629 F.3d 928 (9th Cir. 2010), 09-15932, MDY Industries, LLC v. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc.

Docket Nº:09-15932, 09-16044.
Citation:629 F.3d 928, 97 U.S.P.Q.2d 1001
Opinion Judge:CALLAHAN, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:MDY INDUSTRIES, LLC, Plaintiff-counter-defendant-Appellant, v. BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT, INC. and Vivendi Games, Inc., Defendants-third-party-plaintiffs-Appellees, v. Michael Donnelly, Third-party-defendant-Appellant. MDY Industries, LLC, Plaintiff-counter-defendant-Appellee, v. Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. and Vivendi Games, Inc., Defendants-third-p
Attorney:Lance C. Venable (argued) and Joseph R. Meaney of Venable, Campillo, Logan & Meaney, P.C., for plaintiff-appellant/cross-appellee MDY Industries LLC and plaintiff-appellant/third-party-defendant-appellee Michael Donnelly. Christian S. Genetski (argued), Shane M. McGee, and Jacob A. Sommer of Sonn...
Judge Panel:Before: WILLIAM C. CANBY, JR., CONSUELO M. CALLAHAN and SANDRA S. IKUTA, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:December 14, 2010
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

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629 F.3d 928 (9th Cir. 2010)

97 U.S.P.Q.2d 1001

MDY INDUSTRIES, LLC, Plaintiff-counter-defendant-Appellant,

v.

BLIZZARD ENTERTAINMENT, INC. and Vivendi Games, Inc., Defendants-third-party-plaintiffs-Appellees,

v.

Michael Donnelly, Third-party-defendant-Appellant.

MDY Industries, LLC, Plaintiff-counter-defendant-Appellee,

v.

Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. and Vivendi Games, Inc., Defendants-third-party-plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

Michael Donnelly, Third-party-defendant-Appellee.

Nos. 09-15932, 09-16044.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

December 14, 2010

Argued and Submitted June 7, 2010.

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Lance C. Venable (argued) and Joseph R. Meaney of Venable, Campillo, Logan & Meaney, P.C., for plaintiff-appellant/cross-appellee MDY Industries LLC and plaintiff-appellant/third-party-defendant-appellee Michael Donnelly.

Christian S. Genetski (argued), Shane M. McGee, and Jacob A. Sommer of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP, for defendants-appellees/cross-appellants Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. and Vivendi Games, Inc.

George A. Riley, David R. Eberhart, and David S. Almeling of O'Melveny & Myers LLP, for amicus curiae Business Software Alliance.

Scott E. Bain, Keith Kupferschmid, and Mark Bohannon, for amicus curiae Software & Information Industry Association.

Brian W. Carver of the University of California, Berkeley, School of Information, and Sherwin Siy and Jef Pearlman, for amicus curiae Public Knowledge.

Robert H. Rotstein, Steven J. Metalitz, and J. Matthew Williams of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp LLP, for amicus curiae Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona, David G. Campbell, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. 2:06-CV-02555-DGC.

Before: WILLIAM C. CANBY, JR., CONSUELO M. CALLAHAN and SANDRA S. IKUTA, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

CALLAHAN, Circuit Judge:

Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. (" Blizzard" ) is the creator of World of Warcraft (" WoW" ), a popular multiplayer online role-playing game in which players interact in a virtual world while advancing through the game's 70 levels. MDY Industries, LLC and its sole member Michael Donnelly (" Donnelly" ) (sometimes referred to collectively as " MDY" ) developed and sold Glider, a software program that automatically plays the early levels of WoW for players.

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MDY brought this action for a declaratory judgment to establish that its Glider sales do not infringe Blizzard's copyright or other rights, and Blizzard asserted counterclaims under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (" DMCA" ), 17 U.S. C. § 1201 et seq., and for tortious interference with contract under Arizona law. The district court found MDY and Donnelly liable for secondary copyright infringement, violations of DMCA § 1201(a)(2) and (b)(1), and tortious interference with contract. We reverse the district court except as to MDY's liability for violation of DMCA § 1201(a)(2) and remand for trial on Blizzard's claim for tortious interference with contract.

I.

A. World of Warcraft

In November 2004, Blizzard created WoW, a " massively multiplayer online role-playing game" in which players interact in a virtual world. WoW has ten million subscribers, of which two and a half million are in North America. The WoW software has two components: (1) the game client software that a player installs on the computer; and (2) the game server software, which the player accesses on a subscription basis by connecting to WoW's online servers. WoW does not have single-player or offline modes.

WoW players roleplay different characters, such as humans, elves, and dwarves. A player's central objective is to advance the character through the game's 70 levels by participating in quests and engaging in battles with monsters. As a player advances, the character collects rewards such as in-game currency, weapons, and armor. WoW's virtual world has its own economy, in which characters use their virtual currency to buy and sell items directly from each other, through vendors, or using auction houses. Some players also utilize WoW's chat capabilities to interact with others.

