Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Games Workshop, Copyright, IP and Bullshit (PT.2)

[Disclaimer]: Again, I am no lawyer, so don't consider any of this legal advice. All copyright laws discussion is based on the US laws.

Before I get started, I just had a Eureka moment. The three sites being handed C&D letters all have one more thing in common - the products they primarily deal with are all licensed by to other companies by GW in some fashion. A direct port of blood bowl to the PC came out not too long ago (published by Focus Home Entertainment) and the Rogue Trader RPG is licensed to Fantasy Flight games. Is this a reason? I dunno. Food for thought.

How I feel
In part one of this discussion I touched on a copyright owner's rights and talked about GW's rights specifically. I may have come off as this insensitive jerk or maybe even a staunch supporter of GW's actions. In actuality, I'm far from either of those things. I simply understand why GW pursues its copyrights. I don't, however, have to like it.

GW has a pretty long history of being dicks about their IP - and usually only when it gets them some gain and usually under a bullshit cover about IP theft. Internet orders policy anyone? The Dark Reign and TalkBloodBowl* examples are just the latest in a long series of GW's consistent 'fuck you' approach to existence in my view.

I could go on and expound upon my feelings at great length. However, my opinions (and yours) only matter as far as we're willing to defend them. Which means, as Raptor Pointed out, that our particular views of fair use and copyright are valid right up until the point we aren't prepared to defend them. Which brings us to...

The Cease and Desist Letter
The ol' C&D letter is a common first step for people who are trying to stop some form of copyright infringement. Remember how I said that the C&D letter IS the polite way to tell someone to stop infringing? It is. However, its also a bunch of other stuff - primarily its a very cheap compromise.

Taking someone to court for copyright infringement is, potentially, an expensive (legal/court fees mount up) and long process that may not actually net any gain in the long run. Hell, even getting people to pay up can require another suit. Then there's always the issue of people's opinion of you - very important for larger, say... corporate entities. In the GW case, it'd probably be bad for publicity when people find out that you're suing your fan base over what amounts to some server fees.

The C&D letter is often an attempt to side step alla that. No lengthy court case, less bad publicity and a much shorter time frame for resolution (assuming all goes well). The letter senders get what they want and nobody has to go to court.

However, the C&D letter can also be used as (and often is) a bluff or a weapon. For all the compromise that a C&D letter represents for the parties involved, it is often abused by people who just simply don't like what you're doing with your fair use rights. It may be that the sender may have no intention of suing you and is trying to scare you. It may also be that someone disagrees with you and is just being a bully to protect their bullshit.

In any case a C&D letter or even a lawsuit is where your opinions of fair use and copyright come into question. Whether you simply convinced you're right or you're actually right, it doesn't matter until someone calls you on it. Which is nice - until someone does something about it, you can carry on your merry way. Once you get a C&D letter or some lawsuit paperwork, you have to make a serious choice about how far you're willing to stand by your position. Ultimately, if you go all the way, you'll end up with a judge making this decision for you. However, this is a long and expensive road.

The Problem With Copyright in the US
Before I get into my gripes with the state of things, I think I need to talk about why copyright is, in actuality, pretty great. Downright necessary, truth be told. Simply put, it protects EVERYONE'S right as a creator, thus encouraging people to create. As an extremely beneficial side effect, this means people can make money off of their ideas. And, if you're the government, people making money is good for a lot of reasons. So you protect a creator's rights.

Copyright is also not the inviolable domain of the super rich and powerful entities that exist in our world. Copyright applies to the little guy as well. You see all these words on this page? These are mine. People can't use them without my permission. If someone does steal my work, then I also have the right to do something about it

But having the right to do something and being capable of doing something are two different things. And that's the problem with copyright (and IP in general**) in the US. It's not really the laws themselves (although they can be awful), but the way these laws are enforced - specifically the US civil justice system. The old cliche of 'pay to play' legal system is pretty true here. Copyright law is civil law - which means the people involved are responsible for protecting their own rights. You have to pay your own way since very little is provided for you save a judge and jury.

