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Programming Businesses The Courts

Sued Freelancer Allegedly Turns Over Contractee Source Code In Settlement 130

FriendlySolipsist writes: Blizzard Entertainment has been fighting World of Warcraft bots for years. TorrentFreak reports that Bossland, a German company that operates "buddy" bots, alleges Blizzard sued one of its freelancers and forced a settlement. As part of that settlement, the freelancer allegedly turned over Bossland's source code to Blizzard. In Bossland's view, their code was "stolen" by Blizzard because it was not the freelancer's to disclose. This is a dangerous precedent for freelance developers in the face of legal threats: damned if you do, damned if you don't.
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Sued Freelancer Allegedly Turns Over Contractee Source Code In Settlement

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  • by Luthair ( 847766 ) on Saturday November 21, 2015 @02:42PM (#50976417)
    For copyright infringement
    • It says in the article that they intend to sue Blizzard:

      Bossland, meanwhile, says it will sue Blizzard in Germany next week hoping to get a copy of the deal the company made with its freelancer, and under what terms the code was shared.

      Presumably once the terms of the deal are disclosed further suits will follow. Personally, I'm with the bot maker on this one. Blizzard is entitled to take action against the bot maker within the bounds of the law, but it is not entitled to steal the source code. If it's okay for Blizzard to steal other people's intellectual property, then I hope they're okay with people pirating their games.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Xicor ( 2738029 )

        most likely they took it as a way to implement security against the same sort of code in the future. it would be like the government forcing someone to give up their malware code as a part of a plea deal and then using it to create more security. i dont see anything wrong with this as long as they arent using the source code to do its intended purpose.

        • by Cederic ( 9623 )

          i dont see anything wrong with this as long as they arent using the source code to do its intended purpose.

          So you think that fences should never be prosecuted for handling stolen goods?

          The contractor had no rights to the code, and so could not legally hand it to Blizzard. Blizzard will have known this. As a result they may be guilty of coercing someone into breaking the law.

          What they use the code for is utterly fucking irrelevant.

          • I don't see how you arrive at your conclusion unless you believe Blizzard had the contract at hand. They don't know what the arrangement was between the contractor and the company. The contractor may own full rights to the software. In any case Blizzard doesn't intend to compete with rival bots. I'm sure they just want to see how the bot works so they can figure out how best to detect and block any bots based off this code.
            • by Cederic ( 9623 )

              In any case Blizzard doesn't intend to [totally irrelevant shit]

              Blizzard can ask for what they like, but if they accept code that doesn't belong to the contractor then they're misbehaving. Why are you struggling to comprehend that the reason they want the code does not alter that simple fact?

              • by KGIII ( 973947 )

                At first blush, I don't think there's much to be done with Blizzard without making the freelancer also *more* guilty due to copyright infringement. So far, Blizzard just has a copy which they've neither distributed nor published or anything.

                Besides, this is Slashdot. It's just a copy and information wants to be free. Up above, you mentioned theft. Copyright violations aren't theft, according to most folks here.

                • Quick question.

                  What makes the way Blizzard obtained this copyrighted material any different than you or I downloading Blizzard's copyrighted material from some torrent site or something? I mean in both situations, the distribution was not authorized by law.

                  • by KGIII ( 973947 )

                    Not a whole lot? Neither of which is theft by definition, though I suppose I could argue that it was deprivation of business potential but that's not too important. Either way, 'tis copyright infringement. More importantly, in neither of these actions are the third party any less guilty, they're not indemnified by our guilt but made more culpable because of it.

          • The contractor was probably ordered by a court order to hand over the code. The contractor cannot be penalized for following a legal court order. I don't know if Bossforce even has a claim to any supposedly illegal property that changed hands by legal order.

          • by Shinobi ( 19308 )

            Unless a contract has very specific provisions for transfer of copyright, a freelancer/contractor retains the copyright of the source code. In many cases, what the clients receive as part of the contract is a license for use or distribution, sometimes an exclusive license.

        • by Calydor ( 739835 )

          it would be like the government forcing someone to give up their malware code as a part of a plea deal and then using it to create more security. i dont see anything wrong with this

          Blizzard is NOT the government. They are a company, nothing more.

      • Blizzard is entitled to take action against the bot maker within the bounds of the law

        Really? Is there any law against bots, can Blizzard do anything?
        They can ban players if they put it in the Eula, but I don't see how they can do anything against the programmers.

        • There have been a few attempts to apply the basic idea of copyright to lock down derivative works, APIs, and other oblique uses of the original material. If you're not careful you can run into trademark issues as well. These suits tend to rely on dubious legal technicalities, but the trouble with dubious legal technicalities is that they are still what the letter of the law actually says, so a lot of things that seem like they shouldn't be affected by intellectual property laws as originally envisaged can i

        • While this is not really a big enough deal to interest the feds... not only is there a law, it is among the oldest of laws related to computers.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_Fraud_and_Abuse_Act

          Violations of the following parts would likely make it past a grand jury (although it would not exactly be the most solid case.)
            18 U.S.C. 1030
          (2) (c)
          (4)
          (5) (b)
          (5) (c)

          • With "protected computer" meaning the servers of Blizzard? Could work, though this case was in Germany afaik and should not fall under US law.
            • The original suit filed by blizzard was in the US, but they cannot file suit using that law as it is criminal. They would need to get a prosecutor to take it up on behalf of the state, and it is likely not a big enough deal to do that (nor should they, this is better handled as a civil suit.)

