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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Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
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.

I don't really see what the price has to do with anything.
 

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Caffinicus

First Post
I don't really see what the price has to do with anything.

My point is not what the price is, but rather that there is a charge at all. If you provide your work for free, it shouldn't matter that you're using another's IP. Otherwise, any gaming that isn't a published adventure breaks copywrite (it seems to me, I'm hardly an expert).
 

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
The issue there is that you may well be producing a product that competes directly with one that the actual creator is trying to earn a living from.

An artist spends a month painting a picture, composing a song, or six months writing a book. She publishes and starts to earn money from its sales. You make a copy and distribute it for free. You're not earning any profit from it, but your copies are now competing with the licensed ones. Worse still, because the actual distributor/publisher needs to pay their staff and the artist's cut, whereas your copies are free, they are outcompeting the licensed ones.
End result: much fewer of the licensed copies are sold because people get your free copies instead. The distributor and the artist make much less money. You still make no money directly, but have managed to directly damage the livelihood of the actual creator.

There is a level of derivative works that won't be pursued: no one is going to send their attack lawyers in if they find you're DMing a homebrew game set in the Star Wars universe. However the existence of an unlicensed Star Wars system in wide circulation reduces the value of the Star Wars IP when the owner tries to sell the license for an official Star Wars RPG.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
My point is not what the price is, but rather that there is a charge at all. If you provide your work for free, it shouldn't matter that you're using another's IP. Otherwise, any gaming that isn't a published adventure breaks copywrite (it seems to me, I'm hardly an expert).

Yes, I understood that you feel that free things should be exempt from IP protection. I didn't understand why the price ($0, $10) had anything to do with it though.

There are fair use laws which allow for some of the stuff you're referring to.
 

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
My point is not what the price is, but rather that there is a charge at all. If you provide your work for free, it shouldn't matter that you're using another's IP. Otherwise, any gaming that isn't a published adventure breaks copywrite (it seems to me, I'm hardly an expert).

For most gaming purposes, you're not really distributing the work. You're making a "fair use" or even explicitly expected use of it at home with a small group of people. But distributing something, even for free, flies right in the face of copyright because you don't have the right to do so. Only the copyright holder, and their designated proxies, have that right.

But you do have a point - blogs and especially fanfic, as a class of publication, are rife with copyright violations. Even a site like this one - take a look at people's avatars. How many of those are images that are under someone else's copyright? Quite a few. The difference is most of these hit such limited audiences that it's not worth pursuing them (or us) for damages or even issuing a cease and desist order.
 

Coreyartus

Explorer
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

So let's say you and your family worked all your lives to build a beautiful and fabulous house, well known in its small community. You go on vacation, and your next door neighbor decides to use it for a party while you're gone. "You're not using it!" he says, "And I'm not charging anything! And we needed it! We all really really like this house! It's a lovely building and means so much to all of us and the community!"

It's still your house. They're still trespassing. They're still using it illegally.

It doesn't matter how desperate their need is, or the depth of their love and appreciation, or if they weren't charging admission. It doesn't matter that they felt there wasn't anywhere else to have their party. And surely you understand the inappropriate pictures with your grandmother's portrait were just a joke.

Maybe one day they take some of the brand new vintage reproduction shutters you saved up for to decorate their own house temporarily--without asking you--and invite all kinds of people to come see your shutters on their house. Maybe they use your backyard to film a documentary one weekend about the house, and charge a fee for a limited edition deluxe package of the film. And lo-and-behold they actually get some of the details wrong because checking with you was too much trouble.

None of that's hurting you. And because they're fans of your house, you should be okay with it, right? I mean, c'mon!



If you decide you want to throw a party in your house, you can. But that's your prerogative, not your neighbors. You may decide you never want to throw a party at all. If you decide to make your own documentary, or loan your shutters to someone you trust, that's your option.

But it's your decision. Their needs don't equate permission no matter how pretty the packaging.

I understand there's such a thing as fan-work. But there's a difference between appropriating the IP without permission and creating something for your own use. I've created a couple city maps using locations from POTA myself, but I never used stolen artwork, trade dress, rule sets or trademarked terminology. There are ways to do what you want to do without crossing that line. And no, that doesn't mean that all blog entries, home-campaigns and inspired work is automatically illegal. The standards of law as they are articulated and historical precedence should be able to determine if it's crossing a line. But that's not up to the fan to determine if their work is damaging to the IP.

