, computer code, themes, objects, characters, character names, stories, dialog, catch phrases, locations, concepts, artwork, character inventories, structural or landscape designs, animations, sounds, musical compositions, audio-visual effects, storylines, character likenesses, methods of operation, moral rights, any related documentation, and "applets" incorporated into the Game) are owned or expressly licensed by Licensor.” Similar language is contained in Section 10 of the TOU."
It goes on to say that Gamersloot must stop infringing immediately as well as tell them how much money they made from it. Or else. (Actually, Gamersloot don't sell virtual assets, but presumably others who do have also received the C&D).
The way that the property interests are framed is actually quite interesting. The range of property claimed ranges across copyright and trademarks, and is typically overbroad: Since when do character names attract copyright? Since Blizzard doesn't create those names, how could they be its in the first place? And "character likenesses"? Please. And so on.
On quick reflection (this isn't my considered opinion since all the analysis was done while my son was climbing on my head and insisting on being tickled) I actually think that Blizzard's position is remarkably weak on the copyright and trademark claims. No copying of the works/marks is ever done, and since Blizzard retains control of the assets (they are in its database after all) they have a weak claim on the primary infringement side. And on the secondary infringement side I think it's screwed.
Of course, there's always the trusty ToU: the virtual world contractual equivalent of the 19th Century fairy tales where you agree to give away your first-born child in return for ten minutes of good gameplay. This one will be tougher for IGE and other secondary-market actors to beat, but there's always the doctrine of privity that means that unless IGE signed the contract they can't be bound.
God I love the law...