On the surface this is fine, but getting your own lawyer for an extended period of time is outside many people's ability to absorb financially. This is where people with more money than you come out ahead - they can afford to pay the copyright lawyer and you can't. Further, even if you can, the big corporation with the lawyers on retainer can drag the case out and make you spend a whole hell of a lot of money to press on. Then there's the small matter of what happens if you lose. Can you afford the damages? Pretty risky (financially speaking) if your opponent can afford better lawyers and more time than you.

Even if you're the one being infringed or complying with fair use, not being able to afford to prove that really puts a damper on your opinion. And I'm not even talking about the extreme circumstances of the copyright lawsuit as a weapon - right or wrong, a corporate entity with money is more than capable of running regular broke people into the ground in court.

Hence, your opinion matters only as far as you are willing to pursue it.

Tort Reform
In my mind, the biggest challenge to making copyright work as intended is not the copyright laws themselves, but tort reform. You can change the laws all you want - but as long as the current civil justice system is where the rubber hits the road, you aren't doing anything except making lawyers find new loopholes and stripping protections from the little guys

The US Pirate Party wants to bust copyright terms back to 14 years, for example. They raise some good points and concerns, overall, but nowhere do they mention tort reform. Without tort reform, the only thing that a 14 year copyright term is gonna do is destroy businesses and fuck the little guy out of chances to actually have enough time to make money of his idea. On top of all this, 14 year limits aren't gonna stop people from filing lawsuits and generally being a dick.

I've written all of this because we live in a world were intellectual property is everywhere and is an incredibly important concept that touches virtually every thing we do. Yet few people have much more than the tiniest sliver of a clue about the realities of intellectual property. Oh, but they're prepared to write reams and reams of text laying out their opinoin, though. There's a lot chest thumping and nerd rage poured into anonymous forum posts with little real knowledge of whats going on. Most of it carries with it this weird sense of entitlement that's usually borne out of ignorance.

To be honest, I can't stand ignorance. Thus, I have attempted to educate.

Bottom line: GW may be shit heads for the zest and verve with which the pursue their IP rights and corporate dick headery, but its their right and you also have to considered the possibility that the people on the receiving end of this may also be shit heads. Its good to know and its good to know why.

Further Reading
Below are some resources I've used in my professional life to gather info on the various kinds of intellectual property and related laws.

Standford Copyright and Fair Use Center - This is my personal favorite. Its maintained by qualified people and covers a ton of plain language info on copyright. The section on fair use is particularly amazing. There are also some relevant court cases mentioned.

The Chilling Effects Clearinghouse - This is another site maintained by qualified people with an aim to elp you with your 1st amendment rights. As bonuses, this site has a slant towards online topics of copyright as well as a pretty neat cease and desist letter database.

United States Copyright Office - Home page of the US copyright office. Duh. Has a ton of info about various protections, how-tos, some useful basic info as well as links to an online version of the relevant US laws.

Games Workshop Legal - This is burried in tiny text on the bottom of their site. However, it does explicitly tell you what you can and can't do with GW IP. Good to know.

There's more stuff out there, but these three are the ones I'm willing to vouch for as I've spent the most time on them. The Copyright Website seems pretty interesting, but I've spent next to no time perusig it.

[Foot Notes]----------------------------------
*I've excluded FUMBBL as I feel that attempting to publish a full version of Blood Bowl AND expediting to be allowed to do it is as close to 'retarded' as you can get without needing to wear a helmet.

**It's important to note that while patent, trademark and copyright all get lumped under the term 'intellectual property', there is no single unified IP law. Patent, trademark and copyright are all dealt with by separate parts of the law with their own rules.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Games Workshop, Copyright, IP and Bullshit (PT.1)

[Disclaimer]: I am no lawyer, so don't consider any of this legal advice. All copyright laws discussion is based on the US laws.

RARGH! Fighting through... writer's block... must save... Rylos IV... must get back to... Enterprise...

I'm gonna mine my buddies over at the Chamber Militant for content again. My favorite Alec Guinness quoting, limey expatriate, Hoagy has been busy digging up news on GW's recent legal activities. Actually, I'm not sure if Hoagy is really an expatriate. He IS a fine English lad from Coventry, but he may actually be a US citizen.

Moving on to the point: At least three fan sites have all received cease and desist letters from GW legal regarding some part of their content. I've also heard reports that Warseer has recently been a bit 'quashy' in regards to leaked GW info - possibly related.