I understand that a person's drive to create and share is usually altruistic. And it's a lot easier to do that when the IP is controlled by a faceless corporation. But there are people behind those IPs that invest their professional creativity into them. It stops being altruism when you're impacting the possible development of potential projects because of your desperate need to garner attention by sharing your work--especially if component pieces of it are being lifted from others without their knowledge or permission.

It's their house. Show us how incredibly creative you are and build your own.
 
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prosfilaes

Adventurer
Today's internet world is incredibly self-indulgent, and more than a bit lazy when it comes to proffering credit.

The new generation is spoiled! News on the next scroll! Oldest story in the world.

In 1978, a novel came out titled "Star Wars", by George Lucas. It was really written by Alan Dean Foster. It seems that the practices of failing to credit comics writers and series writers has mostly stopped. Mid-20th century, it is hard to impossible to attribute many of the news photographs, as the wire services often didn't bother to keep the film strips labeled or separate. Who took this photo of Mussolini? Who knows?

I'm all for copyright law having stronger copyright requirements and people paying more attention to them. But that seems mostly orthogonal to the question at hand.
 

Caffinicus

First Post
So let's say you and your family worked all your lives to build a beautiful and fabulous house, well known in its small community. You go on vacation, and your next door neighbor decides to use it for a party while you're gone. "You're not using it!" he says, "And I'm not charging anything! And we needed it! We all really really like this house! It's a lovely building and means so much to all of us and the community!"

It's still your house. They're still trespassing. They're still using it illegally.

It doesn't matter how desperate their need is, or the depth of their love and appreciation, or if they weren't charging admission. It doesn't matter that they felt there wasn't anywhere else to have their party. And surely you understand the inappropriate pictures with your grandmother's portrait were just a joke.

Maybe one day they take some of the brand new vintage reproduction shutters you saved up for to decorate their own house temporarily--without asking you--and invite all kinds of people to come see your shutters on their house. Maybe they use your backyard to film a documentary one weekend about the house, and charge a fee for a limited edition deluxe package of the film. And lo-and-behold they actually get some of the details wrong because checking with you was too much trouble.

None of that's hurting you. And because they're fans of your house, you should be okay with it, right? I mean, c'mon!



If you decide you want to throw a party in your house, you can. But that's your prerogative, not your neighbors. You may decide you never want to throw a party at all. If you decide to make your own documentary, or loan your shutters to someone you trust, that's your option.

But it's your decision. Their needs don't equate permission no matter how pretty the packaging.

I understand there's such a thing as fan-work. But there's a difference between appropriating the IP without permission and creating something for your own use. I've created a couple city maps using locations from POTA myself, but I never used stolen artwork, trade dress, rule sets or trademarked terminology. There are ways to do what you want to do without crossing that line. And no, that doesn't mean that all blog entries, home-campaigns and inspired work is automatically illegal. The standards of law as they are articulated and historical precedence should be able to determine if it's crossing a line. But that's not up to the fan to determine if their work is damaging to the IP.

I understand that a person's drive to create and share is usually altruistic. And it's a lot easier to do that when the IP is controlled by a faceless corporation. But there are people behind those IPs that invest their professional creativity into them. It stops being altruism when you're impacting the possible development of potential projects because of your desperate need to garner attention by sharing your work--especially if component pieces of it are being lifted from others without their knowledge or permission.

It's their house. Show us how incredibly creative you are and build your own.

You definitely have a point (although I think it's a bit belabored). And certainly the art and the trade dress isn't necessary. But the fact remains that the specific information would not exist at all in any official capacity. REUP is no way competing with an official D6 Star Wars product (all long out of print at this point). Distributing information that has NO chance of being officially released harms no one, and is very useful if you're running that kind of game. I'd feel the same way about any fan-made supplement for a no-longer-available game system. This sort of thing happens all the time with licensed games. How many systems have Star Trek, or Marvel been released in? If your issue is simply that REUP is too "official looking", that I can understand and respect (although it's not enough for me personally to toss it), but that's the only reason to give it pause as far as I'm concerned.