              They may have some difficulty in Germany, as while I am not familiar with German law it is usually required that the issue the court will decide has taken place in that country. It is my understanding that all of this

          • In Germany we have a paragraph about tools for copyright infringement and one for password stealing tools. Also having paragraphs for spying on data, deleting data and sabotaging computers. I think we really have nothing that fits.
      • What makes me curious is why the JUDGE signed off on it in the first place. It obviously had an adverse effect on a third party's legal rights and you'd think the judge presiding over the settlement would know that.

    • by cshark ( 673578 )

      For copyright infringement

      Recursive copyright infringement, no less.

  • Well, not quite (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cerberusss ( 660701 ) on Saturday November 21, 2015 @03:04PM (#50976539) Homepage Journal

    This is a dangerous precedent for freelance developers in the face of legal threats: damned if you do, damned if you don't.

    Well, not quite. I'm a freelancer. Would I work for a client that is a bad citizen in their particular niche? No, I don't think so.

    I'm not a gamer, but if I understand correctly these bots give you an unfair advantage and are forbidden by Blizzard. Yeah well, don't look surprised if the shit hits the fan at some point.

    • by khasim ( 1285 )

      Or, if you are going to base your business model on doing something even borderline questionable ... do the work yourself. Don't hire freelancers. Don't outsource development.

    • I don't have sympathy for people selling modifications to a game which the maker of the game says are illegal. Hell, if you are found to be using mods many sites ban your account, often permanently and without a refund.

      I don't game like I used to, but when I do I refuse to play on-line FPS games. That refusal has at least something to do with the aim bot mods people use to install just to have their name in a high score list somewhere. You could truly be amazingly agile and great at a game, but I have ex

      • I refuse to play on-line FPS games... I have experienced cheats so find it hard to assume the best.

        Can't you just play with friends you know? And for playing against cheats, you just have to be the best cheat. You can always invoke Captain Kirk...

      • by ShaunC ( 203807 )

        I don't have sympathy for people selling modifications to a game which the maker of the game says are illegal.

        s/game/car/g

        Out of curiosity, does your opinion change any?

        • I don't have sympathy for people selling modifications to a game which the maker of the game says are illegal.

          s/game/car/g
          Out of curiosity, does your opinion change any?

          Why should it? That's already offensive in racing. If someone is using disallowed parts, they're cheaters. On the street, why would anyone care, unless your car is emitting a bunch of nastiness?

        • by s.petry ( 762400 )
          Does my opinion change due to a false dichotomy? Not in the slightest.
        • Are they selling an object like a car or a service like access to a fairground?

          Even ignoring quasi-legal arguments like software licensing, I'm inclined to feel this is an example of the latter.

          This is not like selling costume packs for Skyrim, where both parties were involved in a transaction presented as a purchase of an object (again, legal arguments like licensing aside - user buys a box called "Skyrim", expects that to be the end of their relationship with Bethesda and Bethesda expected that to be

    • I have about this -->||<-- much sympathy for Bossland.

      The code in question allowed users to violate a very reasonable clause in Blizzard's TOS: Don't cheat or use 'bots.

      I hope that now Blizz can analyze the code and go after the users of said 'bots, which I'm sure is their intention behind getting the code.

      Hopefully they'll go after the freelancers behind the other game's bots.

    • by raymorris ( 2726007 ) on Saturday November 21, 2015 @08:25PM (#50978035) Journal

      I'm 100% with you on that. For 15 years I was kind of a freelancer, runnung a three-person shop most of that time. Certain people we didn't do business with because they were devious or deceptive. Not necessarily -criminal-, but certainly not upstanding citizens who were careful to always do the right thing.

      I've seen a lot of people get burned by associating with the wrong people, from business issues related to associates who push the limits of spam to charges of drug dealing against someone who hung around drug dealers and hookers. Sometimes the slimeball burns you, sometimes the slimeball gets involved with another slimeball who burns you, sometimes you're collateral damage when the authorities go after the slimeballs. All too often, when you lay with dogs you wake up with fleas, one way or another.

    • As someone who was formerly a consultant I was asked to do illegal projects every once in a while (ranging from "go tap and monitor all telecommunications traffic to this address" to "build this sports betting site" to "crack this software" to "lie under oath as an expert" to "retrieve our competitors source code").