The sites in question:
- TalkBloodBowl.com (now renamed)
- Dark Reign

I'm sure there are others out there as well - I know a few other sites have claimed to receive a C&D notice in various comments threads related to these. I just couldn't find enough details to support including them in the discussion. However, these three examples are all I need. In each case most of the relevant details are present in the posts I've linked to.

Essentially, each site has been ordered to change its infringing ways and/or stop existing or risk being sued. The fan outcry has been the pretty standard knee jerk reactions of "booooo, GW", "kill the lawyers" and "Not one more penny to GW". A lot of people out there are having a hard time understanding why GW would seemingly attack their fan base like this.

In Defense of GW's Offense
Things are actually quite simple. This post from my buddy Colin sums it up nicely:

there is a theme running with the blogs that are being shut down...namely retardation. While I don't necessarily agree with GW throwing their corporate bulk around at the little guy (kind of like when record companies used to sue 12 year old girls over mp3 downloads), they have a right to do so since they have stolen GW's intellectual property. moreover, these sites have done it pretty stupidly and blatantly. One of the GW legal letters essentially states that one site has a list or chart of all of the bloodbowl character stats posted. 'why am I being sued' they now whine. well no shit sherlock, you've posting copyrighted material that isn't yours on your site w/o any type of legal disclaimer.

AND they're generating money off of GW's IP. All those add revenues and donation buttons meant to defray the cost of running a website? That would be what GW calls profiting off of their IP. Seriously. Even if your 'profit' margin is in the red, money is still being generated from a site using someone else's intellectual property. This is primarily why TalkBloodBowl and Dark Reign got letters. Unfortunately, these are the least of the infractions that FUMBBL is guilty of. Last time I checked, distributing a java-based web-version of someone else's game WITHOUT PERMISSION was a pretty serious copyright infringement.

Which brings me to my next point. A lot of people have written that they feel GW's C&D letters were insincere and too harsh a way to deal with their fans... who were stealing their IP (yes, stealing). You know what's even harsher than a firm letter? A fucking lawsuit. I'm looking at you, FUMBBL. What people need to realize is that the C&D letters ARE the freindly reminder.
Its well within GW's rights to file suit against people who misuse their IP - and many companies have sued for less.

GW has a right to protect the use of their IP. In fact, they pretty much have to since the protections granted by copyright and trademark aren't automatically guarded by the cops or somesuch. It's civil law. - violating copyright is illegal, but unless the wounded party does something about it, nothing is gonna happen. Its called policing your mark'. If the copyright holders don't protect their own interests nobody will.

Fun Fact: Zipper, celophane, dry ice and yo-yo were all trademakrs at one point. Now they're not. This is what happens when a company fails to protect its IP.

Now, beyond all of the above is one simple fact: GW owns their own IP. Not you. You bought a rulebook and maybe some models. You did not suddenly become a development partner or form some kind of liscensing deal. Its GW's property and they can administer it however they want within the confines of the law. Your sense of entitlement is irrelevant.

No Shit, Sherlock
This isn't the wild west days of the internet anymore and ignorance isn't a valid defense. We live in an increasingly litigious society and things like increased awareness of the internet, the DMCA and a general increase in copyright protections don't help this. You can't just put up your shingle and do whatever - despite opinions to the contrary.

And this is really the tough part about operating a website. It's your responsibility to figure out what you can and cannot do with other's IP. Its not just a simple matter of some html, an anglefire page, a little luck and an underused series of tubes to be anonymous in. Being a fan or well-meaning aren't automatic protections, either. You fuck up bad enough in someone's eyes, they WILL come to kick over your sand castle.

I'll get part 2 up in the next few days.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Games Day 2010

Looks like there's only gonna be one Games Day next year. FOR THE ENTIRE NORTH AMERICAN CONTINENT.

Actually, I couldn't give half a fuck about games day for the most part.

Neither do most people it seems. According to many of the first hand accounts I've hard, the US games days have gone from pretty neat to utter shit in the past years. It's down to one day, there's no tournament with it. What little is left seems more like going to Legoland than an event actually aimed at gamers. I had some friends who went to GD Chicago last year and felt a little ripped off that they 25 bucks to do little more than pick up their forgeworld orders and stare at some new releases (and a chick dressed as a witch elf).