Also, about your house analogy: are these people you imagine stealing from me? Damaging my house or property? preventing me from using my house how and when I want? Are they, in fact, affecting my relationship with my house at all? Because if they aren't, I might very well be OK with it.
 
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prosfilaes

Adventurer
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.

You're conflating what is, with what should be. Yes, a candy maker does care that I copied his candy precisely and started making it. As does a furniture maker or clothing maker, neither of which get much intellectual property protection. Why is a dressmaker only protected by his name, whereas an author gets copyright protection?

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

I like to think that making our artists and creative thinkers into criminals is not helping society. A huge number of artists do do fanart or fanfic. A number of great works are adaptations of other works. Certainly some degree of copyright is helping society, but not the keeping works from the 1920s under copyright, and probably not even the 1960s like Star Trek.

Don't delude yourself into confusing the two.

You confused the two.

But make sure you're using those constructs in a way that's legal. Otherwise you're stealing.

You conflate malum in se and malum prohibitum.

Fans are the only way an IP can live on in perpetuity?

50% of all American sound films made before 1950 are gone. Lost forever. Because nitrocellulose film catches on fire really easily, and cellulose acetate film, as I said, melts into vinegar. And film archives have explained that they can't find the owners of many of the films in their collections, and can't negotiate with others, meaning that they could preserve the films they hold from those fates (which, since it involves copying, is at best legally questionable), but they can't afford to without the right to show them at exhibitions or produce them on DVD.

Heck, even keeping to just fans, there are a number of Doctor Who episodes preserved only in audio versions made by fans who illegally recorded them when they played on TV.

How narcissistic is that?!?

How narcissistic is it to ignore the real facts of the loss of the world's film heritage?

Everyone knows Shakespeare blatantly ripped off a lot of sources and used them as his own.

In other words, yes, great works have come from blatant copying of other's works. Copyright would have taken from us some of Shakespeare's plays, and therefore in terms of artistic value, is not an unquestionable positive.

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.

There's no such thing; the history of copyright law starts after printing press was in widespread usage. So of course I'm not advocating that.

Change is not always progress; it should not be absurd to say that some law went too far. Moreover, the Internet has brought huge changes to the table. For the first time in history, copyright infringement is a law that interferes with the actions of the average person. Superman fanfic that once would have been seen only among friends can and are now published to a worldwide audience on websites. Singing that once would have been limited to local clubs now hits YouTube. Why can't we ask if the ever-increasing terms of copyright pre-Internet should be rewound so that the wide audience that wants to adapt and show their Internet friends can do so?

In 2019, the works of 1923 will hit the public domain in the US. Perhaps there would be more respect for copyright if that were the works of 1968, and people felt that copyright actually was for a limited time.
 

Coreyartus

Explorer
Change is not always progress; it should not be absurd to say that some law went too far. Moreover, the Internet has brought huge changes to the table. For the first time in history, copyright infringement is a law that interferes with the actions of the average person. Superman fanfic that once would have been seen only among friends can and are now published to a worldwide audience on websites. Singing that once would have been limited to local clubs now hits YouTube. Why can't we ask if the ever-increasing terms of copyright pre-Internet should be rewound so that the wide audience that wants to adapt and show their Internet friends can do so?

In 2019, the works of 1923 will hit the public domain in the US. Perhaps there would be more respect for copyright if that were the works of 1968, and people felt that copyright actually was for a limited time.

Your entire argument is based on the fact that the consumer's desires are more important than the creator's. Bottom line, it's not their stuff to share. The desires and "actions of the average person" are irrelevant--it's not their stuff. Laws are already being debated and contemplated that will facilitate the saving of a lot of work that's disintegrating. And finding the money to preserve films or other visual art does not automatically imply they have to be shown to do so. That just means the most obvious approach to saving them isn't convenient. There are lots of art works being preserved that have never been seen by the public. Doesn't stop the fundraising.

And that has nothing to do with stealing someone else's work and using it because one's too lazy to do the work or pay for it themselves. Why shouldn't I care that someone else wants to adapt my stuff and show it to their Internet friends? As an artist, I should starve or let you steal work I spent a lot of time developing so others can have the luxury of playing with it? And they're going to determine the window of time I have for owning my own work before they get to dive in and use it for their own? They can use my stuff when I and my family or my corporation are finished with it, thank-you very much, and we will determine when that is--not them. Their desires to use my work or my IP without my permission or without paying me for it matter very little to me.

