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Word on the street is that it's against the EULA to sell Minecraft mods. I took a look at the actual EULA, which they use California/corporate/cutesy/condescending language to say that they don't want you making money off of Minecraft, but list a specific exclusion to that (ads on videos of Minecraft content), and then apparently have some other document that somehow says that you can accept donations but not do sales of mods, which a lot of people refer to, but I can't find a document explaining. There seems to be several details different in what I am reading vs what people are proselytizing about the EULA, so I have questions that are all interrelated.

I came across the story of Physics mod, where a dev quit their job to work on the mod full time and it sounds like Microsoft pulled some strings to have their Patreon account banned. That's why I'm scratching my head about all this after doing some preliminary research.

  1. On what legal basis can Microsoft restrict the sale of mods that they even explain that they don't own in their EULA? This seems strange to begin with, and such a basis would have to be world-wide, which seems to make it even stranger. World-wise legal commonalities are very few and far between, since some people are slaves, some subjects, some citizens, and some a mix of all of those.
  2. Isn't their only course of remedy to ban your account?
  3. If your account is banned, then the EULA doesn't apply, so you can sell mods, right?
  4. How can you own a mod, but immediately, permanently, and irrevocably, give it away to the entirety of the internet? Logic would dedicate that whomever is telling you what to do with "your" mod actually owns it, in this case, Microsoft. Which would mean that you don't own it, Microsoft does.
  5. Given these points, a mod developer could have a public account that got banned, as a sort of honeypot, and then use 1 or more anonymous accounts, or borrow someone else's, if they want to play or test their code. That doesn't happen, or doesn't happen very often. Why not?
  6. Microsoft focuses heavily on "not sharing the game" when talking about mods, a distinction that I don't understand. Especially when mods by definition modify the game. The game binaries are available free of charge for anyone and everyone to download, and it's only after launching them that you can log in, so it seems there is 0 incentive to share a copy of the game. Yet they focus on this to the point it's occasionally part of the launcher screen. Why is this concept so intertwined with a completely different concept (making and distributing mods)?
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Copyright is the reason

Microsoft owns the copyright to the Minecraft code. That gives them exclusive rights to make copies and derivative works. A mod is a derivative work.

Further, copyright is near universal because of the Berne Convention, the countries in blue all respect each other’s copyright:

User:Conscious - Own work. This file was derived from: BlankMap-World6.svg Berne Convention.png

So, you can only make a derivative work if you are Microsoft, have Microsoft’s permission, or fall into one of the copyright exemptions which aren't relevant here. The EULA is the permission Microsoft gives and they set the terms on what you can and can’t do.

If you make a mod without following the terms of the EULA then that is a copyright violation and gives Microsoft the ability to sue you and prevent you from distributions the mod. Copyright in an infringing derivative varies by jurisdiction but in the USA, there is no copyright in the work - so, yes, Microsoft do not own it (but they can prevent its distribution) but neither do you.

Copyright laws allow Microsoft to not only prevent you from distributing the infringing mod, they can prevent anyone from distributing it - that’s how the get people like Patreon to shut down accounts.

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  • I'm not following how Microsoft has any claim to the mod, nor how that's separate from how they can relinquish ownership but still, in essence, retain ownership. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 22:52
  • It seems to me that minecraft mods are the same as the game genie mentioned on one of the wikipedia articles that you linked to. And Game Genie won against Nintendo, and sold it's wares. Although it was making it's mods without Nintendo's EULA saying it was OK. So it seems to me that Microsoft's EULA runs counter to case law. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 23:04
  • A minecraft mod works the same way as a Game Genie; by modifying the running game in memory, not the game stored on disk. Not to mention, I believe Minecraft is set up from "the factory" to accept mods, and has some level of documentation to support them, which just pushes an legal reason for control of the mods by Microsoft into "not legally acceptable" territory. Commented Jun 12, 2023 at 23:04

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