Unauthorized And Unlicensed But Sometimes Acceptable RPGs?

One thing that gamers love is having the favorite media properties made into role-playing games. They talk about how well the official games do at adapting the source material. They make lists of the properties that should have their own games. They also do unauthorized, unlicensed adaptations. If you go back to the little black books of Traveller, you can find write-ups for Luke Skywalker, Kimbal Kinnison and other well-known science fiction characters. Arduin had light sabers and knock offs of Jedi Knights. The original Deities & Demigods had Elric and the Cthulhu Mythos in it. Gaming blogs are sources of “converted” material. All of these were unauthorized of course.

I am a little late with my mid-week column this week, but the holidays are to blame for that. So, I thought that I would make up for that lateness with an extra scoop of controversy.

One of my “edicts” for these columns is to talk about games that aren’t related to D&D. I think that there are a lot of “non-commercial,” amateur productions that warrant a look at, and from time to time I will talk about them. I don’t think that only the full-color, slickly produced role-playing games are the only ones that we should look at. There is a lot of good stuff that is being done by one or two people who are driven by their passion, use methods like Print On Demand to produce their games, and “market” them using blogs spread around the internet.

Sometimes, these games will be unauthorized adaptations of other’s materials.

This past summer there was a controversy over an unlicensed, unauthorized adaptation of the Mass Effect franchise being nominated for major RPG awards. And, it shouldn’t have been nominated either. It used art and materials that the designer didn’t pay for, and that he did not have the rights to use. There’s a “REUP” of the classic D6-powered Star Wars game floating around the internet in print-ready PDF files. It expands upon the original game with material from supplements and from sources that came out after West End Games lost their license to produce Star Wars games. There’s even a smaller game that uses an original system and is for Star Trek gaming.

I can’t fault the enthusiasm for fans of properties to do these things. Most, if not all, of us have done these things in our own games just like this. In this amazing age of Print On Demand, it is easy enough to make a something that looks pretty at your table, and makes you feel like you’re a professional designer. There are even work arounds to get your games into the hands of others, either through PDFs or “behind the scenes” printings.

However, no matter how much fun they might be for us, these games do still exist in a murky, grey area legally. It is important to know that just because something is being “published” at no cost to someone, that doesn’t meant that copyrights (or trademarks) aren’t being infringed and it also doesn’t mean that a person can’t be sued for damages. Never, ever take (or give) legal advice over the internet, so I am not going to do that.

What I am going to do is talk about a couple of unauthorized role-playing games. With the new movie in the theaters, Star Wars is on the lips and minds of everyone right now, however that Star Wars movie also had a trailer for the next Star Trek movie as well.


Let’s talk about Far Trek by C.R. Brandon first. This actually isn’t a bad game. Based on the Microlite hack Where No Man Has Gone Before, Far Trek is a simple science fiction game that gets a lot right. I think that if Brandon put out a “generic” version of this game that paid homage to his inspirations, but stripped out the Star Trek IP, you would have a really robust science fiction game that is as simple to play as Classic Traveller.

The game uses a simplified class-based system, and a resolution mechanic of 3d6 versus a target number. The “classes” of Far Trek are based around the “shirts” from The Original Series: gold, blue and red, with each class having skills that only they access and specialized talents. There are four attributes, and combining them with the skills and talents is how you describe your character. There are also “advanced” classes in the appendixes that expand the options available for your characters (you are even presented with the ability to make Klingon and Romulan characters). The options are kept to a minimum, so it shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to make a character. The “advanced” classes also include merchant/traders and special citizens (scholars and other specialist types).

It is the extra classes that really open up the game. With the full complement of classes, you could easily run a Traveller-esque sort of game. After our group’s last encounter with Classic Traveller, I seem to spend a lot of time looking for a game that would work better in that milieu for our group. Far Trek might be an option.

One thing that some might not like about the game is that characters (except for the expendable no-name characters) don’t die. Instead they are knocked out for a period of time. This is a pretty good emulation of the classic Star Trek series, and one of the game’s only unconventional pieces. If this isn’t for you, adding a hit point mechanic shouldn’t be a problem.

If you’re a fan of Star Trek, you might want to check out Far Trek. The PDF is always available for free at the site that I linked above. Periodically, the author will make an “at cost” (meaning that he makes no money off of the books and the only cost is covering printing) print version available through Lulu.com. If nothing else, it is a really good free game, and I recommend checking it out.


