Author Topic: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client  (Read 5565 times)

Quinch

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Namely, how would it stand legally? With Icon being fully functional, it would be a great tool to show people just how versatile the character creator is. But this depends entirely on whether it would be legal to do so - we can't afford to lose the moral high ground.

Thoughts?

TimtheEnchanter

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2013, 06:55:10 AM »
Namely, how would it stand legally? With Icon being fully functional, it would be a great tool to show people just how versatile the character creator is. But this depends entirely on whether it would be legal to do so - we can't afford to lose the moral high ground.

Thoughts?

Based on how the SWG emulators are handling it, it's gray area to hand out the software to people. Gray enough that it would give a company far more reason to launch a legal attack than just writing a modded launcher to point to a server running on original code. By only using legit copies of the client, nobody is "pirating" copyrighted assets.

Quinch

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2013, 07:07:10 AM »
So basically, wobbly enough to be more of a liability than an opportunity? I assume the same principle would extend to a stripped-down version of the client {i.e. only containing the files needed for Icon to work}?

TimtheEnchanter

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2013, 07:20:27 AM »
Yeah, I wouldn't recommend it. Perhaps the standalone City of Hero character builder could be modified and used. The EULA on that one might be more lenient on redistribution... IF anyone can find a copy of it.

TonyV

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2013, 07:25:57 AM »
I'm almost certain that it would be illegal to distribute the game client.  However, I'm also almost certain that unless we put up a web site saying, "DOWNLOAD IT HERE!", that is, if people started sharing it amongst themselves, no one would ever get prosecuted for anything for it.  I seriously doubt that NCsoft is paying much attention to what individual players are doing in this area.

Quinch

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2013, 07:28:27 AM »
Got it. Still, since it would be easy for NCsoft or associates/sympathizers to spin it that way, maybe it would be best to nuke this thread.

Golden Girl

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2013, 08:26:55 AM »
This is why I've been telling people not to delete the game - if you still have CoH on your computer, then you have the game files that you legally paid for, downloaded and installed when you first bought the game.
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Quinch

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2013, 08:30:00 AM »
Technically, anyone could have downloaded the client for free.

The Fifth Horseman

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #8 on: January 01, 2013, 02:12:03 PM »
Yeah, I wouldn't recommend it. Perhaps the standalone City of Hero character builder could be modified and used. The EULA on that one might be more lenient on redistribution... IF anyone can find a copy of it.
NCSoft was cracking down on redistribution of that one as well. It's not fully compatible with the current data either.
Technically, anyone could have downloaded the client for free.
Technically yes, but NCsoft still controlled the distribution and usage. You'll find that many companies can - and will - object to people passing on further things they themselves are giving out for free. It's a question of control.
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Peregrine Falcon

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #9 on: January 01, 2013, 02:58:01 PM »
"Is it legal" is a difficult question. There are almost two hundred different countries on this planet, all with their own set of laws and legal precedents. So let's just stick with the United States and the European Union. Also it just depends on exactly what you're planning on distributing, and how.

You can write and distribute your own code. If this bit of code allows me to modify my City of Heroes client on my own machine and then access the character creator, or any other part of the game, that is completely legal. So even if this code allowed me to play the entire game, on my computer, it'd be completely legal in those two countries. Even if you sold this program/bit of code for money it'd still be legal.

It might be against the EULA, but that only allows NCSoft to stop allowing me to access their servers, which they've already done.

Now, if the code that you write contains a portion of the CoH IP, like mission text, then that is actionable. Meaning that they could sue the person/company in order to get them to cease distributing this code. This is how companies shut down private servers. Running a private MMO server is not itself in any way illegal. It's the use of their IP without their permission that is the problem.

Likewise if what you sell/distribute for free contains a portion of the CoH code then that is also actionable. They own the code just like they own the IP and you can't sell it, or even distribute it, without their consent.

That being said, if a single person puts a copy of the unmodified CoH client up on the internet and allows people to download it for free, NCSoft probably won't bother to sue. It's not worth their time and money. And a good attorney might be able to convince a judge that since NCSoft allowed us to download the client for free from their site then they have no legal right to stop us from distributing the client for free. This would set a precedent that no MMO company wants so it would actually be against their interests to sue in order to stop free distribution of the unmodified client. Which doesn't mean that they might not try to stop it anyway.

Anyway, this is why I've posted in the past that if anyone does manage to get a private server up and running that they should have it running on a server that's physically located in one of the myriad nations that won't cooperate with the US and SK. In this way the server would be legal "in that country" and there'd be nothing that NCSoft could do about it unless they want to spend a lot of money bribing local officials.

P.S. Nothing that I've said should be in any way be construed as legal advice. If you're planning on distributing or producing anything then you should disregard everything I've said and speak to a qualified attorney in your local area.
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Little Green Frog

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #10 on: January 01, 2013, 03:03:04 PM »
yes, but NCsoft still controlled the distribution and usage. You'll find that many companies can - and will - object to people passing on further things they themselves are giving out for free. It's a question of control.

This is true but just because a company deems something illegal, it doesn't automatically make it so. Have in mind that it is a well known and widely abused scare tactic to send letters filled with threatening legal lingo to people to whip them into submission even though the basis for the claims is questionable or has never been proven in court.

Back to the original question: the answer is somewhat complicated and relies on many factors. First it depends where the server hosting the files is located as it usually the law of the country it is physically placed that regulates such things. What would be illegal in US, could be legal in EU and vice versa.

