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Over on Arqade we were discussing a question which was asking about private servers for a game called World of Warcraft. The discussion was about if using and/or hosting a private server is illegal not just against the TOS.

If it is illegal what laws is it breaking?

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    What's involved in creating and hosting a WoW private game server? – cpast Jul 21 '15 at 22:42
  • @cpast I'm not 100% sure, I've looked at it a bit but don't really understand it, it looks like you have to run this program which I believe modifies some of the game's files to point to a different host address and probably some other modifications, but this is just a guess. Then you'll have to host the server. Then other people can join this server without paying the monthly subscription fee that is required to play on official servers. Sometimes even private servers will accept "donations" for items or maybe even to play but it's all dependent on the admin of the private server. – Aequitas Jul 21 '15 at 23:26
  • Keep in mind that WoW server just isn't available to the end users, so in order to run a private server, you need to be running a leaked copy, which is most likely illegal. – o0'. Jul 22 '15 at 10:52
  • Copyright, patents, IP, etc... – Terry Mar 30 '16 at 11:08
  • Where do you propose to get the server software? Are you going to get an illicit copy off Blizzard's servers? Has someone reverse-engineered the game's communication protocol and written compatible server software? If the former, that's clearly copyright infringement. If the latter, it's a lot murkier – David Thornley Dec 18 '18 at 16:37
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Ok, so it looks like there really are many questions being asked.

1) Is it illegal to host / own / operate a private server for games that require a server of such? And why?

2) Is it illegal to host / own / operate a private server for WOW? And why?

3) Is it illegal to join a private server for games that require a server? and why?

4) Is it illegal to join a private server for WOW?

Answers

1 & 2) This depends on the game that is being hosted. There are many games that require servers in which this is not only legal, but encouraged by the company. MineCraft is one that comes to mind. You can host MineCraft servers, and even modify the server code. You can even charge for this service. However,for games like WOW, In short, yes if the server is profiting or If the server is running stolen or leaked software or If the server is distributing client files.

If the server was recreated from the developers own mind, and was only compatible with the WOW server, then it's a bit more gray and depends on the Judge's level of understanding of technology.

3 & 4) This comes down to the EULA. If the EULA is like MineCraft, then you are good to go. If the EULA is like WOW, which forbids both modification of the client and participation on emulated servers then it is a violation of EULA. If WOW did not have the second part of "participation on emulated servers", then a user could modify on the router level to point to a private server.

  • does being against the EULA mean that it is illegal? – Aequitas Jul 22 '15 at 22:10
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    Errr... yes it does if the portion of the EULA that you violated is enforceable. That question is very loaded and depends on sooo many things. – Jdahern Jul 22 '15 at 23:20
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Just guesses here until someone with a better handle on this can answer:

Presumably the game is protected by copyright, and you are only granted a license to use that copyrighted intellectual property in accordance with the Terms of Service.

So if you violate the Terms of Service you are guilty of copyright infringement and breach of contract.

Since your comment notes that the company does not earn fees when players run off private servers this could also constitute a tort like trespass to chattels (though this is quite dependent on the nuances of the situation).

It can go downhill pretty severely to the extent that crimes are done online. See, for example, this answer, and look at wire fraud to get an idea.

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    Actually, this is not theft as it does not deprive the owner of the property, it is fraud. – Dale M Jul 21 '15 at 23:43
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    @feetwet Tresspass to Chattels is exactly it. Theft requires the intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of possession. However, a case like this at this time would generally be brought under a Copyright statute - not a tort. – Dale M Jul 22 '15 at 0:28
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    @feetwet A tort is a common law redress for a wrong, i.e. a right deriving from ye olde English custom and practice; breach of copyright is a statutory redress, i.e. a right granted to you by the legislature. I can't really comment on the wire fraud stuff but I think it may fall over for lack of deception. – Dale M Jul 22 '15 at 1:24
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    Copyright infringement is not theft. – Mark Jul 22 '15 at 1:54
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    Given that you also pay for the CD with the software initially it feels somewhat analogous to the "mobile phone locked to one network" issue which has seen a lot of attention from consumer rights advocates. – Flexo Jul 22 '15 at 6:17
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Private server software is not illegal and will never be illegal. The only questionable legitimate use is the database data of a private server. I've looked up, but NPC names and such are not copyright-able. Quest text however is still a question-mark, and will be for a long time, as there has not been any "court case" happened around this specific subject.

There has been also discussion about the 3D world generated from the client data. People think that they are extracted from the game client and used in the server software, which isn't the case. Since the game 3D world data is not compatible with the world library reader, this data has to be parsed, and only the needed data is being inserted in a new file, which is basically modified/changed to be read out by the library. There is no 1:1 copy going on of the 3D world data, as a lot of the information is being left alone. Something new is generated from existing data, so hence it isn't a copyright violation, but it also depends where you are doing this.

All by all, the EULA is only forcible by Blizzard by denying you access to the retail servers and services, but a court case is most likely not suitable with the EULA, in Europe that is at least.

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