Now, there is also The Star Wars Roleplaying Game Revised, Expanded, and Updated game. Probably because of legal reasons, this isn’t hosted at a central location like Far Trek. Those who want to find it shouldn’t have a problem finding it.

Most of the things that I don’t like about this game are legal issues. The first issue is the art. There is a lot of art recycled from a number of sources, both gaming related and from other Star Wars sources. The game also recycles a lot of content that is not only not owned by the people who put this game together, but the people who created it didn’t receive any compensation either. Would a new game company, if they legally were licensing and republishing this material, pay people who had previously worked on a game for their work? It would probably depend on the nature of their contract with the actual rights holder, but in the nature of good will they might make some form of payment to the previous creators. This is, of course, more of a moral issue than a legal one, but I think that it is central to whether or not gamers support these unauthorized productions.

As to the game itself, since it is a reproduction of the Revised Second Edition of the Star Wars RPG produced by West End Games, a lot of anyone’s idea of whether or not this game is good will depend on how much they like the D6 System that West End Games produced. I’m a fan of the D6 System, so that isn’t an issue for me. REUP also incorporates material from some of the supplements to that original game, and has original fan-based material from the prequel Star Wars movies. It is also big. Over 500 pages big.

Now, for me, it isn’t going to replace my copy of the Revised second edition of the Star Wars RPG, or the Metabarons RPG made during that short period when West End Games was owned by Les Humanoids. I have enough material between those games to keep me in D6 space fantasy gaming for a long, long time.

For a fan-based job, with appropriated art, the REUP edition doesn’t do a terrible job of presenting the material. Much like with Far Trek above, you have to ask yourself…would this game be better if it was more “generic,” or used an original IP, rather than the unauthorized use of the Star Wars IP? Like my answer with Far Trek, I think that I would have to say that the answer would be yes. I get the idea that this was produced by fans of D6 Star Wars gaming, but that also doesn’t excuse the use of the material. With so much of the D6 System available under the Open Gaming License, and a number of third party publishers making legitimate D6 System material, I’m not sure that there is a need for an unauthorized Star Wars game, and I cannot imagine that the existence of it makes the authorized Star Wars gaming licencors happy on a level.

Both of these games to varying degrees cause brand confusion. The Star Wars Roleplaying Game Revised, Expanded, and Updated version goes to a lot of effort to look official. Yes, it says that it is a fan product trying to “keep the memory alive,” but that isn’t really a legal protection.

The basic point is that, regardless of how you look at unauthorized adaptations and their legality, they are here to stay in gaming. While I don’t think that making these things is wrong, the line of acceptability gets blurred when it comes to selling these things, or worse, trying to win awards for them. Is selling an unlicensed RPG at cost a bad thing? Legally, yes, but morally that decision is different for each of us and likely is a much a choice based around quality as it is morality. Obviously, I spent a couple of dollars on Far Trek, so I must have felt that was fine morally.

Regardless of being okay with purchasing it, I still don’t think that an unlicensed game should be given the same considerations as a professionally produced game. The people who make these games may be doing it out of “love,” but they aren’t paying the licensing fees that the professionals are paying, and they often “borrow” art (that they also don’t pay for). Like I said at the beginning, adaptation, authorized and unauthorized, is a cornerstone of tabletop gaming, and sometimes we glance away and pretend that it is okay. Other times we have to say that this isn’t a cool practice. It is complicated, like any legal matter can be.

I do think that we need a dialog in the hobby of RPGs about where and when it is appropriate to cross these legal lines. With PDF production so easily available these days, we see more and more examples of people trying to produce and sell their ill-gotten gains. Many people think that “big corporations” aren’t hurt by these unauthorized productions, and that it helps out because it demonstrates a demand for gaming material based on their properties. The problem is that it can end up making things more difficult, because companies and creators who have seen their material appropriated for unauthorized works may be less interested in working with people in an industry that doesn’t come down harder on unauthorized games. I think that is why there was such a backlash towards the Mass Effect RPG this past summer, the industry felt that giving an unauthorized game the same treatment as legally licensed role-playing games that paid writers and artists, and paid for access to materials wasn’t the right thing to do.
 

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prosfilaes

Adventurer
in the time between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings Tolkien, under a 7 year expiration date, would have seen countless imitations rise up (in theory, just roll with it), probably extinguishing Lord of the Rings from even happening.

Don Quixote, in the days before copyright, had an unauthorized sequel. It did not stop Cervantes from writing his planned sequel.

