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TSR TSR's War on Fans


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Sacrosanct

Legend
I always thought it ironic (and a bit hypocritical) for Gary to go so hard after any perceived violation of TSR IP after how he created the game in the first place (stealing other's IP, and doing it in such a lazy way where it would have been easy to get permission).

Edit I know full well Gary wasn't part of TSR in 1994 when this article takes place, but when he was still part of the company, he was very much "my way or the highway, and nobody better use D&D stuff without my permission."
 
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Blue Orange

Explorer
Oh yes, they were referred to as 'T$R' and 'They Sue Regularly'. I would go online to look at the netbooks and they had big blank sections at the start to maintain 'plausible deniability' so the people in charge of policing it at TSR (who apparently were ambivalent) could claim they didn't see anything.

The article has a link to the whole business about the Cthulhu and Elric sections that were included, then removed, in the first edition of Deities & Demigods. Yup, back in 1st ed there were stats for Cthulhu and Co., though they kind of confused Shub-Niggurath with Abhoth and Hastur is described as a 200' tall lizard man, which I've never seen anywhere--he's either an octopoid monster or the King in Yellow.

 

Stormonu

Legend
Yeah, seems to be a trend, Games Workshop was on that kick a few years ago (though they hit the brakes just a tad).

TSR's internet policy lost me as a customer for a while, and they seemed to be frantically clinging onto a game system that was badly outdated and on its way to being a footnote with the rise of Storyteller-like systems, the rise of MMO's and most especially CCG's like MtG. They slit their own throat pursuing the fans and got tarred and feathered for it.
 

I always thought it ironic (and a bit hypocritical) for Gary to go so hard after any perceived violation of TSR IP after how he created the game in the first place (stealing other's IP, and doing it in such a lazy way where it would have been easy to get permission).

Edit I know full well Gary wasn't part of TSR in 1994 when this article takes place, but when he was still part of the company, he was very much "my way or the highway, and nobody better use D&D stuff without my permission."
TSR (and Gary) were zealously guarding the IP, because at the time it was perceived that any infringement not addressed automatically made it public domain. Given the popularity and profitability of D&D, they couldn't take any risks, even though it really hurt their PR. At the time there were numerous D&D ripoffs that tried to ride the waves of D&D's popularity, and TSR's lawyers warned them it's better to be careful than lose any potential IP.

Looking back it's somewhat understandable, since we have the internet. Not only could individuals look up the IP laws to see what's permitted and what's not, but the company can address the situation more easily to the fan base. Back then you had a handful of magazines... and that was it, other than the occasional word of mouth at the annual GenCon. Could it have been handled better? Yeah, but I don't blame TSR's actions in retrospect*


*at least with this... I still blame them for a lot of other things
 

rohdester

Explorer
TSR (and Gary) were zealously guarding the IP, because at the time it was perceived that any infringement not addressed automatically made it public domain. Given the popularity and profitability of D&D, they couldn't take any risks, even though it really hurt their PR. At the time there were numerous D&D ripoffs that tried to ride the waves of D&D's popularity, and TSR's lawyers warned them it's better to be careful than lose any potential IP.

Looking back it's somewhat understandable, since we have the internet. Not only could individuals look up the IP laws to see what's permitted and what's not, but the company can address the situation more easily to the fan base. Back then you had a handful of magazines... and that was it, other than the occasional word of mouth at the annual GenCon. Could it have been handled better? Yeah, but I don't blame TSR's actions in retrospect*


*at least with this... I still blame them for a lot of other things

Couldn't agree more.
Taking the times back then into consideration, I can actually totally understand TRS's actions. Of course they should have handled it differently, but I imagine it must have been bloody scary when the Internet exploded and all your IP is just laying there - free for all.

Not much I miss about TSR tho'. Think it would have been hard finding a better steward of D&D than WotC and Crawford & Perkins et al. And no I don't hate 4th - it was a necessary step in the evolution.
 


jeffh

Explorer
"Companies that fail to defend their trademarks can lose them. Just ask the original makers of cellophane, escalators, and trampolines. However, D&D fans and TSR would debate how much copyright law justified the company’s cease-and-desist notices."

