Elite: Dangerous Tabletop Kickstarter Hits Snag
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  • Elite: Dangerous Tabletop Kickstarter Hits Snag



    The Kickstarter for the Elite: Dangerous tabletop role-playing game has hit a legal snag. Based on elements from the 1984 computer game Elite, and the sequels Frontier: Elite II and Frontier: First Encounters published by the video game publisher Frontier Development, the Elite: Dangerous tabletop game's website says:

    Elite: Dangerous is the modern day incarnation of the seminal space trading game Elite. 30 years after the original game reinvented the way people experienced playing computer games, Elite: Dangerous Role Playing Game seeks to immerse the role player in the same cut throat galaxy experience by online players.

    The problem seems to stem from the fact that one of the rights owners (who had purchased the rights owned by Ian Bell, one of the original developers of the first Elite) is saying that the company who is the current Elite publisher does not have the right to sublicense the rights originally owned by Bell. That is a confusing sentence, and it will no doubt require some legal unpacking to make sense of it. Without actually having access to the documents, it is impossible to figure out who is right in all of this. The basic idea seems to be:

    1. Ian Bell and David Braben created the original Elite game, and co-owned some of the rights. Bell licensed his parts of the intellectual property, to allow development of future properties.
    2. Chris Jordan, who is either the current owner of Ian Bell's share or the rights, or is representing Bell's share of the intellectual property stake in the Elite games, is saying that the license of Bell's rights were non-transferable. This means that, while publishers could create and publish future Elite computer games, they can not license out those rights to a third party. This would mean that Spidermind Games (the publishers of the tabletop RPG) did not actually have the rights to publish their game.


    All of this seems to revolve around whether or not Frontier Development has the right to license the rights to Elite. Again, a confusing and complex sentence.

    More on this as it develops...
    Comments 37 Comments
    1. Desh-Rae-Halra's Avatar
      Desh-Rae-Halra -
      This situation sucks, and I hope the legal delay doesn't derail the Kickstarter.
    1. imagineGod's Avatar
      imagineGod -
      Ironically, Spidermind Games is not the first company to receive a license to produce a role playing game set in the "Elite: Dangerous" universe. How come nobody noticed the other creators using this intellectual property?

      On the same Kickstarter platform, Dave Hughes successfully funded his own variant, but failed to deliver the product till date.

      https://www.kickstarter.com/projects...elite-universe

      Name: elite_encounters_rpg_in_elite_dangerous_universe.j  pg ► Views: 1407 ► Size: 140.6 KB
    1. Christopher Helton's Avatar
      Christopher Helton -
      This KS received a lot of attention, which probably brought it to the attention of the rights holder.
    1. MNblockhead's Avatar
      MNblockhead -
      Big fail on the part of Spiderman Games to not ensure that that the folks they were licensing from had the legal ability to do so. Doesn't seem to have been a lot of due diligence done here.
    1. imagineGod's Avatar
      imagineGod -
      Quote Originally Posted by Christopher Helton View Post
      This KS received a lot of attention, which probably brought it to the attention of the rights holder.
      True talk that, and yet if the Intellectual Property rights holders remain adamant at sanctioning Spidermind Games, those rights holders must explain their official position on all other "Elite: Dangerous" Role Playing Games projects (like "Elite Encounters), a Kickstarter RPG project that collected money from backers for a game that missed all delivery deadlines (the estimated delivery was April 2014).

      https://www.kickstarter.com/projects.../posts/1719800
    1. Desh-Rae-Halra's Avatar
      Desh-Rae-Halra -
      This sucks for Spidermind Games, as since their KS campaign hasn't completed, they have collected exactly $0 for all their efforts.
    1. Ovinomancer's Avatar
      Ovinomancer -
      Quote Originally Posted by imagineGod View Post
      True talk that, and yet if the Intellectual Property rights holders remain adamant at sanctioning Spidermind Games, those rights holders must explain their official position on all other "Elite: Dangerous" Role Playing Games projects (like "Elite Encounters), a Kickstarter RPG project that collected money from backers for a game that missed all delivery deadlines (the estimated delivery was April 2014).

      https://www.kickstarter.com/projects.../posts/1719800
      No, they don't. The defendant can attempt the defense that the copyright holder has abandoned the claim through neglect, but it's on the defense to show this, not the holder to prove they have the right to protect their IP.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by imagineGod View Post
      those rights holders must explain their official position on all other "Elite: Dangerous" Role Playing Games projects
      The rights holders don't have to explain anything. The only thing they'll need to demonstrate here is that they do, indeed, have those rights.
    1. Eminence_Grise -
      ImagineGod : It's US law that requires to aggressively defend your IP. I do believe this matter is UK law.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by Eminence_Grise View Post
      ImagineGod : It's US law that requires to aggressively defend your IP. I do believe this matter is UK law.
      Only trademarks and trade secrets; both those are, in US law, voided if not defensed.