"Night of the Living Dead" fell into the public domain due to failure to have a copyright notice. Did that stop George A. Romero from making a series of highly-rated zombie movies? Would the copyright on that have stopped any of the imitator zombie movies?

As I said above, Roger Corman didn't bother copyrighting "The Little Shop of Horrors". That's why we have the movie "Little Shop of Horrors", that's much more highly rated then the original. Sometimes the imitators are better then the original.

Seriously: looking at Dracula's endless regurgitations in film and book (or Shelly's Frankenstein, for example) is actually a compelling argument for why public domain is maybe not as amazing an idea as we like to think of it.

As opposed to what? There is a Dracula sequel by Stoker's grandson; it is generally considered pretty bad. The Pern and Dune sequels by the children of their respective authors are usually considered horrible. You want to wipe out the history of Dracula in the 20th and 21st century for what?

As for film, unless the author is J. K. Rowling, they probably don't have any control over the film. Any number of films have been made by authorization of the author or estate, and have been horrible, sometimes without even a pretense of having any connection to the original work.

you would need to find a way to monetize a product before it is ever released; any effort to put art out in the wild without locking in the earnings immediately would be a foolish venture.

Again, in reality, very few people are seeing any money from the work they did seven years ago. Very few books before the ebook age were still in print seven years after their first printing; even now it's the popular new books selling, not the older books. Before the TV age, movies hit the movie theater then disappeared, except for a few that was worth a rerelease. Things have changed some, but it's still true that most movies make their money when they hit the big screen and when they first hit DVD, and then they drop off into a tiny fraction. Heck, even the profits from the big screen are made in a couple weeks; Mockingjay part 2, for example, made $200M of its 260M in the first two weeks.

Profitable artists invariably get their profit from a work long before seven years have passed. Heck, there's Kickstarter and Patreon and MEAPs and good old-fashioned preorders for artists who want their money upfront before anyone has seen the work. (MEAP is computer publisher Manning's program where you pay to get the book as it's being written. O'Reilly has a similar program.) Paizo supposedly has its books 100% paid for by subscriptions alone.

Then, the imitations and exploits would come in endless waves of "me-too" content trying to make a fast buck.
[/QUOTE]

Would come? There's mockbusters that hit DVD as or before the real movie comes out, hoping to sell on a confusing title or people who believe the cheap DVD at Wal-Mart will be just as good as the new movie at the movie theater. I recommend https://archive.org/details/AdultEducationFakeBeatles as a documentary on all the cheap, dishonest ways that record companies tried to cash in on the Beatles craze without actually have a contract with the Beatles. To talk about Star Wars, Starchaser: The Legend of Orin is a story about a kid with a lightsaber who runs into a smuggler, princess and robot and fights the Evil Empire. Imitators are a fact of life.

Jim Baen in his arguments against lengthy copyright pointed out that he paid more for an advance on a David Drake book then he did for the entire estates of the old science fiction authors Baen was reprinting. It really is about what you can produce today, not what it is going to be making for you in seven years.
 

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Another thought. Expiration of copyright need not mean expiration of royalty rights. Royalty rights could continue longer than actual copyright, and hopefully not be transferable from the creator of the work to a corporate entity. This would ensure the actual creators would profit from their work, without stopping others from making use of it.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Another thought. Expiration of copyright need not mean expiration of royalty rights. Royalty rights could continue longer than actual copyright, and hopefully not be transferable from the creator of the work to a corporate entity. This would ensure the actual creators would profit from their work, without stopping others from making use of it.

Need not, but it effectively does. Once something is no longer protected by copyright, what's the point of paying the author for the rights to print it? None. Anybody can distribute it without the involvement of the author at all - so they will. That's why copyright makes sense for the life of the author.

The problem with life of the author comes in when the right holder is a corporation. They tend to have a lot of longevity. No IP, as far as I see it, should be protected significantly longer than any other IP simply because a corporate entity won't die. We are currently at risk of IP never expiring as long as Disney has powerful friends in Congress. And that's not a good thing.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
I have to say that 7 years is awfully short for any kind of copyright. I mean creator's life time plus X years seems pretty reasonable. The main reason that in the USA copyright keeps getting pushed back is so that Mickey Mouse doesn't get moved into the public domain.

As for stuff like Superman, even though Seigel and Schuster have passed on the actual Superman symbol is a Trade Mark and thus DC/Warner Bros. never really have to worry about it. Somebody could go right Superman stories, but they can't use any of the symbols usually associated with the character without running into trade mark infringement.