Those are the people whom I'd call narcissistic.

Regarding dressmakers and furniture makers--their work can't be copyrighted because it was determined years and years ago that the ridiculous end result would ludicrously require the paying of a fee for using specific types of collars or buttons or heels on shoes, or table legs or shelving mechanisms. Those kinds of items (including food, jokes, recipes, and instructions) were determined many many years ago to be too utilitarian to copyright. Believe me, I know--I'm a theatrical costume designer. But even my field is not immune to copyright infringement (as seen here).

Regarding Shakespeare, please note the vast vast majority of original works throughout world history that have also been successful despite not being directly derivative of others. In today's world, there's no excuse for not crediting the original sources of clearly derivative work, or asking permission (the internet makes that way too easy and the only barriers are time, money, diligence and the desire to do so if the work matters enough). That's simply not how it was done in Shakespeare's day and age--it wasn't even possible. That has nothing to do with the validity or sanctioning of his process as a contemporary practice to emulate when in today's world following modern copyright laws shouldn't be that hard: just don't use others' work.

I understand the desire to save works through public access. That's not enough of a justification to summarily ignore copyright of everyone's works. It's not the same thing, especially with contemporary technologies. We may be lucky to have early episodes of Dr. Who thanks to illegal methods, but it doesn't follow that therefore everyone should feel free to copy and use whatever they come across to ostensibly "save it".
 
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prosfilaes

Adventurer
Bottom line, it's not their stuff to share.

Bottom line, it's not stuff. It's a limited monopoly granted by the state for the purposes of society. It is an incredibly invasive monopoly; if you're in your house not bothering anyone, to break the law in the US you can either make explosives, controlled drugs, forge legal documents, rip your vinyl records to MP3s, or write a fanfic of a commercial property. There's a couple of other things, but it's a pretty short list, as benefiting a nation that believes in liberty, and the last ones stand out.

Is it worth it? It's hard to imagine another good way for a capitalist society to handle things, but it seems the way we have been doing things is a little extreme, that society would be better off reducing the range of the monopoly. Certainly reducing the duration would help, as society gets little help from 95 year copyright terms; the time value of money means that payoffs decades down the road don't mean much to creators, and payoffs decades down the road rarely exist.

And if you want to see it as a fundamental right that overrides the basic rights of property, that's your choice. But that's one model, not the one true answer.

Edit:
Your entire argument is based on the fact that the consumer's desires are more important than the creator's.

This discussion started with a post about RPGs created by various creators. In particular, Far Trek is an entirely new RPG whose creators used a preexisting setting. In my discussion, I have repeatedly mentioned fanfic writers and YouTube singers. You do not get to create this dichotomy here, when the whole discussion has been about how creators can be copyright violators.
 
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Coreyartus

Explorer
Prosfilaes, please let me know when your family's ownership of their farm reaches 95 years, because their monopoly of usage will expire, and society tells me they're impinging on my liberties. Their corn crops haven't been the greatest lately, and really they're letting the whole property languish. I love that farm and and really all I want to do is make it better--that's the best for our community, don't you think? It could be making so much more money, and they haven't taken advantage of the new harvesting methods that have developed in recent years--they clearly didn't plan for them--so it's just best for everyone if everyone else did something with their land, you know? Lemme know.

*******

To creatives, IP is "stuff". Even though it's intangible, it's their livelihood. That monopoly exists because there's no other way to ensure creatives get remuneration, credit and control of their work. It's all very good to say, "If it's good, it will succeed." No one says that to the corporate gurus who get their salary and severance no matter how badly they're managing things. It's not even a paradigm that exists for most jobs. Can you imagine if the majority of jobs were directly performance-based like creative fields? They aren't. Because it's not considered ethical. Instead it's "You do your work, you get paid." But art and creative endeavors exist in a fundamentally gray arena where just doing the work is only part of the job.

