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TSR TSR's War on Fans

Azzy

Newtype
I forget the award show, but seeing the head guy of Napster (pre-iPod music-sharing site) come out wearing a Metallica shirt was awesome.
Ah, Napster. I miss it—it introduced me to a lot of bands that I wouldn't have heard otherwise (and lead to me buying their albums) and allowed me to track down out of production songs. Without it, we wouldn't have iTunes or other places to purchase digital music.
 

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Stormonu

Legend
All the D20 crash did was reroute traffic away from the questionable 3pp products back to the original publisher (WotC). The market shrinkage was an inevitable killing off of the "everybody and their brother" putting out products and a simple correction that moved individuals back to more "trusted" companies - and the realization that not every game worked best under the d20 engine.

As for Pathfinder, that was the SRD working as intended by Dancey, even if WotC didn't like it. The SRD was created to protect D&D itself from too radical (or too little) of a change that was rejected by the consumer. Basically, if WotC had kept the customer base happy, Pathfinder would have never been a factor. Besides, Pathfinder only exceeded WotC when WotC put a halt on releasing new product, otherwise it was simple an alternative/competitor and could only survive on the perceived quality given to it by consumers.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
me. 1994 The year I got married, had a kid, bought a house, and some more dice. Have two those still.
I'm.... really sorry to hear about your house and your dice?
The kid is an adult who be 26 In October. Got rid of first wife. DARN I freaking old. Please send large 1 inch dice to old folks home.
 

Longspeak

Explorer
The kid is an adult who be 26 In October. Got rid of first wife. DARN I freaking old. Please send large 1 inch dice to old folks home.
I feel you. My kids are about to be 30 and 27. Still have the wife & most of the dice. I can still see my dice... but I can't carry all the gaming stuff anymore. I have a nice bag I make my son carry to games. :)


On the TSR front, I wonder how much of TSR's behavior in the day was because of lessons learned of their own. I recall the problems over Deities and Demigods, and the copyright infringement issues, and I recall at least one case where TSR was super gunshy about trademark infringement when my brother was forced to change the name of something in an RPGA adventure because the name was too reminiscnet of "Toys 'R Us" and TSR's legal team was all "No, you have to change it."

So they learn these lessons from that side, and just apply them outwardly willy nilly? Maybe? I dunno, I was pretty young in those days.
 
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oreofox

Explorer
As for Pathfinder, that was the SRD working as intended by Dancey, even if WotC didn't like it. The SRD was created to protect D&D itself from too radical (or too little) of a change that was rejected by the consumer. Basically, if WotC had kept the customer base happy, Pathfinder would have never been a factor. Besides, Pathfinder only exceeded WotC when WotC put a halt on releasing new product, otherwise it was simple an alternative/competitor and could only survive on the perceived quality given to it by consumers.

The only reason Pathfinder did so well as they did, was because WotC was waffling about making an OGL for 4e in time for Paizo to switch over to that. So they had one of their people put together his house rules of 3rd edition and made the Pathfinder game. WotC's marketing and other flubs with 4th Edition helped propel Pathfinder into the #1 spot. Also the fact 4e was such a radical change from 3e didn't help.

WotC has practically made it to where another Pathfinder doesn't happen when the inevitable 6e comes out, unless it's a slight change, like 1e to 2e. They didn't include everything into the SRD like they did with 3e. This is not intending to start an edition war.
 

rogueattorney

Adventurer
I think there were two big issues involved in TSR’s actions in the 90s.

The first was simply the newness of the Internet and a lack of understanding of what it was and the potential it had for bringing people with similar interests together.

But the second bigger issue was that I think there was a disconnect between the managers at the tip top of TSR and the gaming world. The top managers at that time came from the publishing world and they treated D&D as a way to create intellectual property. Their main products at the time were campaign worlds and novels to be set in those worlds. They treated the D&D consumers on the internet like publishers of derivative product Much like JK Rowling and her war on Potter fan-fic.