Star Wars has the same thing, which is why the Star Wars is always written stacked in a particular font on just about anything with the name on it, because its a trade mark.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Once something is no longer protected by copyright, what's the point of paying the author for the rights to print it? None. Anybody can distribute it without the involvement of the author at all - so they will. That's why copyright makes sense for the life of the author.

I think you missed the point. Right now, as the law is, there is no point (except PR) to paying an owner for something that's slipped out of copyright - indeed, there is no "owner" after something comes into the public domain.

Sword of Spirit was suggesting a sort of compromise, to deal with the "artist deserves to be paid for their work" issue.

Right now, once copyright expires, the owner loses *all* rights. SoS is suggesting we imagine a situation in which the term of the right of control is separate from the term of right to be paid. You could have a work that the author no longer exerts *control* over whether or not you use his or her work - you wouldn't have to ask permission - but you would still have to pay to use it. Imagine that Mickey Mouse was no longer covered by copyright, but covered by royalty rights - you could use the Mouse any way you liked, but you'd still had to pay Disney 10% of what you earned off your use of the Mouse.
 
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billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
That's not how it works; it either goes off the life of the human author, or they get a flat term (95 years in the US).

I'm not actually saying it is. I'm talking more about the philosophy behind life of the author and how that doesn't work for corporate ownership. And that 95 years - watch what happens when Mickey Mouse comes up for public domain again...
 

Coreyartus

Explorer
Bleh. Not a fan of fandom-inspired IP rip-offs. I've seen the desire to express one's fandom in other industries, and ultimately it's just an ego-thing. "Look what I've done! Isn't it neat? Aren't I creative?!" I've seen things blatantly and tragically "adjusted" to avoid IP concerns and every time it ends up pathetically demonstrating a sad lack of creativity when it can't be shored up with the results of someone else's intellectual hard work. Too much fan-based work simply demonstrates how good they are at manipulating the work of others, not their own ingenuity and imagination, efforts and talents. They're like endless variations on recipes, but those fans don't actually know how to cook... Give us tools instead--we should be able to supply our own spices and flavoring.

In art, you might copy the Old Masters as a means to an end--a part of the learning process to discover your own talents. But you work through that inspiration and filter it through your own lens to make it something uniquely your own. To me, too much fandom-generated work is just that--copying Old Masters without the filters. If I wanted that kind of work, why would I buy a fan's, especially if they're trying to scam off of another creative's success? Derivative work is easy and a cop-out. It's letting the packaging do all the work--packaging those fans never created.

What is that really about--the work or the IP-abuser's need for attention? Ew. Count me out.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Without trying to prove a hypothetical, I can say that being out of copyright doesn't stop anyone from knowing about Dracula or Sherlock Holmes or Frankenstein's Monster or Sleeping Beauty or Alice in Wonderland or the Wizard of Oz or Hercules or Pinnocchio or Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde or Captain Nemo or Paul Bunyan or Tarzan or King Arthur or Robin Hood or Moby Dick (in fact that last one was recently used to advertise a movie that had an otherwise unrecognizable title).

I think without copyright protections, we most certainly would have gotten Star Wars (OT), and it would most certainly be as beloved and important as it is today in the real world. But we would not have gotten the Star Wars Expanded Universe for Disney to later abandon and begin anew. We would not have gotten the prequel trilogy, and we would not have gotten The Force Awakens . . . . or, at least, the situation would be very different than it is now.

Is this a good thing? A bad thing? I could certainly do without the prequel trilogy, awesome laser sword combat aside. I garnered a lot of enjoyment out of the Star Wars EU, although like most shared worlds, a lot of it was crap. If anyone could do whatever they want with the Star Wars story, there would be a metric ton of crappy fan imitation, but there would also possibly be some gems that would rise to the top of the pile.

As our discussion continues, I begin to wonder if the current system really isn't better at protecting artistic expression and promoting the arts, but simply making large franchises into a sort of artistic comfort food. I've read a lot of quality Forgotten Realms novels over the years, but I've also read more than a few crappy FR novels . . . but I've read them all, and will likely continue to do so. I don't base my FR reading habits on reviews, or the recommendations of friends, I just see the FR logo and I'm good to go. It's easy, it's comfortable. When I end up with a lousy novel, I sigh and tell myself the next one will be good (which is usually true) and I take enjoyment out of the official world growing in detail, even if the story I just read wasn't all that inspiring.