I'm not so concerned with society's monetary gain when that seems to be the overriding fundamental rational for using my stuff. I'm less respectful of the efforts of those who can't seem to generate any respect for the use of my own efforts. Tell me how that's going to get better by reducing copyright terms.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
Prosfilaes, please let me know when your family's ownership of their farm reaches 95 years

Real estate is fundamentally different from most forms of property in the way that it's practically limited. Cars can be made to meet demand, but land for most practical purposes can't be created; we are limited to what is. This is about as far away from IP as you can get; when Winnie the Pooh goes into the public domain in 2019, everyone without limit will be able to write their own Winnie the Pooh stories.

The continued use of analogy here is a bit insulting. I get that you feel it's like property.

Furthermore, let me clear: you believe that copyright should be eternal? That Dante's heirs can have their hand out even though they did not work on it? That Dante's heirs can force all editions to be edited to match their particular religious aesthetics?

To creatives, IP is "stuff".

Creativity is a universal part of being human. We're all "creatives". Even if we're talking about people who make the wages by selling copyrighted material, you do not speak for them all.

That monopoly exists because there's no other way to ensure creatives get remuneration, credit and control of their work.

Since it doesn't in fact do that, I'm not sure what you're talking about. As I pointed out above, there are many, many cases under the current system where people didn't get credit for or control of their work.

As for alternatives, patronage, like Patreon, is coming back in style. Many bands make most of their money in touring. I bet a complete disappearance of copyright wouldn't hurt a lot of small groups; copyright or no, one can find most Pathfinder books online for free; actually buying them in PDF is more about personal honor and supporting Paizo then it is about actually acquiring the PDF.

But still; the question is not about ending copyright; it's about modifying it.

I'm less respectful of the efforts of those who can't seem to generate any respect for the use of my own efforts. Tell me how that's going to get better by reducing copyright terms.

I don't know what would make you more respectful of other people; that's really a question you're going to have to answer. I will say that explaining how you work harder then non-"creatives" won't go far in generating respect from other people.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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.

Well, it would be a form of licensing. It's just that you'd be able to make use of the license without seeking individual, explicit permission. Like, say, the OGL, but with the addition that if you use it, you have to pay.

Note that "legitimate process" in this context is not a moral legitimacy - it is a legal one. Laws can be changed, so we can imagine having a different legitimate process. This thread shows there is no agreement on the moral factors here. So, we have a compromise - if the problem is, "we have a conflict between those who feel content should be more open, and those who feel artists should get paid for use," this is a potential solution - the content is open for use, but the artist gets paid! Simple in concept.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Since it doesn't in fact do that, I'm not sure what you're talking about. As I pointed out above, there are many, many cases under the current system where people didn't get credit for or control of their work.

True. Several comic book artists are great examples.

However, in each of those cases, the artist entered into a business agreement of their own free will - choosing short-term ease of distribution and marketing over their long-term rights. Aren't these mostly cases of the artist figuring it was a good idea at the time, and then realizing their mistake only after their creation became popular beyond anyone's wildest dreams at the time? Neither Siegel, Shuster, nor National Comics understood what would come when Superman was created.

Do not confuse, "Ensures they have the right," with, "executes good business decisions concerning their creations."

As for alternatives, patronage, like Patreon, is coming back in style.

Crowdfunding has some significant differences from classical patronage, and most assuredly does not replace or reduce the potential need for copyrights. Patronage is about supporting the creation of content, not about how the long-term value of that content is then realized, and by whom.

Patronage-only seems very much like the deal Seigel and Shuster, or other comic creators got - it is very much like work for hire.

I bet a complete disappearance of copyright wouldn't hurt a lot of small groups

This doesn't seem like a solid argument to make when 1)You aren't talking about getting rid of copyright, 2) there are a lot of artists for whom loss of rights *would* be a major issue, and 3) those small groups you are talking about are probably not doing all that well, financially, and face hard questions about their long-term economic viability.
 
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keterys

First Post
Many years ago I read a short story by Spider Robinson about copyright, that attempted to argue the point from the artists perspective of the dangers of continually increasing copyrights. Apparently it's available on the internet, so I'd encourage a read.

I think tying copyright to the life of the creator is a horrible idea, for a number of reasons; no one needs encouragement to assassinate a creator, and it turns out that people keep living longer and longer, and it is even within the realm of possibility to achieve near immortality within the future (nanites and transfusions and grown organs, oh my). Even ignoring the aspects of corporate ownership, transfer of rights, authorship near deathbed, etc that have been pointed out already.