      Registered Copyrights don't require vigorous defense, nor patents; both remain inforceable without regard to prior defenses or not, for the life of the registry.

      Unregistered copyrights are theoretically the same as registered, but proof of date is a major flaw therein.
    1. Desh-Rae-Halra's Avatar
      Desh-Rae-Halra -
      An Update from Spidermind Games to KS Backers:

      Dear All,
      Apparently the first attempt to send you a message, on Friday, didn’t get sent by KS so here is a second attempt.
      Please accept our apologies for the suspension of the Kickstarter campaign. For those of you who do not know, Kickstarter was served with a copyright infringement notice on Friday afternoon by three individuals - Chris Jordan, Judith Jordan & David Johnson-Davies, together operating as ‘Ian Bell Elite Rights LLP’.
      For the avoidance of doubt, we are in possession of a license from the owners of the Elite: Dangerous franchise, Frontier Developments Plc and we have received full support from them throughout this bogus claim.
      The details of the alleged infringement are as follows:
      Re: Elite: Dangerous Role Playing Game (ED RPG)
      Description of copyrighted material: "Elite", the game developed by Ian Bell and David Braben, first published in 1984.
      Description of infringing material: "Elite Dangerous Role Playing Game" books.
      No further detail was enclosed or attached to the email.
      Firstly: Having taken legal advice we have been informed that it is incumbent on any complaining party (in this case the Ian Bell Elite Rights LLP) to provide ‘substantially’ information which is ‘reasonably sufficient to permit the service provider to locate the material’.
      Just saying that ‘Books’ infringe copyright, especially when these books have not yet been produced, is not specific enough for us to know what they are on about.
      Secondly: If this is an issue about a general, nonspecific copyright from an original game that is being used by us, under license from Frontier, then isn’t the issue with Frontier and not us? Frontier have offered these people several opportunities to discuss the issues but they have refused to engage with them.
      There have been various Kickstarter projects run by License holders, such as many of the novels that came out around the same time as ED was kick-started itself and yet none of those were closed down by suspended by Kickstarter.
      It is the belief of Spidermind Games that Chris Jordan, Judith Jordan & David Johnson-Davies have engaged in a vexatious claim against us for the sole purpose of causing us financial and reputational harm.
      Whilst this might be the case we are working closely with Frontier Developments and their lawyers to provide Kickstarter with evidence to prove beyond doubt that we are legitimately exploiting the name Elite Dangerous and associated assets, under license, from the legitimate copyright owner Frontier Developments Plc.
      As soon as we receive an update from Kickstarter regarding this issue, we will let you know.
      Thank you for your patience and continued support.
      Kind regards
      Jon Lunn
      Producer
      EDRPG
    1. Narl's Avatar
      Narl -
      Why not just play Traveller? Elite is based on Traveller anyway.

      Same with the Firefly RPG. The Traveller RPG inspired the TV show. The TV show inspired the Firefly RPG. Why not just play Traveller?
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by Narl View Post
      Why not just play Traveller? Elite is based on Traveller anyway.

      Same with the Firefly RPG. The Traveller RPG inspired the TV show. The TV show inspired the Firefly RPG. Why not just play Traveller?
      Why play the latest FPS video game? It was inspired by Doom or Wolfenstein 3D. Just play that! Why watch Stranger Things? It was inspired by ET and the Goonies. Just watch them! Why watch a modern action TV show and not the A-Team?

      Maybe some people don't like the Traveller system?

      If everyone only played the thing something was inspired by, we'd all still be playing OD&D. And watching 1950s television. The beauty of creation is that things inspire new things.
    1. imagineGod's Avatar
      imagineGod -
      Interestingly, those "sour grapes" people behind the Intellectual Property challenge against Spidermind Games are forgetting the crucial factor of David Braden's presence and support for Spidermind Games through the license granted by Frontier Developments owned by David Braden, one of the original creators of the very first ever "Elite" computer game in 1984.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/games/110...the-world.html

      So, if Ian Bell's posse had a problem with David Braben licensing the "Elite" brand to other parties, then the challenge should be against Frontier Developments first and foremost, instead of nit-picking a third party publisher that only published the "Elite Dangerous Role Playing Game" after obtaining a license for the Intellectual Property from David Braden's Frontier Developments.