      Vetting your clients and their projects is part of that line of work, and is the responsibility of the contractor or their organization. You fail to do this at your peril, it can and does end in

  • by Bengie ( 1121981 ) on Saturday November 21, 2015 @03:10PM (#50976563)
    It is illegal to ask someone to violate a contract unless ordered by a judge.
  • ... Fees and argued it was not his code to disclose instead of leaving him hanging and a forced settlement. Problem solved the 1st time around instead of trying to not spend money in hopes the contractor can spend pay for defense all the way through court.

  • by flopsquad ( 3518045 ) on Saturday November 21, 2015 @04:01PM (#50976809)
    It's not immediately clear from the short search I did, but I'm working on the assumption that Apoc was sued in a US court (and that the legal proceedings between Bossland and Blizzard have been in German courts).

    If that's the case, Apoc and Bossland screwed the pooch on this. Because Bossland (and its IP) is the real party in interest in the Apoc case, they had a right to intervene in the Apoc case. The argument boils down to "Hey you can't sue $randomGuy seeking $myStuff without me being involved; I have a right to fight this even though I'm not the original defendant." And likewise, Apoc had the right to try and rope in Bossland, on the flip side argument, "Whoa, I'm not the droid you're after, and what you're asking for isn't even mine."

    It would seem that either:
    -Bossland didnt know (that a freelancer possessing their entire code base was being sued by the object of all their bot programs??), or

    -Bossland didn't want to cede personal jurisdiction in the US (very complex and nuanced, and there are plenty of creative arguments Blizzard could have used to get what it wanted, esp. with the source code stored by Apoc in the US), or, most likely,

    -Apoc just freaked out and (too) quickly said "Blaaaaaughhh here take the source code go away!"

    In any case, Bossland's claim of copyright infringement seems tenuous against Blizzard. If anyone, it was Apoc who infringed (and maybe broke non-disclosure) by distributing a copy of the code to Blizzard. But there's little point in Bossland suing its freelancer. Blizzard did probably make copies of their own, and so there's an interesting question as to whether Bossland could get them for infringement there.

    Also, contrary to TFS, settlements may set behavioral precedents, but they don't set legal precedents.
    • by Kjella ( 173770 )

      In any case, Bossland's claim of copyright infringement seems tenuous against Blizzard. If anyone, it was Apoc who infringed (and maybe broke non-disclosure) by distributing a copy of the code to Blizzard. But there's little point in Bossland suing its freelancer. Blizzard did probably make copies of their own, and so there's an interesting question as to whether Bossland could get them for infringement there.

      If they made copies, then yes. Copyright is a strict liability offense in the US, even if you can prove you had good faith reason to believe you weren't infringing it only reduces damages, it's not a defense.

    • by EQ ( 28372 )
      Not copyright, but trade secret misappropriation. The Uniform Trade Secrets Act is where to start. In California, its codified under Section 3426 to 3426.11 of the California Civil Code. What may trip up Blizz in this case is Misappropriation - "Acquisition of a trade secret of another by a person who knows or has reason to know that the trade secret was acquired by improper means." And that includes "Derived from or through a person who owed a duty to the person seeking relief to maintain its secrecy or l
  • in the first place? If he did have it then he should have had it illegally. I don't get to keep the code I write for my job, and for damn good reason. If someone tried to get me to give it up (such as it is :P ) I'd refer them to my employer.
    • by Shinobi ( 19308 )

      It depends entirely on the contract. Unless the contract has specific provisions for transfer of copyright, as a freelancer you generally retain copyright of your work and the client receives a license to use and/or distribute, sometimes an exclusive license. So no, it does not have to be illegal.

      Actual employment changes things, however, because then you are working as part of the legal entity that hired you, and the work you do is considered the property of the legal entity.

      • Thanks for explaining that. I was wondering throughout the thread as to why he would have the code. Mostly because of "In Bossland's view, their code was "stolen" by Blizzard because it was not the freelancer's to disclose." Which doesn't explain who actually owns the rights to it. I suppose in that contract you would have writing on what the client receives. be it source code or just compiled code.
  • incorporate to remove personal liability. Though, in this case, I'm not sure it would be applicable to business assets, such as the source code. That is a sticky one.
  • If there were material agreements in place att he signing of the freelance work, then that is not anything new.

    However, if there was no agreements in place with regards to material ownership and the court is forced to interpret, yeah...that could be a problem.

  • If the code wasn't his, or he was under contract to keep it secret (NDA for example), then the court can either, UNDER ITS OWN COGNIZANCE, break the contract or force giving up the code. So the contractor is in the clear, AS LONG AS THE COURT ASSERTS IT MUST.

    Blizzard may, being the recipients of someone else's code without license (and the court cannot grant that license without explicitly granting that license from the owner to Blizzard) are in trouble, though, since they are now in copyright theft trouble

  • A cheater got cheated. Not feeling any sympathy.
  • Any freelancer should know that signing an NDA and touching any proprietary code puts him in danger.
    And better do not work with companies which want to keep their code secret.

    There should be big difficulty for the companies that do not publish their code under some kind of OpenSource license to get skilled developers.

    Of course this case doesn't place employed developers in danger. They cannot disclose the code, which they touch only in the office.

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