I believe that copyright should last for a couple generations. 40 to 50 years strikes me as a more than reasonable amount. I'm not sure how you alter things to support that accounts for all manner of things done on the internet. That's... pretty complicated.
 
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Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think tying copyright to the life of the creator is a horrible idea, for a number of reasons; no one needs encouragement to assassinate a creator

Assassination? Really?

Existence of copyrights that can extend beyond the creator give more motive for assassination - because after the creator is gone, then *someone* else gets control - and control of a valuable property is worth far, far more than allowing it to become free for all to use.

and it turns out that people keep living longer and longer, and it is even within the realm of possibility to achieve near immortality within the future (nanites and transfusions and grown organs, oh my).

Really, if we achieve functional immortality, we will have so many things about our culture that will need to change, copyright will not be near the top of our worries.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
You probably have a better opinion of humanity than I do :)

Not just that. You haven't suggested a way that, under the "copyright ends with life" scenario, killing someone for content makes a whole lot of sense (and my "sense" in this case, I mean profit - the oldest of motives after jealousy). Killing the person would make the content *open* - meaning open for competition.

I mean, say it was some years ago. You had your own plan for Star Wars, and Lucas wouldn't let you do it, you could kill him... and then be in competition with a *sea* of other Star Wars content coming out alongside yours. That's not a slam-dunk of wealth for you, there. Not exactly a scenario that calls for murder.
 

prosfilaes

Adventurer
However, in each of those cases, the artist entered into a business agreement of their own free will - choosing short-term ease of distribution and marketing over their long-term rights. Aren't these mostly cases of the artist figuring it was a good idea at the time, and then realizing their mistake only after their creation became popular beyond anyone's wildest dreams at the time? Neither Siegel, Shuster, nor National Comics understood what would come when Superman was created.

Do not confuse, "Ensures they have the right," with, "executes good business decisions concerning their creations."

I'm not worried about Siegel and Shuster; they got their credit. I'm worried about artists on the comics of the 50s, or the photographer of that Mussolini photo. They probably took a close look at the business possibilities, and figuring that trying to make their own deal would leave them starving. And in many cases, nobody will ever be able to connect their work to its creators.

Crowdfunding has some significant differences from classical patronage, and most assuredly does not replace or reduce the potential need for copyrights. Patronage is about supporting the creation of content, not about how the long-term value of that content is then realized, and by whom.

I'd say it reduces the need for copyrights a lot. Today's newsprint is tomorrow's fishwrap, and most books don't have a second printing. A good Patreon or subscription model means that the work is paid for up front, and that the author is not depending on future returns. In reality, copyright laws are not stopping books from being pirated. Paizo is selling PDFs to people who could pirate the PDFs, but choose to support the publisher. Any RPG publisher small enough that their works aren't piratable, probably would continue to have no one who would buy their products and then upload them. Later sales would depend on customers buying authorized versions, but you aren't depending on later sales, and I think customers would pick authorized versions in many cases.

Effective control over the World of Darkness (as opposed to the Chronicles of Darkness) probably would have been lost by White Wolf and successors when they stopped supporting it. WotC would have had more competition with the reprinting of the early rulebooks. Once a company stopped supporting something, the loyalty of customers to buy only authorized editions would drop a lot.

Credit? I'm not impressed that copyright makes much difference on that matter. People will credit or not as they will, and if you're out to make money, that's one of the first things that you can be forced to give up. Control would be lost; even if anyone can do Sherlock Holmes, nobody can do him like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did. But anything the author decided not to do could be done without his permission, or at least more publically then it is now.

Star Wars: the Force Awakens would probably make vastly less then it would with copyright. Copyright disappearing would distort a lot of things and make it harder for a lot of stuff to get made. But I think it important to point out copyright is not the only option.

Patronage-only seems very much like the deal Seigel and Shuster, or other comic creators got - it is very much like work for hire.

I don't think I understand. Are you talking about classic patronage? Patreon seems very much unlike work for hire. What's produce seems less under the control of the patrons then it would be under a standard consumer system; I pay for every new world Evil Hat puts out, instead of picking and choosing. It's also nearly opposite on credit, when you're paying for the work of Ewen Cluney instead of buying Raspberry Heaven (which didn't bother to put the author on the cover, because it's work for hire.)
 

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