      Case closed. Now let decent folk have our Kickstarter back. Thank you.
    1. imagineGod's Avatar
      imagineGod -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      The rights holders don't have to explain anything. The only thing they'll need to demonstrate here is that they do, indeed, have those rights.
      Those "other" right holders really need to explain why they are not challenging the source of the licensing of the "Elite" Intellectual Property, which is David Braben's Frontier Developments. Those "other" rights holders should spend their energies contesting the division of their Intellectual Property rights with David Braben instead of attacking third parties licensed by David Braben.
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by imagineGod View Post
      Those "other" right holders really need to explain why they are not challenging the source of the licensing of the "Elite" Intellectual Property, which is David Braben's Frontier Developments.
      No, they do not have to explain that. They merely merely have to demonstrate they have the rights they are exerting. You don't need to explain why you're exerting your rights, or why you're not. We're not entitled to an explanation.
    1. aramis erak's Avatar
      aramis erak -
      Quote Originally Posted by imagineGod View Post
      Interestingly, those "sour grapes" people behind the Intellectual Property challenge against Spidermind Games are forgetting the crucial factor of David Braden's presence and support for Spidermind Games through the license granted by Frontier Developments owned by David Braden, one of the original creators of the very first ever "Elite" computer game in 1984.

      http://www.telegraph.co.uk/games/110...the-world.html

      So, if Ian Bell's posse had a problem with David Braben licensing the "Elite" brand to other parties, then the challenge should be against Frontier Developments first and foremost, instead of nit-picking a third party publisher that only published the "Elite Dangerous Role Playing Game" after obtaining a license for the Intellectual Property from David Braden's Frontier Developments.

      Case closed. Now let decent folk have our Kickstarter back. Thank you.
      Actually, in looking at prior litigation, suing the sub-licensor first isn't actually all that typical.
      At least, not until you establish that the licensee's work violates your rights by winning against the licensee.
    1. imagineGod's Avatar
      imagineGod -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      No, they do not have to explain that. They merely merely have to demonstrate they have the rights they are exerting. You don't need to explain why you're exerting your rights, or why you're not. We're not entitled to an explanation.
      The explanation by the bad-faith litigators is important since David Braben, being one of the original creators of the "Elite" computer game also holds the rights to the "Elite" Intellectual Property. David Braben, through his company, Frontier Developments, sub-licensed the "Elite" IP to other third parties for the purpose of making new games and novels.

      https://www.frontierstore.net/become...ite-dangerous/

      The Third Parties can only be in breach of the Intellectual Property if the parent license held by David Braben prevents him from sub-licensing the "Elite" IP.


      David Braben's Frontier Developments, was founded since the 28th of January, 1994, so David Braben has owned a corporate entity and the "Elite" brand for over 23 years longer than the newly created Ian Bell Elite Rights LLP.

      According to company records: Ian Bell Elite Rights LLP was incorporated on 8th February 2017. Companies House lists Chris Jordan, Judith Jordan and David Johnson-Davies - all registered to the same address in Cambridge - as being involved with the company. Ian Bell is not on the list.

      So this newly created company needs to show us that it indeed has the legal IP rights from Ian Bell. But also take note that those rights do not cover "Elite Dangerous" which is the sole property of David Braben's Frontier Developments (being different from the original "Elite" IP from 1984). Else, this new entity was just created to launch spurious litigation in bad faith.

      The third party licensee, Spidermind Games, is making a game based on "Elite Dangerous" under the legal IP protection of David Braben's Frontier Developments and not Ian Bell's original 1984 Elite IP.

      http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/20...-and-paper-rpg
    1. CapnZapp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      Why watch a modern action TV show and not the A-Team?
      oof, that would truly suck!
    1. Ovinomancer's Avatar
      Ovinomancer -
      Quote Originally Posted by imagineGod View Post
      The explanation by the bad-faith litigators is important since David Braben, being one of the original creators of the "Elite" computer game also holds the rights to the "Elite" Intellectual Property. David Braben, through his company, Frontier Developments, sub-licensed the "Elite" IP to other third parties for the purpose of making new games and novels.

      https://www.frontierstore.net/become...ite-dangerous/

      The Third Parties can only be in breach of the Intellectual Property if the parent license held by David Braben prevents him from sub-licensing the "Elite" IP.


      David Braben's Frontier Developments, was founded since the 28th of January, 1994, so David Braben has owned a corporate entity and the "Elite" brand for over 23 years longer than the newly created Ian Bell Elite Rights LLP.

      According to company records: Ian Bell Elite Rights LLP was incorporated on 8th February 2017. Companies House lists Chris Jordan, Judith Jordan and David Johnson-Davies - all registered to the same address in Cambridge - as being involved with the company. Ian Bell is not on the list.

      So this newly created company needs to show us that it indeed has the legal IP rights from Ian Bell. But also take note that those rights do not cover "Elite Dangerous" which is the sole property of David Braben's Frontier Developments (being different from the original "Elite" IP from 1984). Else, this new entity was just created to launch spurious litigation in bad faith.

      The third party licensee, Spidermind Games, is making a game based on "Elite Dangerous" under the legal IP protection of David Braben's Frontier Developments and not Ian Bell's original 1984 Elite IP.

      http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/20...-and-paper-rpg
      Your underlying claim is false. The rights holders do not have to jump through hoops you imagine to protect their rights. They do not have to sue people in the order you think they do, and they do not need to explain why they didn't sue other people before they sue the ones they choose. None of these things are required by law.

      That this claim appears vexatious and potentially false does not change any of this -- your assumption of how copyright litigation works is just wrong.
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