Before we begin, I have to make one point very clear. Blizzard's World of Warcraft User Interface Addon Policy is not law. It is a set of guidelines and rules that Blizzard reserves the right to modify and enforce within its virtual world as part of the End User License Agreement everyone agrees to when you enter the game. No one is breaking the law by charging for an addon. However, we will be discussing the legal concept of licensing, so I hope this won't be too confusing for people.
Let's start with a little history of the Addon Policy, and then get to the meat of the matter. In March of 2009, Blizzard added the User Interface Addon Policy, most notably removing the ability for addon developers to charge for their addons, developers could not create "premium" versions of addons for pay, developers had to have their code free and available, and developers could not solicit donations for their addons in game (on their websites or addon depo sites like Curse were okay, however.) Many people believe the addon changes were a direct result of Carbonite, a leveling and quest helper addon that charged a premium price for greater functionality in the addon.
Carbonite became the target of Blizzard's concern when advertisements for Carbonite's premium version began to appear in the free version of the addon. Shortly thereafter, the Addon Policy hit. Blizzard rightfully does not want a third party scamming their userbase with addons for money, even if the addons are legitimate. Up until this point as well, the best leveling guides for World of Warcraft were in PDF format or on websites for pay, where addons were not part of the deal. TourGuide, Tekkub's titular addon of this article and addon at the heart of the impending controversy, had been released already at this time and was using guides to help people level, for free.
After the new UI policy was introduced, Carbonite shortly thereafter stopped their premium service and continued to update the addon for free, relying on a donation model instead. Other addon developers such as Zygor, who has been a WoW name since beta, had been selling leveling and money-making guides for years to players and was not phased by the new addon changes, proclaiming in the ZygorGuides FAQ that Zygor Guides was immune to Blizzard's new policy, stating that "our in-game mod complies with Blizzards [sic] policies regarding modifications to the game. Your account will not get banned."
Certain guide sellers, most notably Dugi at ultimatewowguide.com, began to use TourGuide to promote their paid leveling guides. Tekkub fought back, denouncing their use of modified, non-licensed code and requested that TourGuide be pulled from their site. Tekkub, in a post entitled "Clearing the Air" on his blog, stated:
Naturally, I contacted Dugi and asked him to remove the modified version and link people to the official TourGuide downloads. Dugi expressed concern over the included guides "confusing" his users and did mention licensing, but I did not pursue the matter. I was not interested in doing business with someone that would rebrand my code without permission, or without even asking. Simply put, he should have come to me about licensing before he started selling his guide.
At this point, Tekkub was approached by Zygor, who was looking to become the exclusive licensee of TourGuide for use in his for pay in-game leveling guide. Tekkub received much flak from his community of dedicated TourGuide users, and continued to make his case to the public:
During negotiations I made it clear that my concerns were for my users who had downloaded TourGuide from WoWInterface or Curse. Also I wanted to protect the addon in case the contract were to expire without renewal, so that I could go back to releasing it for free. We were able to reach an agreement that satisfied us both, Zygor got rights to TourGuide while under contract, I got paid for my code, and I will retain rights when the contract ends. Zygor is offering TG up to his users legitimately, and we may work out a deal for me to work on TG while under contract if there is a positive response from his userbase. Zygor has assured me that he holds no ill-will towards my current userbase of free users, and doesn't wish to hinder those players that already have TourGuide installed on their systems.
So now, at this point in time, TourGuide's code is licensed exclusively to Zygor, and TourGuide is unable to be downloaded from sites like Curse or WoWInterface as they were voluntarily removed by the creator. Currently, at this moment, the only way to legitimately get TourGuide is to purchase a Zygor leveling guide. [Updated: Zygor informs me that, currently, TourGuide is not being distributed to his paying customers. At this point, TourGuide is being distributed to no one.]
After the TourGuide acquisition, Zygor (John Cook) made this post on his forums discussing TourGuide's now exclusive status:
This is Zygor here to inform everyone of some exciting news!
Over the past few months, we have received many requests for our guide viewer to function like the popular add-on TourGuide. Instead of developing another viewer from scratch, we decided it would be better to offer TourGuide itself. We wanted to make sure we did this the proper way by taking all necessary measures to acquire the legal rights to TourGuide from its developer, and we will soon offer TourGuide as a secondary option for users who prefer the TourGuide interface and hope to have it available for download soon at no additional charge.
We will still use and update our custom built Zygor Guide Viewer and that will remain the official recommended viewer for our guides. Offering TourGuide as well is just something we wanted to do in response to the outpour of requests from the community.
Notice: If you are a prospective buyer looking to purchase a leveling guide, we feel it necessary to advise you of our recent acquisition of TourGuide. We are now the sole and exclusive owner of TourGuide and you can only use TourGuide if you have acquired it from us.
Recently, we have discovered that other websites have been distributing TourGuide in violation of our legal rights. Though we have taken steps to remove TourGuide from these websites, it is our belief that they may be continuing to distribute TourGuide files to customers via email by renaming them as their own. This is an infringement of our copyrights. In response to these violations, we intend to pursue action against any and all such infringers to the fullest extent of the law.
We are dedicated to ensuring the World of Warcraft marketplace remains safe for potential buyers and appreciate your continuing support.
In addition, Zygor stated that at some point in the future, TourGuide would be released again, free, for public consumption. He also stated something interesting -- TourGuide was not replacing the proprietary addon used in Zygor's leveling guides, but was being used as an alternative for people who preferred the TourGuide style:
"Just so it is clear, TourGuide will not be replacing our Zygor Guide Viewer, it will just be offered as an alternative option. This is part of our commitment to offer customers as many options as possible.
TourGuide is more lightweight and minimalist, and it only displays one line of information at a time. It doesn't have the majority of unique features our Zygor Guide Viewer has but some people prefer the "less is more" approach."
This is where TourGuide stands now -- TourGuide is currently unavailable for new users and Zygor continues to hold the exclusive right to TourGuide through licensing of Tekkub's code. I got to sit down with Tekkub and ask him many questions about the state of addons, addons in general, for pay addons and the deal with Zygor. After the interview, I will give my thoughts on the subject and discuss the Blizzard Addon Policy ramifications.