Whether Private Servers for World of Warcraft is legal, is a question that gets asked a lot. The reason is that there's no simple answer for it, as it's a bit of a grey zone to host a WoW Server. But players playing on a WoW Server (not retail) have not been punished so far. There is also no indications that it will give laws problems in the future either, to be playing on Private Servers. We will elaborate below. For the server owners (the people behind - running the wow servers), it's however another story.
When playing on World of Warcraft, you're paying for a monthly subscription, and there's an end user license agreement. With the fanservers for wow, it's a different story, as it's free to play. But don't worry, as a player, you do not get in any legal trouble or any sort of court case. The reason being that it's not illegal for players to be playing on WoW Private Servers. It's against Blizzard's EULA and ToS, but it's not offending any law that can get you in trouble. As a player, this means that you should lay low on advertising that you're playing on a private server. That is only relevant, if you have a retail account, as Blizzard may terminate your account, if you talk about fanservers while playing retail. But besides from that, there's nothing illegal about playing on one. This means that gamers are not the ones getting in trouble.
Keep in mind that it has been reported that people have gotten complains from their ISP's when downloading the client for World of Warcraft, on older versions of the game. Therefore, we always recommend using a VPN when downloading the client, but besides from that - you're good to go. When you want to play on WoW Servers, you must have a game client in order to get ingame.
That is where things get a little complicated. Hosting a WoW Private Server is technically a copyright infringement, involving server software by developers and server owners. You also use the client files, and that's a violation. This means that Blizzard can file a complaint to the server-owners (or more realistically, to the host provider where the game is hosted at). This usually happens through an email. The reason being that Blizzard owns the rights reserved to World of Warcraft. But in general, many hosting providers take these DMCA reports for private servers very lightly, especially if they are not US based. Some of the biggest servers run on hosts that are located in Europe, for example OVH - being in France, and they have not been closed down. They have certainly received copyright infringements from Blizzard related companies, but have ignored them. The copyright laws are also different for each country. And Blizzard/the trading mark companies, have not done anything further.
In other words, it's very normal that Blizzard file copyright complains towards the hosting provider running the particular WoW Server they are 'targeting'. But it's very unlikely that Blizzard takes the next step, in case their emails are being ignored. It has only happened with the private server called WoW-Scape, which resulted in a law-suit, but the owner was also US origin based. WoWScape was also a wow server, that Blizzard took in court case, and was judged to pay a lot of money as a fee. But historically, there have not been any other court cases. This includes court cases for server owners, nor for people reverse engineering the game client, touching the database data or the server code involving World of Warcraft.
The reason is that the owners of the WoW Servers (and the host company they use) simply ignore Blizzard's copyright complains, and Blizzard don't proceed after that. The reason why Blizzard, who has made the game World of Warcraft, does not take further actions is something you can question. The main reason is however that it's extremely resource heavy, as it will require a law-suit, and a lot of money to proceed such a case. As you might know, a lot of things get pirated nowadays' (software, movies.. etc), and it's not that easy to get rid of. The case is not different for Private Servers. Simply because some countries don't follow the same copyright rules as the US, making it very complicated for Blizzard to proceed. This way, it's easier for server owners running wow servers, to prevent court cases, and that is basically the reason why Private Servers continue to exist.
At Zremax, we personally believe that this won't change. A WoW Private Server will continue to run just like now, and blizzard won't take further actions other than 'scare letters' through emails. It's too resource heavy for them to go after wow servers, and the whole scene is just a very grey area. Perhaps, Private Servers even promote some people to get back to Retail, when gamers are tired of playing on the fanservers. Several countries (Iceland, Russia etc.) take copy issues more lightly than for example the US. This way the server owners can bypass the copyright law, and continue to run their wow server, even though it's a private server.
World of Warcraft has existed since 2004 officially, and have gone through several expansions. If you think about it, that 's a very long time. Some of the game versions were liked more than others. But they have one thing in common. Gamers miss certain expansions. And there's no way to get back playing at them officially, if you want to follow Blizzard's EULA. It's however possible, by playing on Private Servers, as you will be able to log into wow servers that aren't necessarily on the latest patch.
Whether it's ethical to be playing World of Warcraft on private servers, is a very subjective question. Some people follow the law in every way they can, and care a lot about Blizzard's EULA and ToS. Other gamers and people running the private servers for World of Warcraft, may not care as much about it. Either that, or the itch to get back into old wow expansions weights heavier. Either way, it's a subjective question and can only be answered by the individual. At Zremax, we have seen people who disgraces private servers, but also people who love both World of Warcraft and also private servers.
Playing on the fanservers, which are also known as Private Servers for World of Warcraft are not illegal for players. But it does go against Blizzard's ToS and Blizzard EULA. Therefore, you should watch out for your account when playing on a Private Server and stay anonymous. Don't use the same email on retail, as on Private Servers, when you sign up for an account. Running and owning a wow server is a grey area, but can be argued to be illegal as running a private server is a copyright infringement. Private Servers definitely also go against blizzard's eula and Terms of Service. But closing the private servers is not as easy, as it may sound. It's likely not worth it for Blizzard, to be closing the wow private servers, because it's resource heavy. You could also argue that you would want Blizzard to focus on making World of Warcraft even better as a game, instead of focusing on going against Private Servers. If Blizzard make their game good enough, maybe Private WoW Servers might even die out by themselves, naturally.
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