If copyright/trademark/IP protection wasn't the law, would the Forgotten Realms even exist? Would I miss it? Would there be tons of "unofficial" derivative work I'd have to wade through, forcing me to become more discerning on what I read? Again, is this "good" or "bad"?

I certainly think the current system has its advantages beyond making corporations happy, that artist's rights and arts promotion are certainly accounted for. But it certainly isn't perfect and goes too far in some ways. But pinning down how strong IP protections "should" be and how long they "should" last is way to tricky for me.
 

Nawara

Explorer
For what it's worth, I prefer the legal, "inspired by" versions of settings anyway. A lot of the time, the result of avoiding IP violations is a better roleplaying setting than the original universe that the game is trying to emulate. Fictional universes are generally designed solely to enable the author/screenwriter to tell a story about a protagonist, but roleplaying settings have a completely different set of needs.

When you make a carbon-copy universe, you can make a lot of problems inherent to licensed universes go away: You can reduce the importance of Mary Sues, you can flatten power imbalances between character types, you can make the setting more of an open-ended sandbox, create new factions that would distract from the original work's central themes, you can create new Big Secrets that haven't already been spoiled by the book/show/movie, you can do away with or fix things the fanbase hates, and all sorts of other things that aren't available to the makers of licensed games.

All of the above contribute to making, say, Dark Matter a better roleplaying option than X-Files. Same with Greyhawk over Middle Earth, Freedom City over Metropolis, Spirit of the Century or Adventure! over Indiana Jones, Spycraft over James Bond, any of the Wizard School RPG settings over Actual Harry Potter, any of the Teen Heroes settings over Actual X-Men, and (I've heard) Ponyfinder over My Little Pony.

Similarly, I imagine that a well-made D&D 5e setting intended to emulate the feel of Game of Thrones would produce a far better gaming experience than the actual setting.

If you want to use the original universe, of course, nobody's stopping you. There's always far more setting material available from non-RPG sources (e.g., Wookiepedia and Memory Alpha) than you'd get in a licensed RPG book.
 
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Coreyartus

Explorer
I think you missed the point. Right now, as the law is, there is no point (except PR) to paying an owner for something that's slipped out of copyright - indeed, there is no "owner" after something comes into the public domain.

Sword of Spirit was suggesting a sort of compromise, to deal with the "artist deserves to be paid for their work" issue.

Right now, once copyright expires, the owner loses *all* rights. SoS is suggesting we imagine a situation in which the term of the right of control is separate from the term of right to be paid. You could have a work that the author no longer exerts *control* over whether or not you use his or her work - you wouldn't have to ask permission - but you would still have to pay to use it. Imagine that Mickey Mouse was no longer covered by copyright, but covered by royalty rights - you could use the Mouse any way you liked, but you'd still had to pay Disney 10% of what you earned off your use of the Mouse.


I don't understand how this is different than licensing. Licensing is legal--you just have to go through a legitimate process to get permission. A creative (or creative entity) deserves to have authority over how and whether their IP is being used by others. Period. You're suggesting a "shelf-life" to IPs that defaults to everyone but the creative entity because one can't be bothered to garner permission?

The desire to have use of another's work doesn't warrant a creative person giving up their right to control that usage. That's childish. That's like saying, "I want candy, and because I want candy I should get it regardless of whether the candymaker lets me or not." It's their stuff--bottom line. They can determine how long they get to make profit with it--they made it. Honestly, I don't know why that's so hard to understand. One's desire to riff off of the work of others (regardless of how ingenious or clever the idea is or however they want to use it) doesn't trump the artist's creative control--regardless of how well they're capable of doing the controlling. The capacity to make profit or be expressive doesn't negate required permissions. It's called respect. Ask permission already. Earn permission. Prove you deserve that permission. Complete your due diligence and spend the money and time to find out who owns the imagery and ideas. That's what you do in a grown up, professional world.

Otherwise create something of your own.

Yeah, it's hard. It takes time, money, effort--just like they had to put in. It's supposed to. That's what makes it great.
 
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prosfilaes

Adventurer
The desire to have use of another's work doesn't warrant a creative person giving up their right to control that usage. That's childish. That's like saying, "I want candy, and because I want candy I should get it regardless of whether the candymaker lets me or not." It's their stuff--bottom line.
They can determine how long they get to make profit with it--they made it.

Copyright as property is analogy. From another perspective, copyright is an incredible invasion of personal property rights. If I bought candy and wanted to make the same candy at home, I could. You're saying that I bought a book but Big Brother is going to stand outside my window and grab me if I make--I make--another book like it for my friend. I wrote a story shipping Snape and Vader, and you're going to claim that it's someone else's stuff, that someone else wrote it!

