Escaping the Rune Realm Anti-Circumvention Patrol.

An argument lost, an opportunity renewed.  Way back, before online multiplayer games were so viral, copyright interests made comments against passage of the DMCA.  Particularly questioned were prohibitions on DRM circumvention measures, but the DMCA, with those prohibitions, was enacted by Congress.
Just filed is a case making a most interesting accusation under the DMCA.  Owners of the online game RuneScape® sued claiming damages from ‘bots’ and ‘scripts’ that allegedly “circumvent security measures” that the owners intended to “protect its copyrighted works.”  The suit is Jagex v. Impulse Software filed in federal court in Boston. http://bit.ly/8Y4a4a
Never played this game, so only the complaint and the news guide my thoughts.  One concern with adding a prohibition against any “technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected” by copyright, was it might be extended to protect what is not protected by copyright. 
A fair difference can be seen between hacking in to use copyrighted, password-protected software [being bad], and modifying uncopyrighted software, which comes in a box with a copyrighted picture on it. 
In this new suit, there is no claim that the game software is copyrighted – rather, there are visual elements that are copyrighted – a “fish icon,” a “pickaxe icon,” etc.  That provoked the question whether the ‘bots’ let you access these icons, when the real gripe is access to uncopyrighted game routines.
A story in a London newspaper said one wondrous aspect of the game was that no special software was needed – it works within any browser.  Also, the complaint says that the software is “accessed using a web browser to interact with servers in” the UK.  That suggests that users “interact” with software resident on servers outside the territory of U.S. copyright, and so, unlike a player in the U.S. licensing downloaded game software to use.
One further observation is that the complaint enters that realm of infringement by contract – that any departure from ‘terms & conditions’ agreed to by users becomes transformed into an infringement of copyright.  A gameplayer agrees not to use bots or scripts to “gain an unfair advantage,” but the suit is not pleaded against the mighty horde of game players.  If a player cheats, the RuneScape masters remedy should be banishment from the realm.

The DMCA’s anti-circumvention prohibitions have gained strength in the few cases that have considered various “technological” measures to control “access” to copyrighted work.  We will have to think that this case will write a further chapter in the DRM gamebook.