AAAARGH!

Don't mind me, one of my biggest pet peeves is people who talk like we're supposed to think they're authorities on IP law, but don't even understand the difference between trademark and copyright...

(And, it's not just a case of accidentally using the wrong word. The error is much more substantial than that, though it's not clear to me if it's Repp's, the blogger's, or both. It is trademarks you can lose if you don't defend them, though not quite so easily as was made out here, but it was mostly copyright violations, if anything, that TSR went after. IANAL but as far as I can tell, it was vanishingly unlikely they were going to lose any IP rights over any of this stuff.)
 
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Sacrosanct

Legend
TSR (and Gary) were zealously guarding the IP, because at the time it was perceived that any infringement not addressed automatically made it public domain. Given the popularity and profitability of D&D, they couldn't take any risks, even though it really hurt their PR. At the time there were numerous D&D ripoffs that tried to ride the waves of D&D's popularity, and TSR's lawyers warned them it's better to be careful than lose any potential IP.

Looking back it's somewhat understandable, since we have the internet. Not only could individuals look up the IP laws to see what's permitted and what's not, but the company can address the situation more easily to the fan base. Back then you had a handful of magazines... and that was it, other than the occasional word of mouth at the annual GenCon. Could it have been handled better? Yeah, but I don't blame TSR's actions in retrospect*


*at least with this... I still blame them for a lot of other things
I understand why they did it, just pointing out the irony of them being so adamant about it when Gary created the game by stealing others' IP and being sued for it on multiple occasions.
 



Istbor

Dances with Gnolls
I always thought it ironic (and a bit hypocritical) for Gary to go so hard after any perceived violation of TSR IP after how he created the game in the first place (stealing other's IP, and doing it in such a lazy way where it would have been easy to get permission).

Edit I know full well Gary wasn't part of TSR in 1994 when this article takes place, but when he was still part of the company, he was very much "my way or the highway, and nobody better use D&D stuff without my permission."

That's usually the way of it though, isn't it? He knew full well what could happen to IP if taken and not pursued. He knew that and in part bucked so hard as to prevent the same thing happening to his baby.

You can see the same thing with other stuff, where people who take certain actions, and because of that, become more sensitive, or even paranoid due to the knowledge of how it an happen, and sometimes, how easily it can happen.

Sigh. It was a very different Internet back then. Part of me almost misses it. Almost.
 


I missed this era almost entirely. I stopped gaming from about 94 to 97. Mostly because I was busy with my band and "too cool" to game. I got over that, naturally. I was rather bemused to return and see all the "T$R" and "They Sue Regularly" posts in newsgroups.

Until the OGL, D&D always walked this tough line between encouraging fan creativity and enforcing their IP and vision of the game. Even in the 1e era, you saw this vacillation between "make this game your own" and "if you change anything you're not actually playing AD&D anymore."

I also suspect the copious cease-and-desists they sent out came from a lawyer (or someone else) that really didn't understand the internet, as many did not back then.
 

"Companies that fail to defend their trademarks can lose them. Just ask the original makers of cellophane, escalators, and trampolines. However, D&D fans and TSR would debate how much copyright law justified the company’s cease-and-desist notices."

AAAARGH!

Don't mind me, one of my biggest pet peeves is people who talk like we're supposed to think they're authorities on IP law, but don't even understand the difference between trademark and copyright...

(And, it's not just a case of accidentally using the wrong word. The error is much more substantial than that, though it's not clear to me if it's Repp's, the blogger's, or both. It is trademarks you can lose if you don't defend them, though not quite so easily as was made out here, but it was mostly copyright violations, if anything, that TSR went after. IANAL but as far as I can tell, it was vanishingly unlikely they were going to lose any IP rights over any of this stuff.)

Yeah this is one of these things (confusing copyright and trademark) I've heard lawyers refer to as "Laymen-law", where loads of members of the public confidently assert it, and will attempt to defend it (sometimes to the death) even though it's total bollocks. Another one is that it's a legal requirement for directors to make the largest profit possible for the shareholders in a public company, which is equally bollocks.

