How Far Does Intellectual Property Go?
I don’t know about you, but copyright law is really starting to make me sick. I completely agree with the notion that an individual’s or even a company’s creations must be protected from blatant copying or we will end up seeing the iPed everywhere. But at what point does reasonable protection of intellectual property stop being reasonable? Blizzard signed an exclusive e-sports broadcasting deal for all their games with GOMtv the other day. According to the translator (my Korean is a bit rusty) over at teamliquid.net, “Gom-TV will now have exclusive rights to broadcasting e-Sports matches and tournaments that involves games such as upcoming Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, Brood War, Warcraft 3, WoW and other expansion packs that will go along with these games.”
Did you say exclusive? Is that even legal?
I’m by no means an expert on law, especially not Korean law, but this seems to me like a very odd definition of intellectual property. Sure, licensing is very common in traditional sports but it works in a completely different way. The FIFA for example sells the rights to broadcast their football (soccer for you Americans) games but has no influence over me broadcasting coverage of games I set up on my own. We don’t see the manufacturers of the ball or the athlete’s shoes asking for royalties whenever the ball appears on the screen. The property that is for sale in these games comes from organizing and running the tournaments. Manufacturers of gear already made their money on selling said gear and are likely to make even more sales when their products are featured in the broadcast.
As much as I prefer computer games over physical sports, games don’t seem fundamentally different to equipment required for professional sports. What I am watching on YouTube and Koreans watch on national TV is not the software but the games that are played with it. I have no interest in watching the software itself, I have it at home and can play it whenever I want. What I like to watch is high caliber players duking it out over prize money and listen to a professional commentator while doing so. That’s why something like the finals of the HDH Invitational can get over 40 thousand views in less than a day on YouTube while some random guy frapsing his Starcraft II bronze league gameplay gets fifty in a month.
So please explain to me what possible reasoning there could be for Blizzard, the manufacturers of the tool, to decide who may or may not broadcast games played with it? They already made money on the sale of the game and they get huge publicity through these events which will surely result in even more sales. I suppose that legally they might even have grounds for this due to the removal of LAN multiplayer for the game. If you want to play Starcraft II tournaments (or WoW for that matter) you have to use Blizzard’s infrastructure which technically gives them the rights to decide who may use it and who may not. I’ll leave this one up to the lawyers to decide – but if the law is on Blizzard’s side here, the law needs to be changed.
Law aside, what do such deals mean for an e-sports community? I can’t find out whether the deal is just valid in Korea or worldwide, but I’ll assume the latter is true for the sake of argument. What happens to all the small tournament organizers that try their best to find some prize money and volunteer commentators in order to bring us the best e-sports coverage possible? Would they have to pay royalties to GOMtv (or Blizzard directly if the deal wasn’t exclusive) just to do this? If so, the fledgling e-sports scene would take a huge blow to the head and with it the popularity of the game itself. While I can’t really see Blizzard going after individuals or small groups that do this, a third party (like GOMtv) just might. We have seen Direct TV banning other broadcasts from Blizzcon and Games Workshop suing Curse Gaming over the Warhammer Alliance fansite. This doesn’t bode well at all for the current scene.
In addition to scaring away volunteers, we would also see a decline in sponsored tournaments. A company like Razer would think twice about hosting a tournament for publicity’s sake if they had to pay licensing fees for it or fear the repercussions. As a company, Blizzard is obviously interested mainly in making money and asking for licensing fees sounds like a good way to do this. If they remove smaller operators from the table, however, they might just kill competitive Starcraft II (and their other games as well) in the west. Unlike Korea, Europe and North America really don’t have a huge e-sports scene and such a blow might just kill it. It seems very shortsighted to go for the quick cash of licensing deals instead of the longterm gains involved with good publicity.