Guitar Heronoid: The Mechanical Chinaman, a question following MDY v. Blizzard

Could technological measures designed to ease real life be illegal? When we discuss technology as a person’s long arm, we imagine a loom which replaced Ned Lud and the Luddites, we imagine wheelchairs that assist the cripple and we imagine how the computer replaced typewriters to optimize the process of writing.

But rare are the times we imagine software as a  technology and differ between software and a person. Glider’s case in question which was brought to the  District Court of Arizona is a great example for this question. (CV-06-2555-PHX-DGC MDY Industries LLC v. Blizzard Entertainment Inc) (via Envy Gaming).

Glider is software that allows World of Warcraft players to play the game when they are not online. While the player is not next to a computer, the software performs routine operations to harvest gold or other experience points that he also can convert to real money later. The action itself is called the Gold Farming and is often performed in sweatshops where dozens of Chinese players sit in order to later sell the gold to the highest bidder.

Glider, believe it or not, abolishes Chinese slavery and allows players to build a virtual sweatshop.

Blizzard disliked Glider’s existence and sought technological means to block it. After it was unable to block Glider technologically, Blizard threatened legal proceedings*, MDY tried to file first sought the Arizona Courts. Blizzard later sought an injunction to preven t Glider’s release under open source, which could cause that inability to enforce the injunction for distribution.

* This, at least, using the court’s language, though legal proceedings can not be threatened, but only warned against.
IMG CC-BY-SA-NC Kevan Emmott

The Court discusses at length the question of whether Glider circumvents World of Warcraft’s protection, because if so, then Glider violates the  DMCA provisions that prohibit circumvention of copyright protection.After carefully inspecting the evidence, the Court makes it clear that Warcraft’s copyprotection, and particularly Warden, are being circumvented by Glider, so there is an interference with the software’s copy protection. The Court issues an injunction against Glider, preventing the distribution of software.

[The decision itself, in relation to the DMCA, it is with high importance and requires in-depth reading, especially for software developers who want to learn about what is allowed and what isn’t during the development of software interfacing with other software without consent.]

However, the highly theoretical question was: What would have happened if instead of developing software, Glider provided hardware components that would connect to USB keyboard and issue commands by watching the computer screen? The Mechanical Chinaman [based on the Mechanical Turk] who operate for him; would this violate the DMCA provisions or not?Since this isn’t a software interfacing with a software, it is hard to imagine how a Court would decide that merely replacing a human with a machine violates the provisions of the DMCA.

In a similar Court Decision (07-1480-cv (L) Cartoon Network v. Cablevision), the Court recognized technology as a person’s long arm. The Court acknowledged DVR remote recordings and said that merely storing copyrighted videos for a person doeos not infringe on other’s copyright: The Court acknowledged a person’s ability to use the technology hands long and asserted that:

“In the case of a VCR, it seems clear–and we know of no case holding otherwise–that the operator of the VCR, the person who actually presses the button to make the recording, supplies the necessary element of volition, not the person who manufactures, maintains, or, if distinct from the operator, owns the machine.  We do not believe that an RS-DVR customer is sufficiently distinguishable from a VCR user to impose liability as a direct infringer on a different party for copies that are made automatically upon that customer’s command.”

And if a software merely records a set of actions or shortens processes, would it be deemed as illegal? Imagine a Court Order ruling that the GarageGeeksGuitar Heronoid, is illegal. The Heronoid is a robot they assembled to play Guitar Hero, a game developed by Activision. Activision, by the way is a company that merged with Blizzard, the company which developed World of Warcraft.

Indeed, it would be ironic to see any difference between a robot and completely different software that assists players to receive any financial gain. If anyone has a problem with Glider, is probably a small Chinese gold farmer employed under a sweatshop in threat of his job security.

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