VILLAINS & VIGILANTES Legal Dispute Settled
  • VILLAINS & VIGILANTES Legal Dispute Settled


    For the last five years, the creators of the 1970s Villains & Vigilantes roleplaying game have been embroiled in a legal battle over the rights to publish it. Jeff Dee and Jack Herman created the RPG in their teens, and signed a contract with Scott Bizar (publisher of Fantasy Games Unlimited) in 1979. However, in 1987, Bizarre ceased publishing, and in 2010 Fantasy Games Unlimited was dissolved. This, according to the contract, apparently meant that the rights reverted to the creators, who promptly attempted to publish the game under their new company, Monkey House Games. Bizar disputed this, and the legal battle began.




    In a conversation with Aint It Cool News back in early 2011, the creators expressed their dissatisfaction.

    We started to become unhappy in the late 1980s when FGU stopped advertising V&V, taking it to conventions, or even soliciting distributors. When it became clear that this situation wasn't going to change, we started looking for ways to get our game back. But for years, it looked hopeless. The contract seemed to give Scott Bizar enough loopholes so that he could keep it in force perpetually with little effort, and attempts to purchase the publishing rights from him were met by outrageously high price tags. Our contract was with Fantasy Games Unlimited, Inc. -- which, we recently discovered, was "dissolved by proclamation" by the state of NY in 1991 ... It no longer exists. And the contract clearly stated that if FGU, Inc., ever ceased to exist, then the publication rights reverted back to us.

    In 2011, Dee and Herman filed a copyright infringement suit in Florida. A judge in Arizona ruled in 2013 that by not publishing the game for a period of time in the 1990s, Bizar's rights to it expired. Not only that, the judge ruled that Bizar never had the right to publish electronic editions, which he has been doing more recently. That went to appeal, and in 2015 the initial judgement was affirmed.

    "[T]he contract expressly provided that the agreement would terminate by operation of law if FGU, Inc., ceased to do business for any reason. The agreement also prohibited the assignment of any rights under the contract without the written consent of the other parties. By the terms of the agreement, when FGU, Inc., was dissolved in 1991, allrights to the 1979 and 1982 Rulebooks reverted to Dee and Herman. Accordingly, all sales after the 1991 dissolution of FGU, Inc., of the 1979 or 1982 Rulebookswere infringing acts."

    It still isn't over, though. That resolved the publishing rights, but it didn't decide whether Bizar still owned the trademark. So back to court it went. Last year, the creators launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise a legal war chest. They raised $26,755.

    "Our claim that the publishing rights reverted to us has been upheld in court, but our opponent still claims to own the trademark to our game's name and he's suing us for using it. If he wins on that count, he'll be able to seize our creation and financially ruin us. We've been fighting for our rights for several years, and frankly we need money in order to carry this battle to a final victory. We just want to get back to making our games!"

    It appears now that both parties have reached a settlement. Up on DTRPG now sits a copy of the game which bears the following legal text:

    The Monkey House Games logo is a trademark owned by Monkey House Games. All characters, character names, and the distinctive likenessesthereof are trademarks owned by Monkey House Games. Villains and Vigilantes is a trademark of Scott Bizar, used with permission.

    So Bizar owned the trademark, while Dee and Herman own the publishing rights. At least, that's how it looks. Bizar is a high school teacher in Arizona, and also ran a gem store which closed in 2007. In 2007 he told an interviewer that "My principal trade is now teaching not publishing. When you're over 50 and married with a child you cannot allow yourself the same delirious adventures as when you're 20 or 30. ... I no longer promise to fight as hard as I did in 1987, when the distributors refused to sell FGU products because they were not presented in boxes like TSR products."


    You can read more about this lawsuit in three posts on the Workbench blog, or listen to the Shane Plays radio show/podcast where he talks to Dee and Herman.
    Comments 21 Comments
    1. Zaran's Avatar
      Zaran -
      So basically they lost the rights to publish their own game to someone who doesn't want to publish it?
    1. collin's Avatar
      collin -
      I was never a big fan of the V&V game system. I much preferred Champions. However, the V&V guys had better adventure modules, characters, villains, and artwork back in the 80's, so I would buy their modules and adapt them to the Champions system. Worked pretty well.
    1. Grimjack99's Avatar
      Grimjack99 -
      How Bizar...
    1. sstacks's Avatar
      sstacks -
      I had the pleasure of having Jeff Dee and Jack Herman of Monkey House Games (Villains & Vigilantes) on my radio show twice in the past few months talking about this issue.

      Here are the podcast versions:

      Highlights: Role playing game designers Jeff Dee & Jack Herman of Villains & Vigilantes / Monkey House Games discuss V&V and their legal battle; geek news.
      http://shaneplays.com/jeff-dee-jack-...st-episode-23/

