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The Lawbringer: A very special cake


Pop law abounds in The Lawbringer, your weekly dose of WoW, the law, video games and the MMO genre. Mathew McCurley takes you through the world running parallel to the games we love and enjoy, full of rules, regulations, and esoteroic topics that slip through the cracks.

Welcome back to The Lawbringer, where any esoteric or wacky topic concerning Blizzard gets a home or at least some tenuous connection to the law or rules in some fashion. Today's column is not the continuation of last week's column, which will be coming up soon, but rather addresses a very interesting email about a very special cake.

Reader Luotian sent me an email with a very special question. Luotian has a question regarding the ability to take an image/screenshot of a World of Warcraft character and have it placed as the design on a birthday cake. The cake shop says that it won't do copyrighted images, but Luotian really wants this WoW cake. I think you guys will like this topic.

Oh, and Kil'jaeden is at the top of the article because if I had to choose who to have on my WoW cake, it would be him.

The email that started it all from Luotian had me smiling the moment I read it. Sometimes topics that are fun and natural to discuss don't really enter the old cortex because of the fact that you thought you'd discussed that particular subject already. It's so simple that we have to have already talked about this! ... Apparently not.

Hey there McCurley,

I have a bit of a question for you that I have a hunch has a semi-complicated answer. For my birthday, I would love a picture of my main toon on my birthday cake. Now, the thing is, the place I would have this done at cannot use copyrighted images to put on a cake. Now, if I draw a picture of my main is it or is it not a copyrighted image? I know I don't really own my character but it would still be my artwork. What about a screenshot?

Thanks in advance,

Thank you very much for the email, Luotian. I think that we can get to the bottom of this situation pretty easily. While the answer to this question is complicated, it's not a cavalcade of dumb stuff you're used to having to slog through. First, let's distill down the basic question: Can I put a WoW screenshot on a cake? Distill that down even further and we get this: What am I allowed to do with a World of Warcraft screenshot?

What am I allowed to do with a World of Warcraft screenshot?

I've got good news and bad news, folks. The good news is that Blizzard has a wonderful legal FAQ on the corporate site that has a very specific question with a very specific answer. The bad news is that it is about reproducing content on the internet. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that because of the matter of scale (which you will learn more about in about four paragraphs), the internet policy can be applied to a cake in the real world that will either be eaten or decompose faster than World of Warcraft's lifetime is over.

Here's the legal FAQ answer for using game screenshots online:

Blizzard Legal FAQ

What is Blizzard Entertainment's® copyright/trademark policy for the Internet, specifically for fansites? Can I use Blizzard Entertainment's® images, text or sound on my web page? Is it ok if I use screenshots I take in-game on my web page?

Yes, within certain limits. We asked our legal department to provide some guidelines for you, and here is what they said:

Blizzard Entertainment® hereby grants you a personal, non-exclusive, non-transferable and non- assignable license to use and display, for home, noncommercial and personal use only, one copy of any material and/or software that you may download from this site, including, but not limited to, any files, codes, audio or images incorporated in or generated by the software (collectively the "Downloaded Content") provided, however, that you must include or maintain all copyright and other notices contained or associated with such Downloaded Content. You acknowledge and agree that you may not sublicense, assign or otherwise transfer this license or the Downloaded Content and that no title to the Downloaded Content has been or will be transferred to you from Blizzard Entertainment® or anyone else. You also agree that you will not alter, disassemble, decompile, reverse engineer or otherwise modify the Downloaded Content.

Also, we reserve the right to revoke this limited use license at any time, for any reason, and at the sole discretion of Blizzard Entertainment®. You may not use our materials on sites that feature defamatory pornographic, or inflammatory content, including, but not limited to, hacks and cheats for any of our games or any other content that Blizzard Entertainment® find objectionable or unlawful.

Blizzard understands that people taking screenshots of their game and making webcomics, memes, and other assorted goofy crap that certain people put into Campfire chat rooms only strengthens their brand because of the connection people have with WoW. Players want more WoW outside of WoW, and Blizzard is happy to facilitate that. There are always rules, however, and limitations ensure the business stays protected.

What you are going to do is print out any screenshot that you want on your cake and tell the cake shop owner that you have been granted a person, non-exclusive, non-transferable, and non-assignable license to use and display (and eat, it's implied) for home, noncommercial and personal use only this printed-out image. In fact, after you get this amazing cake, take a picture with you and all your friends and send it to Blizzard with the caption "Best Birthday Ever," and it will be on Blizzard's Facebook page.

If you're really hell bent on approval, send Blizzard an email. "Can I use a screenshot of my character on my birthday cake?" If Blizzard says yes, you win. If Blizzard says no, it's ruined your birthday. Which of these do you think is the most probable?

An anecdote

Sometimes, story ideas and column topics come along that hit you close to home and give you a sense of happiness and warmth when you get to relive them. Luotian's email brought me back to a special birthday (I believe that it was my 14th) when my cake was the best birthday cake ever. At the time, I was infatuated with a little-known Square roleplaying game called Chrono Trigger. You may or may not have heard of it. For my birthday, my mother had taken the instruction booklet out of the SNES game cartridge box and used the drawing of protagonist Crono and compatriots Frog and Lucca in the the time traveling Epoch spacecraft. When my cake was revealed to me on that fateful day, I would never forget how awesome it felt to have video game art in frosting.

The point of the story is that when my mother was getting a birthday cake for her 14-year-old son, she was thinking about putting his favorite game on the cake, not whether she would be hunted down for copyright infringement and misuse of a license. The truth of the matter is that she wouldn't be. Lawsuits and legal actions are all about scale. Understanding the very nature of the thing -- that a large amount of money must go in and therefore a large amount of money must come out -- precludes the birthday cake from being a target. Remember scale.

If I run a counterfeiting bake shop and churn out thousands of cakes a day branded with the World of Warcraft logo and featuring such delicious flavors as Hellscream's Angry Triple Fudge, Velen's Vanilla (Not Even French Vanilla),and Thrall's I Did Not Ask for Mint 'n' Chip, then there is a different logic to apply. This is a business. This is an organization. The scale of the endeavor is huge and potentially damaging to the original brand because of very scale of the operation.

Wrap it up

Your WoW cake is not of this scale. You aren't selling this cake, and you aren't mass producing this cake. You are eating this cake in a personal capacity with family and friends. I am well aware that I did not answer the portion of the email about the character drawing on the cake because that's for another time and a more dedicated column to just fan art.

How many baked goods and delicacies does Blizzard splash all over its website during the holidays and for contests? One could say that because there is a gallery of food items emblazened with World of Warcraft copyrighted material, Blizzard promotes your putting your character on a birthday cake. I mean, really, who wants to ruin someone's birthday over legal issues?

Just ... don't sing the Birthday Song too loudly ...

This column is for entertainment only; if you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. For comments or general questions about law or for The Lawbringer, contact Mat at

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