Many people will see this move (complete with slightly horse-shitt sounding announcement) in this light:

GW to America: 'Fuck You'.

I've already seen some of that in the few comments I bothered to read on BoLS.

But here's the deal keeds, Games Day doesn't even sound fun and many, many people regret going to one in the last few years. Maybe the event IS killing them in some way or another. The cost of renting out 3 convention halls a year plus the expense of manning them and then transporting all the crap that goes with it does add up. The buddies of mine who went said the event was like a ghost town. Then there's the collateral costs of the event hurting the company's sales because it sucks so hard people stop caring about GW in general.

So if it costs all this money to host a shitty event that no-one goes to AND it harms their consumer base in some way, why wouldn't they try and revamp it?

Maybe its NOT more evidence that GW is in the financial crapper and hates America. Maybe GW actually does understand what the problem is (in this case).

I dunno. I really don't. I'm just thinking out loud here.

But then again, I don't have too much of a take in this. Except...

...for the fact that fewer games days means fewer Golden Daemons. Which is actually kind of a bummer. Fewer Golden Daemons means fewer awesomely painted models to look at once the winners are posted. It also means that many of the people who regularly compete in the event are a bit SoL.

On the other hand, if the ace painters end up traveling from all over, it means that the competition just got ratcheted up a notch* and even more amazing stuff will be produced.

I'm not really taking a side here, except that Games Day sounds and smells like abject failure.

What are other people's thoughts? Is the Games Day announcement a gloomy portent of GW's stability, is it a dick move or is their something really positive going on here?

--Foot Notes--------------

* In the past, it had been suggested that one particularly devious tactic for winning a Golden Daemon was to enter into the contest that had the least competition. There's always going to be a regional difference and some unscrupulous painters may have figured out which area was easier to win in. Now, that's not an option (whether it was actually happening in the first place).

Dinosaurs Are Super Fucking Rad

Project Future Boys is coming along nicely (the end is in sight AND the time line is short) and a bunch of my distant friends are planning and building Warhammer Fantasy Armies. Due to my random reading of a YTTH post on Lizardmen, an idea clicked into place:

Build a Stegadon heavy army once the Eldar are done!

I thought about it and then asked for and got some more sagely advice from Stelek et al. Looked solid. So was the cost analysis. Hell, the septuple stegadon list shares are lot of the same units as the Razordon list that first spawned this crazy train of thought.

Overall, I'm really pumped about dinosaurs.

I had a ton of fun posting this on a forum one of my buds is starting up, so I thought I'd post it here as well. Enjoy!

Oh, and all the complaints about game abuses stem from the 5th edition rules. Herohammer can kiss my white ass.

I know some of you are building up fantasy armies in your secret caves, waiting for the right time to leave your hidey holes and march upon the fields of the old world.

Thought I might do some of the same.

I should have the Eldar done around X-mas or there abouts. By about that time, I'll be needin' a project to work on. Space Marines will probably be put back in the rotation, but I know I'll need something else to break it up to keep it from becoming drudgery again. And starting ANOTHER 40k army seems silly.

But first:

Sit down keeds, eets story time.

I haven't played fantasy since you could take beastmen, chaos warriors and blood letters all in the same army. Twas good times.

Kind of.

Unfortunately, the people I played with were rules lawyers and often wrong and a bit cheaty. Except Colin (also Paul), he was (and is) always fun to play against. I'm sure he has some fun horror stories about the fucked-up cat-shit some of our other buddies would pull.

My two favorite were one of our buddies pulling a dragon out and generally tailoring to beat me in a 1500 point game when I was testing some undead BEFORE I HAD EVEN BOUGHT THE ARMY. There was also the guy who managed to convince us that if the unit you were charging chose to flee as a charge reaction you didn't get to move your complete charge distance to try and catch them. He owns a game store now. Fun times.

These guys are on of the reasons I have a tendency to be a bit rules crazy in terms of accuracy and following them.

On top of that, I was playing Chaos and, as I found out, the rules for the Warriors of Chaos were (and still are) kind of sucky. Something to do with rank bonuses being very important and Chaos warriors costing so very much. Oh, and a complete lack of meaningful shooting.

Fast forward to today. The main rules are better and magic item abuse isn't as rampant as it once was.

