To all of you who believed Valve's ownership of Dota 2 was a done deal, you may want to rethink your stance. Their copyright of the beloved franchise has been brought into question by those who are being sued for infringement, and now even the Court has its doubts.
For a bit of a historical summary, here's an excerpt from a recent Court order denying some motions for partial judgements and sanctions:
In the early 2000s, a particular Warcraft III mod called “DotA” (short for “Defense of the Ancients”) took the gaming community by storm. Companies took notice. In 2013, Plaintiff Valve Corporation released a stand-alone game modeled on DotA called “Dota 2,” which also took the gaming community by storm. Still more companies took notice. Defendants Lilith Games and uCool, Inc. released their own iterations—“DotA Legends” and “Heroes Charge,” respectively—built specially for smart phones. Blizzard and Valve, who themselves settled copyright disputes between them, are now suing Lilith and uCool. uCool has moved for partial summary judgment against Valve, arguing that Valve does not own copyrights in the original DotA and subsequent mods, and thus has no viable copyright claims against uCool.
So, in plain English, uCool is claiming that Valve never had the right to copyright Dota characters and settings for their own exclusive use. This is based on an open forum whereby the original Dota mod creator, Eul, bid his farewell and clearly indicated that the source code and Dota universe was available to anyone who wished to develop it further.
Instead, from this point forward DOTA is now open source. Whoever wishes to release a version of DOTA may without my consent, I just ask for a nod in the credits to your map.
Does this mean that anyone can make anything Dota related? One has to be very careful in this determination. With Warcraft 3, Blizzard's End User Licence for commercial sales of any products related to their products could be the call that ends the case for the two infringers, since Dota is a mod of Warcraft. So Blizzard has as much a stake in the outcome of this case as Valve.
Ars Technica argues differently though. Due to the wording in the End User Licence, it may appear that Blizzard has no rights to the mod and therefore no direct ownership of Dota. If Blizzard did, then Eul actually had no permission to create the Warcraft mod in the first place, putting a rather interesting twist on this case altogether.
This leaves the Jury to decide on the following: Did Eul have the right to make Dota open source for anyone to develop further, and if so, does that mean Valve really can't own the Dota 2 franchise? I eagerly await the outcome of this case, as it will have a monumental effect of the future of the Dota franchise.
Source: Kotaku; Ars Technica; U.S. District Court