      Highlights: Geek news; Jeff Dee and Jack Herman of Monkey House Games return to talk about the future of the Villains & Vigilantes RPG!
      http://shaneplays.com/villains-vigil...podcast-ep-34/
    1. skerritthegreen's Avatar
      skerritthegreen -
      Congratz to two great guys who had a pretty novel idea at the start of gaming (backed up by very good adventures that I sill sometimes crack open for ideas when running superhero games to this day).
    1. ddaley's Avatar
      ddaley -
      This Bizar character sounds like a real villain!
    1. EvilPheemy's Avatar
      EvilPheemy -
      V&V was my first superhero role playing game, and sparked a life-long love with superhero roleplaying (they inspired my favorite Champions player-character "The Eternal Champion", a legacy of their sword-weilding character "Stormbringer"). I've been following the lawsuit from the sidelines for a very long time. I'm very happy to see Dee & Herman free to return to writing and publishing V&V.
    1. Nellisir's Avatar
      Nellisir -
      Quote Originally Posted by Zaran View Post
      So basically they lost the rights to publish their own game to someone who doesn't want to publish it?
      No, the opposite. They regained ownership of their game from someone that didn't want to publish it. But he still owns the name of the game (which is a weird arrangement, but whatever).
    1. SteveC's Avatar
      SteveC -
      Bravo! I am really glad to see this finally get resolved. Now if only the rights to games like Bushido and Daredevils can have the same treatment.
    1. Eubani's Avatar
      Eubani -
      I somehow got my hands on the 1st ed V&V it wasnt bad for it's time with one exception.....GM picks players stats. So not happening.
    1. Abstruse's Avatar
      Abstruse -
      There hasn't been an official announcement yet from either side, but it looks like we'll see something from Monkey House over the weekend based on Jeff Dee's Facebook.
    1. barasawa -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nellisir View Post
      No, the opposite. They regained ownership of their game from someone that didn't want to publish it. But he still owns the name of the game (which is a weird arrangement, but whatever).
      They reached a settlement, not lost the case. It was probably a situation where Bizar would stop fighting if they'd slap his name on the product, and maybe have some kind of payment or royalty thing as well. Often settlements are chosen when it aids a market window, one or more sides are sick of fighting, or the cost outweighs any likely benefit.
      I rather doubt Bizar would have won if it went all the way, but how long would he have dragged it out, and how much would it have cost?
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by barasawa View Post
      I rather doubt Bizar would have won if it went all the way
      Without access to the original contract, how can you possibly say that?

      All we know is that the contract said that the publication rights (not the trademark ownership) reverted under certain conditions. We have no knowledge at all about what is says about the trademark.
    1. 76512390ag12's Avatar
      76512390ag12 -
      It's great that they have settled and that as little money as possible was wasted on lawyer's fees. We are too small a community to need to feed the legal beast. It would be even greater if they could have an agreed joint or parallel publication stream so that fans could get more adventures to run.
      FGU has some great game in it's catalogue, and they are all available and very playable, but the support is slow and I know some authors have been disappointed that the rights haven't reverted to them, but the games are in print.. I know I bought new copies recently.
    1. rcade's Avatar
      rcade -
      The original contract is on my blog:

      http://workbench.cadenhead.org/media...9-contract.pdf

      It is an agreement between Fantasy Games Unlimited Inc. ("Publisher") and Jeff Dee and Jack Herman ("Authors").

      Section 17 (Termination) states: "This Agreement shall cease and terminate ... If a petition in bankruptcy is filed by or against the Publisher, or if it makes an assignment for the benefit of creditors or takes advantage of any state, or federal insolvency law, or if its business is liquidated, or if it ceases to do business for any reason."

      Section 18 (Reverter: Authors' Option) states: "In case of termination all the rights herein granted shall revert to the Authors ..."

      Bizar dissolved the corporation Fantasy Games Inc. in 1991.

      I'm not a lawyer, but my read of this contract suggests to me that when FGU Inc. dissolved all IP rights in Villains & Vigilantes reverted to Dee and Herman.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by rcade View Post

      I'm not a lawyer, but my read of this contract suggests to me that when FGU Inc. dissolved all IP rights in Villains & Vigilantes reverted to Dee and Herman.
      Not all rights. Publication rights and copyright. Why Bizar owns the trademark, I don't know, but that's not part of that contract - it's not mentioned anywhere in it, at least that I can see. I may have missed it, as it's quite hard to read, but I'm not seeing it anywhere.

      You mention that Dee and Herman signed a 1979 contract with Bizar that gave them the game's copyright and him the trademark on your blog. Was there another contract?
    1. rcade's Avatar
      rcade -
      There is at least one more contract, a 1982 agreement between Bizar, Dee, Herman and Eclipse Comics to publish a Villains & Vigilantes comic book written and illustrated by Dee and Herman. That contract states Fantasy Games Unlimited is the owner of the trademark.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by rcade View Post
      There is at least one more contract, a 1982 agreement between Bizar, Dee, Herman and Eclipse Comics to publish a Villains & Vigilantes comic book written and illustrated by Dee and Herman. That contract states Fantasy Games Unlimited is the owner of the trademark.
      Wel, there we go. That answers it! Bizar has the trademark, but the publication rights and copyright reverted in the above contract.
    1. rcade's Avatar
      rcade -
      There's more to it than that. The judge in Arizona ruled that any trademark rights owned by Bizar were lost when he sold zero copies of the game from 1990 to 1994 and during another multi-year span. A trademark can be lost when it's not used.

      The appeals court threw the trademark question back to Arizona for a new ruling. That's where things were left before the settlement -- Dee and Herman owned the copyright and all electronic publishing rights, but the court fight would decide if they owned the trademark or not.

      I've updated my blog post to reflect that the 1982 contract is where trademark ownership was covered. Thanks for calling that to my attention.
    1. TheMiddleAgedOne's Avatar
      TheMiddleAgedOne -
      SIGH, FGU had some great games back in the day...... too bad they were run by a jerk
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