Of course, D&D at its heart is not a work of fiction. It is a game, the main activity of which is having one player create an adventure in which the other players use Magic Missiles and Vorpal Blades, meet Elminster, fight Mind Flayers and explore Waterdeep. The game explicitly asks players to use D&D’s intellectual property to create derivative product and share with other people. That’s the entire point - creating your own characters, dungeons, worlds, etc. derived from the D&D products and then relating these to other people.

So, when D&D players started to use the Internet to do what they’d always done, the managers at TSR who didn’t understand the main activity associated with the products they were selling reacted with hostility. And that’s how you got They Sue Regularly.

The OGL and etc was an effort by WotC - a game company made up of gamers who knew the activity that went along with the products they sold - to regain trust of their customers who’d been alienated by TSR.
 

GreenTengu

Explorer
So deal harshly with that, if you feel it's necessary. It doesn't follow that you have to deal equally harshly with the other 95% of the fan works that are/were out there. The stuff you're describing certainly existed (indeed, there's more of it, and more easily accessible, now than there was then), but it was only a small fraction of what got C&D letters.

I would venture to guess that, as the internet was new in those days, that TSR simply hired a law firm to slap down copyright infringement and the law firm was quite zealous in sending out such letters as they would ultimately get paid based on how many cases they generated.

It seems like TSR only had so many employees at the time and the idea that an executive or even an employee would spend their time scouring the internet to find any potential cases of infringement and send out those letters seems unlikely.... unless they hired an employee whose entire job was to do just that and the only way they could keep their job was to keep sending out letters to any potential violators.
 

While I wouldn't rule out an in-house lawyer (has anyone come across the actual name on the Cease & Desist letters other than Rob Repp?), it's entirely likely that yes, the lawyer(s) just didn't understand the internet and didn't understand the company they were representing.

I would venture to guess that, as the internet was new in those days, that TSR simply hired a law firm to slap down copyright infringement and the law firm was quite zealous in sending out such letters as they would ultimately get paid based on how many cases they generated.
 

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.
Was that actual case law or statute at the time?

A trademark has to be defended, if it's being used in trade by someone else. . .a copyright doesn't.

Also, to lose a trademark it generally has to be used either generically and they don't take efforts to fight the genericization, or it has to be used in trade by someone else.

Is a fan website with someone posting a text-file netbook of their homebrew campaign setting really using it "in trade", if the file isn't being sold?

Either interpretations of IP law have changed a LOT in the last quarter century, or the TSR legal dept. was absurdly over-cautious. They wouldn't be the only one like that though, for a while, Paramount had much the same attitude about Star Trek fan sites.
 

Some of it was erm bad.

One of the first things I remember looking up online was D&D. There was an AD&D book of sex iirc circa 95/96.

Cover had the AD&D font, topless women on it and inside it had things like successful chance of crossbreeding the various races. Had rape implications as well with your own harem of sex slaves.

Made the Book of Erotic fantasy look nuanced and a literary masterpiece by comparison.

Anyone else remember that?
I remember when I very first got onto the internet. . .August 1996. I wanted to find out more information about D&D. I typed D&D into a search engine.

I remember the AD&D Net Book of Sex was one of the top results. I remember that file quite well, and it sounds like what you're describing. Except it was
a very large plaintext file with no fonts or illustrations though.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
I remember when I very first got onto the internet. . .August 1996. I wanted to find out more information about D&D. I typed D&D into a search engine.

I remember the AD&D Net Book of Sex was one of the top results. I remember that file quite well, and it sounds like what you're describing. Except it was
a very large plaintext file with no fonts or illustrations though.

Yep I can't remember if it was at the top but it's what showed up to a D&D search on Yahoo.
 

Was that actual case law or statute at the time?

A trademark has to be defended, if it's being used in trade by someone else. . .a copyright doesn't.

Also, to lose a trademark it generally has to be used either generically and they don't take efforts to fight the genericization, or it has to be used in trade by someone else.

