Here's a story which is sure to warm the hearts of those who love an underdog...
Twenty-four-year-old gamer Brian Kopp has successfully stared down the likes of Blizzard, Vivendi and the ESA in a lawsuit which accused the defendants of misrepresentation in their claims that Kopp's self-authored World of Warcraft strategy guide violated terms of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).
Last August Kopp began selling "The Ultimate World of Warcraft Leveling & Gold Guide" on Ebay for fifteen bucks. Soon thereafter, Blizzard, Vivendi and the ESA invoked the DMCA, claiming that Kopp's home brew enterprise violated copyrighted material in WoW. Ebay then forced Kopp to take down auction listings which advertised the book and eventually suspended his account.
That probably would have been the end of Kopp's career in the strategy guide business, but Public Citizen, a national nonprofit public interest organization, offered to assist the beleaguered Mr. Kopp. Public Citizen filed a federal suit on Kopp's behalf in March. On Friday Public Citizen issued a press release announcing that the defendants had capitulated and will no longer object to Kopp selling his guidebook on Ebay.
Kopp's book offers tips to readers and uses screen shots as illustrations. A disclaimer makes clear that it is not an official Blizzard publication. Kopp agreed to maintain the disclaimer as well as to avoid telling readers how to find cheats for WoW.
"We praise the companies' decision to allow our client to continue selling his unofficial guide and to fully honor the provisions of the DMCA," said Greg Beck, a Public Citizen attorney assigned to represent Kopp. "We urge other companies to follow this example and avoid terminating the auctions of eBay sellers who have filed counter notices in defense of their goods. We are alert to the widespread abuses of the DMCA process, and companies that continue to abuse the process do so at their own risk."
The legal filing in Kopp vs. Vivendi, Blizzard and the ESA may be seen here.
GP: We have to wonder what Blizzard, Vivendi and the ESA were thinking. Don't any number of commercially-published, unofficial guidebooks exists for non-gaming software such as Quicken, Dreamweaver and MS Word? How would Blizzard be harmed by Brian Kopp's little operation, which apparently had unit sales in the hundreds, not thousands? Doesn't a thriving, interested user base serve a game well, especially an MMO?
What the ESA and the companies did in Kopp's case is especially troublesome to GP, who is of a mind that greed within the video game industry has pretty much laid waste to the commercial strategy guide market. We've heard that fees for writers have been slashed and royalties all but eliminated. Hence many good strategy guide authors have bailed on the business, but the publishers don't seem to care. Gamers will still shell out twenty bucks for the official book, even though strategy guide quality is uneven at best these days.
What's more, strategy guides published at the time of game release get stale quickly. Particularly for long-running, evolving games like WoW, official guides can't possibly stay as up-to-date as fan-created online guides. So why try to kill off this fun little market segment?
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