50% of your army on characters with no limit to the number you could take or how much you could tool them up. Bah!

Vlad von Carstien (and his damn ring) with a hydra blade, the stupid amulet of reflect wounds and possibly some str increasing bullshit was the worst. Not too much fun to run into a hero (over and over again.) who can deliver 6 x D6 high strength hits a turn and is basically unkillable.

Oh and 25% of your force as allies, don't get me started. Hmm, the undead don't have any shooting worht a damn, so I'll just take nothing but dark elf crossbowmen as allies. FUCK. YOU.

BRB, gotta pop some prozac with a beer back.

Moving on, the other problem I've had with fantasy is the sheer size of your army. 100ish dudes is a lot of dudes to paint. ...and then move around and keep in perfect formations.

With the general improvement of the fantasy rules & models and a little luck, I think I've found the army I'm going to try my hand at.

I've decided to build some lizardmans.* But not in the traditional block-hammer way. I've already run this by Colin, so some of the fun has already been had.

Here goes:

Skink Priest Riding an Ancient Stegadon

3x units of 10 Skinks

4x Regular Stegadons

2x Ancient Stegadons

YES! That's 7 freaking Stegadons in a 2000 point list. In your face, world!

This little gem was burried in some throwaway lizardmen post on YTTH. No surprise that I got a list from Stelek, I guess.

I'm totally stoked about 7 damn dinosaurs. It almost totally solves my problem of having to paint a ton of dudes - though there still are like 60 plus skinks including crew. But who cares, skinks are small! It does completely solve the problem of having to move a bunch of large blocks of troops around. One triceratops is way easier to move than 20 dudes with spears. Again, in you face, world!

Stubborn, terror causing toughness 6 monsters is sweeeeeeeet! Throw in d6+1 impact hits, skink palanquins, ranged weapons and a rockin' model and the icing on the cake just got jizzed on. BAM!

I cannot be more pumped about this than I already am. Wait! Okay NOW I'm the most pumped. It's CRAZY!

As a super duper double secret bonus, this army can be built for dirt cheap. With 20 percent discounts and including the army book its just about 300 wing-wangs to buy it. Ungh! With X-mas coming up, I can load up on Stegadons FOR FREE thanks to Jesus. He does indeed save.

OK, you know when I said things we're crazy before? I was wrong. NOW its crazy.

This is me RIGHT NOW, if I was a cartoon Dinosaur, and a girl:

user posted image

I had also considered Skaven at one point. But the only thing I would have wanted to build was a Skaven SAD army. But lets face it, Skaven = lots of dudes and SAD (shooty army of death) isn't too fun to play against. So, paying a lot of money to be a dick to people was out. For the time being.

7 Stegadons is too awesome to pass up anyway.

Now, I'm sure there are some flaws here. I imagine that once people get wise to my dino-herd ways, list tailoring can be a problem. Being outmaneuvered by fast armies is probably also something to worry about... IF YOU WEREN'T RIDING A DINOSAUR!** Well, are you!?

I'm sure there are other things too. Here's a pre-emptive 'fuck you' to cannons:


Also, can Dinosaurs fight Steam tanks and win? What about lots of shooting? What about movement denial spells? What about the Stegadons changing gender because of frog DNA and reproducing out of control and trying to kill Jeff Goldblum?! What about Nagash, LORD OF THE FREAKING UNDEAD!!?


Confession time, I was lying when I said things were crazy that second time. Its really, really the craziest its been....


Anyway, that's the plan. Lets share and compare here.

-Foot Notes-------------------------------------

*Not to be confused with Lizardmen. Or Eddie Izzard. [not to self]:, name a Skink Hero Eddie.
**I don't know if that's actually true. Its probably just the dino-buzz talking

Monday, November 2, 2009

Article Retirement - Project Planning

I thought writing about my thought process would be fun and interesting. I like the idea, but the execution is leaving a little to be desired.

I keep writing my self into corners with the framework I've adopted and the whole thing feels a little contrived. These are definitely the way things happen, but I feel like I'm conveying a much more mechanical and carefully considered approach than what really happens.

What I should have done was write all the parts up and then publish them so I have a bit more freedom of editing.

I might re-open this series later, but for now parts 1 and 2 are going to be banished back in time.