Video Game Law Blog

January 22, 2006

'Wanna join our group? Then prove you can speak English."? 

Chinese-speaking World of Warcraft (WOW) players are complaining that they're being discriminated because they can't speak English. They say other WOW players won't let them joint their groups because they assume non-English speaking players aren't true players–they're gold-miners who are earning booty for their employers or themselves to auction. Is there any potential liability here?

Canada and most of its provinces and territories have human rights legislation that prohibits discrimination on various grounds such as race or ancestry. The legislation applies to specific activities, such as employment, tenancy, publishing and providing services to the public.  

It's often OK to discriminate on other grounds that aren't prohibited by the legislation (for example, you can probably discriminate against people with green hair, as long as you equally discriminate between men and women with green hair). So the first issue is whether Blizzard (the publisher of WOW) or the other players are discriminating on the basis of any prohibited ground. Here, the basis of discrimination is language, not race or ancestry. This will likely make it difficult for the legislation to apply because language isn't a named ground of discrimination.  But that said, the Supreme Court of Canada has previously read-in unnamed grounds of discrimination (such as sexual orientation), so there's always an argument that language discrimination should be read-into the legislation.

The second issue is whether Blizzard or the English-speaking players are discriminating in the course of any of the specified activities. Here, the only activity that appears to apply is 'providing services to the public"?. The players probably aren't providing services to the public, and although Blizzard is probably providing services to the public, it's not the one doing the discrimination.

In short it would probably be tough to argue that the discrimination is prohibited by Canadian law. That said, it doesn't mean the discrimination is acceptable. There may be other ways to address it. For example, Blizzard has a policy prohibiting the use of language that promotes racial or ethnic hatred. And Blizzard's terms of use are broad enough that Blizzard might be able to argue that the discrimination is prohibited by contract

Coverage of the WOW discrimination is here  http://www.shorl.com/bafokafavufe