And yes virtually everything they seemed to be going after was copyright violation like an official stat block or magic item or the like.

They certainly sent threatening letters to people who didn't violate either copyright or trademarks, though. I suspect that might even have been the majority of threatening letters.

I think this actually really helped other RPGs out. If you went on the internet looking for D&D stuff, you could find uber-grogs arguing about a lot of stuff, but you couldn't find all that much material, like you couldn't easily find adventures, or new magical items, or whatever. They were out there, but not in amounts relative to the number of people playing D&D as compared to other RPGs. Whereas for White Wolf RPGs, CP2020, or Shadowrun, you could find giant sites absolutely full of items, spells, splats, powers, whatever. It certainly made me feel more keen to play these well-supported games.

Interesting that Repp was suggesting an official archive of fan-made material, something that hasn't really become a reality until relatively recently with D&D Beyond.
 

Sacrosanct

Legend
I missed this era almost entirely. I stopped gaming from about 94 to 97. Mostly because I was busy with my band and "too cool" to game. I got over that, naturally. I was rather bemused to return and see all the "T$R" and "They Sue Regularly" posts in newsgroups.

Until the OGL, D&D always walked this tough line between encouraging fan creativity and enforcing their IP and vision of the game. Even in the 1e era, you saw this vacillation between "make this game your own" and "if you change anything you're not actually playing AD&D anymore."

I also suspect the copious cease-and-desists they sent out came from a lawyer (or someone else) that really didn't understand the internet, as many did not back then.
I was in Korea from 92-96, with no access to internet at all then, so I missed this whole usenet thing as well. We just played D&D in the barracks oblivious to what was going on in the digital world.
 

Getting back into the hobby was like stepping into this weird mirror universe. TSR was still a juggernaut when I left and the next thing I know, they were on the ropes and the people that made that "upstart" card game own D&D now.

I was in Korea from 92-96, with no access to internet at all then, so I missed this whole usenet thing as well. We just played D&D in the barracks oblivious to what was going on in the digital world.
 

GreenTengu

Explorer
I wonder if anyone is really surprised that companies have been sending out cease-and-desist letters against online fan content for as long as the internet has been around. Even sometimes sending it out to the wrong people.

Although-- in the interest of fairness-- you don't really have the option of just sitting back and letting people use your copyrighted work however they like until you finally decide some target is rich enough for you to go after and go after only that one.

Although so much of D&D is based on stuff that absolutely is not copyrightable because they are ideas that they literally stole from fantasy fiction from the 1950s to 1970s-- it does feel a bit hypocritical. But WotC didn't even try and now that's where there is not Pathfinder and 13th Age and a dozen other D&D in everything but name games out there.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
"Companies that fail to defend their trademarks can lose them. Just ask the original makers of cellophane, escalators, and trampolines. However, D&D fans and TSR would debate how much copyright law justified the company’s cease-and-desist notices."

AAAARGH!

Don't mind me, one of my biggest pet peeves is people who talk like we're supposed to think they're authorities on IP law, but don't even understand the difference between trademark and copyright...

(And, it's not just a case of accidentally using the wrong word. The error is much more substantial than that, though it's not clear to me if it's Repp's, the blogger's, or both. It is trademarks you can lose if you don't defend them, though not quite so easily as was made out here, but it was mostly copyright violations, if anything, that TSR went after. IANAL but as far as I can tell, it was vanishingly unlikely they were going to lose any IP rights over any of this stuff.)
I'd add also that in addition to the fact that you, indeed, can't lose your copyright that way, 'defending' a trademark includes things like 'giving permission' or 'creating a license [like the OGL or d20 System STL]' or an online marketplace [like DMs Guild] or numerous other positive things you can choose to do rather than a C&D. 'Defending' is a word with baggage; I prefer 'protecting'. You don't want people to infringe on your IP, but there are many ways you can allow them to use your IP. Which means that claiming one has to declare war on their fans because the law is forcing them to is disingenuous at best. You never have to do that; you choose to.
 

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