B. Blizzard's use agreements

Each WoW player must read and accept Blizzard's End User License Agreement (" EULA" ) and Terms of Use (" ToU" ) on multiple occasions. The EULA pertains to the game client, so a player agrees to it both before installing the game client and upon first running it. The ToU pertains to the online service, so a player agrees to it both when creating an account and upon first connecting to the online service. Players who do not accept both the EULA and the ToU may return the game client for a refund.

C. Development of Glider and Warden

Donnelly is a WoW player and software programmer. In March 2005, he developed Glider, a software " bot" (short for robot) that automates play of WoW's early levels, for his personal use. A user need not be at the computer while Glider is running. As explained in the Frequently Asked Questions (" FAQ" ) on MDY's website for Glider:

Glider ... moves the mouse around and pushes keys on the keyboard. You tell it about your character, where you want to kill things, and when you want to kill. Then it kills for you, automatically. You can do something else, like eat dinner or go to a movie, and when you return, you'll have a lot more experience and loot.

Glider does not alter or copy WoW's game client software, does not allow a player to avoid paying monthly subscription dues to Blizzard, and has no commercial use independent of WoW. Glider was not initially designed to avoid detection by Blizzard.

The parties dispute Glider's impact on the WoW experience. Blizzard contends that Glider disrupts WoW's environment

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for non-Glider players by enabling Glider users to advance quickly and unfairly through the game and to amass additional game assets. MDY contends that Glider has a minimal effect on non-Glider players, enhances the WoW experience for Glider users, and facilitates disabled players' access to WoW by auto-playing the game for them.

In summer 2005, Donnelly began selling Glider through MDY's website for fifteen to twenty-five dollars per license. Prior to marketing Glider, Donnelly reviewed Blizzard's EULA and client-server manipulation policy. He reached the conclusion that Blizzard had not prohibited bots in those documents.

In September 2005, Blizzard launched Warden, a technology that it developed to prevent its players who use unauthorized third-party software, including bots, from connecting to WoW's servers. Warden was able to detect Glider, and Blizzard immediately used Warden to ban most Glider users. MDY responded by modifying Glider to avoid detection and promoting its new anti-detection features on its website's FAQ. It added a subscription service, Glider Elite, which offered " additional protection from game detection software" for five dollars a month.

Thus, by late 2005, MDY was aware that Blizzard was prohibiting bots. MDY modified its website to indicate that using Glider violated Blizzard's ToU. In November 2005, Donnelly wrote in an email interview, " Avoiding detection is rather exciting, to be sure. Since Blizzard does not want bots running at all, it's a violation to use them." Following MDY's anti-detection modifications, Warden only occasionally detected Glider. As of September 2008, MDY had gross revenues of $3.5 million based on 120,000 Glider license sales.

D. Financial and practical impact of Glider

Blizzard claims that from December 2004 to March 2008, it received 465,000 complaints about WoW bots, several thousand of which named Glider. Blizzard spends $940,000 annually to respond to these complaints, and the parties have stipulated that Glider is the principal bot used by WoW players. Blizzard introduced evidence that it may have lost monthly subscription fees from Glider users, who were able to reach WoW's highest levels in fewer weeks than players playing manually. Donnelly acknowledged in a November 2005 email that MDY's business strategy was to make Blizzard's anti-bot detection attempts financially prohibitive:

The trick here is that Blizzard has a finite amount of development and test resources, so we want to make it bad business to spend that much time altering their detection code to find Glider, since Glider's negative effect on the game is debatable.... [W]e attack th[is] weakness and try to make it a bad idea or make their changes very risky, since they don't want to risk banning or crashing innocent customers.

E. Pre-litigation contact between MDY and Blizzard

In August 2006, Blizzard sent MDY a cease-and-desist letter alleging that MDY's website hosted WoW screenshots and a Glider install file, all of which infringed Blizzard's copyrights. Donnelly removed the screenshots and requested Blizzard to clarify why the install file was infringing, but Blizzard did not respond. In October 2006, Blizzard's counsel visited Donnelly's home, threatening suit unless MDY immediately ceased selling Glider and remitted all profits to Blizzard. MDY immediately commenced this action.

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II.

On December 1, 2006, MDY filed an amended complaint seeking a declaration that Glider does not infringe Blizzard's copyright or other rights. In February 2007, Blizzard filed counterclaims and third-party claims against MDY and Donnelly for, inter alia, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement, violation of DMCA § 1201(a)(2) and (b)(1), and tortious interference with contract.

In July 2008, the district court granted Blizzard partial summary judgment, finding that MDY's Glider sales contributorily and vicariously infringed Blizzard's...

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