Mike Mintz reports about a lawsuit brought in California by Brian Kopp, the publisher of an unofficial guidebook for a computer game called World of Warcraft that kept getting booted off eBay by the game’s maker, Blizzard. He’s looking for a declaratory judgment that he has the right to sell the book, and other relief.
It’s just another version of what’s going on in the federal courts — and outside of them, using them as a threat — all over the country: IP property owners believe the likes of this plaintiff are “free riding” on value they have created. Little guys who make the IP owners’ properties even more valuable claim they want the right simply to describe what they are selling accurately. Sometimes the lines between those positions are unclear: How much does an unofficial guide or an unauthorized distributor impinge on the legitimate zone of IP protection of a brand or copyright owner?
IP owners, especially of digital media, are ripped off night and day, frequently with no hope of every recovering damages against pirates. But as often or not, or maybe more, the IP owner is using his federally-protected rights as a way to prevent competition (e.g., it wants to publish or license the only guidebook) or protect a favored distribution scheme (e.g., and thereby indirectly control prices), and all too often (though there are exceptions, which Mike addresses in his posting) the courts are only too eager to help them. This story is still being written, and it may ultimately be written by little guys like Brian Kopp who bring it to the 500-pound gorillas and insist on their rights. Sooner or later, the right judge will give it to them.