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:
- (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.


  1. Thanks for pointing out the other side.

    I'm not a lawyer either, but most of that could've been mentioned in my Business Law class.

    Copyright's really a way of saying "If I catch you making money off my work..."

    I'm not sure GW's in the same territory as Ziploc and co., but the fact remains that an online, free version of their game IS essentially stealing sales.

    Ok, so you got a harsh letter.

    You could have gotten a lawsuit in the mail. GW is under no obligation to ask you nicely to stop; they can totally take it out of your hide.

    It's a fact of life. And worse? There's really not a good way for GW (or almost anyone, for that matter) to politely but firmly tell you to stop without sounding bad. I mean, you have to show folks costing you money that you mean business.

  2. I have taken this line on various forums over the years, but very few people either care or understand - all they want to do is moan about GW shafting the fanbase. Talk about confirmation bias!

  3. Kind of surprised about FUMBBL - they've always been supportive of the site in the past, especially since it targets one of their specialist games and they really care about user feedback for those.

  4. Feedback purposes or not, the FUMBBL client is, essentially, a free version of a game GW would like to make money on - the rules may be free on the GW home, but the means to play it are not (miniatures and/or game board).

    Asso, don't forget that a direct port of Blood Bowl came out on the PC not to long ago.