Second, well, for years the game was distributed for free and was widely available from NCsoft servers as well as many unauthorized mirrors. In case NCsoft would be interested in pursuing a person who is distributing the game client now that the game servers are closed, they would need to prove that the act of closing the servers somehow changed things and that the court should ban something that they previously deemed perfectly okay for 8 consecutive years. I think they would be at a disadvantage here.

Third, what is the worst thing that could happen to you if you were to host, got dragged you to court and lost? The most likely outcome would be that the court would tell you to stop redistributing the file and that's it. There are no damages to speak of, since the client never generated money for the company and I am assuming you weren't taking money for it either.

In truth, I doubt that NCsoft would take any real legal action, though. Most likely they would send you a few angry letters if they knew who you are in the first place and if that didn't work, tried to argue with the hosting company that the file should be taken down. If that failed as well, they'd probably give up.

So to sum it up - you probably won't get a merit badge for it, but illegality of you redistributing the game client is doubtful and it would be up to NCsoft to prove it.

edit: whoops, Peregrine Falcon beat me to it.

Starsman

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2013, 05:54:38 PM »
For the sake of the community: please stop the cultural "research" in your attempt to put blame on the game's cancelation.

It's sickening to see the community sink that low. It's worse to see the community does not get it.

I'm signing off and taking a break, blindly hope things change.

Little Green Frog

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2013, 07:12:08 PM »
It would be up to the court appropriate for the country the server is located in to determine the illegality of hosting such file. There is no defendant yet. Also I am not a judge. Maybe you are, but your statements are not legally binding. So instead of getting into pointless argument, I will simply try to straighten up a few misconceptions in your post.

Anyways: again, no grayness, no complications, this will be illegal on the US, Europe and any country that has a trade agreement with the US.

First, the world does not operate under US law. Second, EU has no unified copyright law - every member country regulates these issues individually. This is one of the reasons the ACTA initiative was created - to make the trade and copyright law across well developed countries more universal. It failed, though, due to the public outrage in most European countries and the EU Parliament subsequently canned it.

I want to repeat this bit just for clarity: the illegality is not doubtful in any way. It would be illegal. No "buts" about it.

Your legal assumptions can work only if US law is applied (okay, maybe, I am not really buying it), but again, the world does not operate under US law.

Again, to clear this bit up: not true. As a copyright owner, I have full power to discontinue distribution.

Do you? Let's assume you own the rights to a work of a famous writer. Do you expect every bookstore and library to remove a book you have published from their shelves and burn it just because you say so? Of course not. However, as the debacle with the Kindle edition of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four shows, copyright owners would really love it if they could do just that in the digital world. The difference being in the physical world the copy already exists, while in the digital world the copy is being produced on demand, by sending bits over a wire. Currently no country has a definite answer how to tackle this problem and differences in what is and what isn't permitted vary greatly even in such perceivedly homogenous legal environment as EU.

Actually what we are discussing here is nothing new. It's been ran to the ground before in regards to so called abandonware. Which, may I remind you, is still scattered all over internet. Abandonware is not a legal term, although I have not heard about a single successful lawsuit against an abandonware hosting website. Can CoH client be treated as abandonware for practical purposes? I believe there is no difference between it and any other piece of perceivedly abandoned software hosted by one of many dedicated websites.

Only stance this can be legal is if you physically live in a country that likely is already under some trade embargo, or very awkward legal stance with the US or EU, something that would make it hard for you to even get a game account before cancelation too.

I may sound like a broken record, but the world does not operate under US law and EU is not a homogenous legal environment.

edit: clarity
« Last Edit: January 03, 2013, 07:31:38 PM by Little Green Frog »

Starsman

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #13 on: January 03, 2013, 07:33:22 PM »
For the sake of the community: please stop the cultural "research" in your attempt to put blame on the game's cancelation.

It's sickening to see the community sink that low. It's worse to see the community does not get it.

I'm signing off and taking a break, blindly hope things change.

Little Green Frog

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2013, 08:57:44 PM »

Starsman

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #15 on: January 03, 2013, 09:23:23 PM »
For the sake of the community: please stop the cultural "research" in your attempt to put blame on the game's cancelation.

It's sickening to see the community sink that low. It's worse to see the community does not get it.

I'm signing off and taking a break, blindly hope things change.

dwturducken

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #16 on: January 03, 2013, 10:57:03 PM »
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Little Green Frog

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #17 on: January 04, 2013, 12:09:23 AM »

Starsman

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #18 on: January 04, 2013, 12:43:01 AM »
Depends on the claim. If the accuser wants to prosecute you for sharing the file, he makes the case based on your country of residence at the moment an alleged infringement was committed. However if they want to take the file down, and that is usually the case, laws of the country the server is physically located in applies. If they were really determined, they could go for both.

The file be damned, if there is a legal threat I don't care if the file is taken down as long as there is no chance that *I* am taken to court for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I think most people here share that priority.
For the sake of the community: please stop the cultural "research" in your attempt to put blame on the game's cancelation.

It's sickening to see the community sink that low. It's worse to see the community does not get it.

I'm signing off and taking a break, blindly hope things change.

Little Green Frog

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Re: A question for the resident legal eagles: Distributing the CoH client
« Reply #19 on: January 04, 2013, 12:45:00 AM »
The file be damned, if there is a legal threat I don't care if the file is taken down as long as there is no chance that *I* am taken to court for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I think most people here share that priority.

That's why I say do not advertise who you are. And choose carefully the country the server is physically located. If you do your research, you are pretty much out of legal reach.