Is a fan website with someone posting a text-file netbook of their homebrew campaign setting really using it "in trade", if the file isn't being sold?

Either interpretations of IP law have changed a LOT in the last quarter century, or the TSR legal dept. was absurdly over-cautious. They wouldn't be the only one like that though, for a while, Paramount had much the same attitude about Star Trek fan sites.
It's my understanding that they were overcautious. I believe they originally treated it as trademark, rather than copyright, which as you pointed out requires active defense. Perhaps they were wrong in their setup, but I'd guess the lawyers were the same ones Gygax hired when TSR was being run out of his basement.
 

But the second bigger issue was that I think there was a disconnect between the managers at the tip top of TSR and the gaming world. The top managers at that time came from the publishing world and they treated D&D as a way to create intellectual property. Their main products at the time were campaign worlds and novels to be set in those worlds. They treated the D&D consumers on the internet like publishers of derivative product Much like JK Rowling and her war on Potter fan-fic.

Of course, D&D at its heart is not a work of fiction. It is a game, the main activity of which is having one player create an adventure in which the other players use Magic Missiles and Vorpal Blades, meet Elminster, fight Mind Flayers and explore Waterdeep. The game explicitly asks players to use D&D’s intellectual property to create derivative product and share with other people. That’s the entire point - creating your own characters, dungeons, worlds, etc. derived from the D&D products and then relating these to other people.

So, when D&D players started to use the Internet to do what they’d always done, the managers at TSR who didn’t understand the main activity associated with the products they were selling reacted with hostility. And that’s how you got They Sue Regularly.
I remember reading that one big problem that Williams-era TSR had was that Lorraine Williams seriously did not understand what she was making. She saw TSR as a publishing company first and foremost, they published books first and foremost, with games as a minor part of their business. She actively forbade TSR employees from playtesting their workds, she saw it as just wasting time by playing games on company time. She saw TSR as just a publishing house for books, and gave no consideration to the fact the books were used to play a game.

From that mentality, yes, it would look like one of the authors that hates fanfic, like Anne McCaffrey or Anne Rice.
 

jeffh

Explorer
Was that actual case law or statute at the time?
No, and people weren't shy about pointing this out even at the time.

(Not a lawyer, just someone who listens to actual lawyers when they talk about IP law, and pointedly ignores randos who don't even understand the difference between copyright and trademark.)
 

I would venture to guess that, as the internet was new in those days, that TSR simply hired a law firm to slap down copyright infringement and the law firm was quite zealous in sending out such letters as they would ultimately get paid based on how many cases they generated.

For starters, my general understanding is that this was not the case. TSR definitely had a legal team, but most of the information that floats around makes it seem like those in charge of TSR all knew exactly how zealous they were being and encouraged it.

More importantly, though, I absolutely hate the "blame the subcontractors" excuse. If the law firm hired by TSR was overzealous and overreaching, that's still 100% TSR's fault. If you hire someone to act as your agent, you assume responsibility for their actions. Negligence is not an excuse. In fact, I would go as far as saying that sometimes negligence would be worse than malice; malice can be honest.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
It's my understanding that they were overcautious. I believe they originally treated it as trademark, rather than copyright, which as you pointed out requires active defense. Perhaps they were wrong in their setup, but I'd guess the lawyers were the same ones Gygax hired when TSR was being run out of his basement.

Overcautious? Or deliberately overzealous? Corporations have a vested interested in being overzealous. Most people don't have the wherewithal to defend themselves if a corporation leans on them about intellectual property, so they knuckle under even when they might have the law on their side.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Is a fan website with someone posting a text-file netbook of their homebrew campaign setting really using it "in trade", if the file isn't being sold?

I believe selling materials that violate IP protections (whether trademark or copyright) for money could make things more severe, but even distributing IP for free would be a violation because, it's still distributing someone else's IP.
That, of course, makes no claim that distributing a netbook of the home campaign is actually an IP violation... that would depend on the actual content of the distributed material.
 

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