I like the US Constitution's take on it: copyright is a way we get more art and science. It's not some inherent right of mankind, it's something we do to make society work better. There's all sorts of exceptions, fair use, parody, freedom of panorama (where copyrighted works, ranging for buildings in the US to pretty much any art works in some countries, once put in the public eye, are free to photograph and do with those photographs as you will.) The citizens control copyright and try and shape it to help society.

Honestly, I don't know why that's so hard to understand.

Because it's one model, not the inherent truth.

One's desire to riff off of the work of others (regardless of how ingenious or clever the idea is or however they want to use it) doesn't trump the artist's creative control

It is perfectly legal to riff off the work of others. Copyright infringement is way more limited then that.

Complete your due diligence and spend the money and time to find out who owns the imagery and ideas.

Nobody owns ideas.

That's what you do in a grown up, professional world.

If a grown-up, professional world means that we let movies melt to vinegar and paper works acidify to dust because nobody can afford the ridiculous cost of getting the rights to copy them, that's sad.

Yeah, it's hard. It takes time, money, effort--just like they had to put in. It's supposed to. That's what makes it great.

Not a fan of Shakespeare? Quite a few of his plays would under current laws be copyright infringements of his sources. Are they not great?
 

Coreyartus

Explorer
Copyright as property is analogy. From another perspective, copyright is an incredible invasion of personal property rights. If I bought candy and wanted to make the same candy at home, I could. You're saying that I bought a book but Big Brother is going to stand outside my window and grab me if I make--I make--another book like it for my friend. I wrote a story shipping Snape and Vader, and you're going to claim that it's someone else's stuff, that someone else wrote it!

A book using using the efforts of others is a bit different than candy. A character isn't a recipe. The original developers of those characters are using them to make a living. You can't make money off of them without their permission, because that's the way the developer survives. It's not candy. And by the way, you can't copyright recipes. So no one cares if you actually do make that candy and sell it.

I like the US Constitution's take on it: copyright is a way we get more art and science. It's not some inherent right of mankind, it's something we do to make society work better. There's all sorts of exceptions, fair use, parody, freedom of panorama (where copyrighted works, ranging for buildings in the US to pretty much any art works in some countries, once put in the public eye, are free to photograph and do with those photographs as you will.) The citizens control copyright and try and shape it to help society.

I like to think that supporting our artists and creative thinkers IS helping society.


Nobody owns ideas.

You're right. But one does retain the capacity to make money off of Intellectual Property and control what can be expressed with the material they've created. They're not ideas. They're constructs used to express ideas. Don't delude yourself into confusing the two. There are indeed lots of legal exceptions to copyright--and no one is arguing those are bad. But make sure you're using those constructs in a way that's legal. Otherwise you're stealing.

If a grown-up, professional world means that we let movies melt to vinegar and paper works acidify to dust because nobody can afford the ridiculous cost of getting the rights to copy them, that's sad.

Fans are the only way an IP can live on in perpetuity? That without them stealing someone else's work for their own use the IP may dwindle into nothingness? That somehow they're entitled to take other people's hard work for their own because, heroically, they're the only ones who can do it justice?

How narcissistic is that?!?

Not a fan of Shakespeare? Quite a few of his plays would under current laws be copyright infringements of his sources. Are they not great?

Pleaze, I teach theatre. I've designed more Shakespeare plays than most people have ever heard of. Everyone knows Shakespeare blatantly ripped off a lot of sources and used them as his own. But his was a different world and a different time. Ethics and morality were fundamentally different and shaped by the civilization of the time. If you're actually advocating we adopt copyright laws from a time that existed before the printing press was in wide-spread usage, I think you're going to have a lot of upset people. He stole. That's not contested. But that doesn't make it right for today's world. And he was compensated using the methodology of his time--as a member of his company. And you'll note that playwrights were often compensated through the printing of their plays and the traditional single 4th performance that was customary for generations--an accepted practice that didn't exist when Shakespeare was actually alive. Fair compensation has evolved through the ages, and Dion Boucicault ( a playwright) was actually fundamental in the development of US copyright law.

Hopefully, we've changed what we perceive as ethical and fair a bit since Shakespeare's time. Because I really don't think any of us want to hold up other "ethical" practices of his time (like slavery and burning at the stake) as exemplary practices to continue.
 
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woodelph

First Post
Well, we wouldn't have The Force Awakens.

Or Disney would've hired Abrams (or someone else) to create The Force Awakens in 2002, blowing Attack of the Clones out of the water, and Episode III either would've never been made, or it would've been vastly improved in order to compete—or completely forgotten, overshadowed by the competition.

What I just wrote isn't quite true, because it completely ignores trademark, which, without its own massive revision, would still prevent competing "Star Wars" movies, though maybe not other movies with different titles (and main characters) set in the Star Wars universe.

But the notion that we need endless copyright in order to support things like the recent Star Wars and Star Trek movies is ridiculous—the proliferation of Sherlock Holmes movies/TV in the last decade alone shows that you can have vibrant markets and excellent—even amazing—creations based around non-copyrighted materials.

edit: the discussion of how long copyright should be and who should hold it, and whether the current copyright scheme is the best way to compensate creators is far more involved than the comparatively simple question of "would popular IP vanish without long-duration copyright?"

With my writer hat on, I think that current copyright is too long, parts of it are too broad, and trademark law is not nearly as broad as people in the RPG industry seem to think it is (hint: nobody is getting sued over a spark plug cap that says "compatible with Ford F150" in prominent letters on the packaging).

With my citizen hat on, I think that current copyright is way too long, much, much too broad, and should always be tied to an actual person or people, never to a business entity. You wanna keep making money off of something? Either keep that person employed (i.e., offer them terms that are more valuable than whatever they could get by taking their IP elsewhere), or license the IP from them—but no selling of IP!

With my consumer hat on, I more often see copyright being used to enrich a corporate entity than I see it being used to enrich the creators, so while I'm not going to be violating copyright, the cries of "think of the creators" ring hollow to me. IME, when fans are given the opportunity to directly support the creators, they do. But with contracts often structured such that the middleman reaps the profits (as well as, to be fair, the losses, in many cases) and creators don't, I completely understand why people would not respect corporate-owned copyrights, even given that obviously at least part of the money that goes to those corporations eventually finds its way to at least some of the creators.
 
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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
But the notion that we need endless copyright in order to support things like the recent Star Wars and Star Trek movies is ridiculous

That's rather a straw man. Who has put forward the notion of endless copyright? You're right; it would be a ridiculous position to take.
 

I don't understand how this is different than licensing. Licensing is legal--you just have to go through a legitimate process to get permission. A creative (or creative entity) deserves to have authority over how and whether their IP is being used by others. Period. You're suggesting a "shelf-life" to IPs that defaults to everyone but the creative entity because one can't be bothered to garner permission?

Yes, that's exactly what I'm suggesting. Creators of original works (as much as anything can be original) deserve both reasonable compensation and credit given. An initial period of control over what others do with their work may be necessary to help them acquire that. Beyond that point, it is absurd for them to think that they should control intellectual property (the very idea is new) in perpetuity. Nobody really owns information. We agree as a current society to create such a construct, ostensibly and originally for the benefit of the artists and society, but a lot of the times it serves neither anymore.



The capacity to make profit or be expressive doesn't negate required permissions. It's called respect. Ask permission already. Earn permission. Prove you deserve that permission. Complete your due diligence and spend the money and time to find out who owns the imagery and ideas. That's what you do in a grown up, professional world.

Otherwise create something of your own.

I do create my own stuff. And you know what I want from it? Credit given, and a reasonable amount of any wealth that may be generated through it. I don't want someone else trying to pass it off as their own.

But if someone else wants to take it and go with it and use it in their own materials once it is established that I am the creator of the original content? Sure. And after a reasonable time I think it would be unreasonable to expect people to hunt me down and pay me for it. A couple decades, maybe a bit more, and then just release it into the wild.

Honestly, after long enough (several decades or so) I don't even care if credit is given anymore. At that point there is a record out there of who made it, and anyone who wants to find it out can find it out.
 

Coreyartus

Explorer
Yes, that's exactly what I'm suggesting. Creators of original works (as much as anything can be original) deserve both reasonable compensation and credit given. An initial period of control over what others do with their work may be necessary to help them acquire that. Beyond that point, it is absurd for them to think that they should control intellectual property (the very idea is new) in perpetuity. Nobody really owns information. We agree as a current society to create such a construct, ostensibly and originally for the benefit of the artists and society, but a lot of the times it serves neither anymore.

Your definition of "reasonable" may be very different from others, as well as "control". And you're simplifying creativity to "information." It's not the same thing. It's not simply data. And the effectiveness of Intellectual Property as a construct and its capacity to "serve" is working in favor of the artists--that doesn't mean it's not effective anymore. It's just less effective for those that don't want to take the time to follow legalities.


I do create my own stuff. And you know what I want from it? Credit given, and a reasonable amount of any wealth that may be generated through it. I don't want someone else trying to pass it off as their own.

But if someone else wants to take it and go with it and use it in their own materials once it is established that I am the creator of the original content? Sure. And after a reasonable time I think it would be unreasonable to expect people to hunt me down and pay me for it. A couple decades, maybe a bit more, and then just release it into the wild.

Honestly, after long enough (several decades or so) I don't even care if credit is given anymore. At that point there is a record out there of who made it, and anyone who wants to find it out can find it out.

You can't simplify everyone's wants or needs regarding their own stuff to something commensurate to what you want done with yours. How do you define "reasonable amount of wealth" and why should you be able to set that standard for me? Someone may work really hard on 20 properties that helped inform the 1 that happened to be runaway successful--how do you quantify that?

There's a joke about a designer that takes 10 minutes to design a logo for a company, and the president says "Why should I pay you so much for something that took you 10 minutes?" And the designer says, "Because it took me 10 years to learn how to do it in 10 minutes." You're trying to apply an informational standard to a completely different body of work based on creativity. It doesn't work.

You may be very happy relinquishing control over something you've worked hard on, but do you actually expect you'd get name credit when people can't even be bothered to do that now? Have you seen how people rip off whatever imagery they see on the internet? The lack of any basic understanding of plagiarism? What it means to actually credit a photograph? No one's going to care if your work is credited--they can't be bothered to care as it is in today's world. What little control a creative person has over their IP or artistic expression is already almost completely disrespected--that's supposed to be morally okay after a certain time because, hey, "you had your chance?" What of the new movie capabilities that enabled the creation of Lord of the Rings? What of the popularity of comic characters? What of newly discovered writers? Those creators shouldn't ethically reap the benefits of how their work is being used because business says "Tough luck, sucker! I need to make my money now off your stuff." ?!?

No.

Today's internet world is incredibly self-indulgent, and more than a bit lazy when it comes to proffering credit. They don't want to be bothered with permissions because they won't be able to do what they want on the timetable and at the price they want to do it. And that's cavalier bunk. You want to give your stuff away? Great. Make it Creative Commons. But don't assume everyone wants that.
 
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R

RevTurkey

Guest
Well...I bought a copy of Star Wars REUP in print from Lulu recently.

It is utterly fantastic. System looks interesting and the depth of information incredible.

I have thrown it out with the trash/rubbish.

This thread reminded me how bad theft of copyright is and how upset I would be if my artwork, writing or music was being used without my permission. It is wrong.

As to this 7 years discussion. That would DESTROY the creative arts and I think they are already under immense pressure already. No thanks, bad idea.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
But the notion that we need endless copyright...

Has anyone in the thread suggested we do need endless copyright? Seems a bit of a strawman.

There's a bit of disagreement on how long it should be - seven years seems a bit short (and arbitrary - why not six, or eight?), but I don't think anyone's saying it should be forever.

With my citizen hat on, I think that current copyright is way too long, much, much too broad, and should always be tied to an actual person or people, never to a business entity.

Problem: While an individual creator is just an individual, as soon as a work is created by multiple people, you effectively have a business entity of those people. There were hundreds of people involved in just the creative side of The Force Awakens, likely thousands of people overall involved in the production. There is no way to represent the rights of that large a collection except as a business entity.
 
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Caffinicus

First Post
I know it's a complicated issue for many, but for me, it's simple. If you create something (even using other's IP), and you want to be make it public, and you don't charge for it (and therefore make no profit), it isn't (or shouldn't be) illegal. Otherwise, I believe you are opening up to the idea that any creative work based on another's IP is illegal, including blog entries, GM-written adventures for home campaigns! I can't accept that.

As far as I can see, the only problem with that REUP document is that someone is asking for money for certain formats of it. As a free PDF, I see nothing wrong, and quite a bit right. It's not like much of that material ever existed for the WEG version of the game, so someone would have to create it regardless. If you want game details for any Star Wars material from the prequels forward in D6 (and I can't be alone in perferring D6 to the D20 and/or FFG versions of the game), it would need to be fan-made. A polished, easy to read and enjoy free pdf is a slam-dunk for me.

Caffinicus
 

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