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Author Topic: Writing for a game to which I have no license...?  (Read 4036 times)
IronMessiah
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Posts: 3


« on: September 01, 2006, 08:56:50 PM »

Okay, first let me say this is my first post to The Forge.  I've long watched things going on here while I write my game materials and rules, but I think it may be high time I step into the water a little bit.  I know the Indie field is where I want to be.  I'm a bit nervous about it though... I'm not used to joining groups for any given purpose.

Well, that aside let me get to my question:

I've long been giving some thought to writing an adventure or two for a few games, but I have no license for them... I just want to write the adventures, maybe even make a few dollars if possible.  Mostly, I like to write and I don't think there is a lot of material for some of the games out there.  I'll warn you, I have a lot of questions on this issue so I hope you can help out.  I just don't know what the answers are to the questions I have so I thought the community might be able to help.

I am considering writing an adventure for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (the current edition).  Games Workshop (and, by proxy, their affiliates) seem to have a reputation for being a heavy handed bully with a lot of things on the business side, so I can't help but wonder... If I wrote something, would I be in trouble?  Would I be in trouble for making money on the adventure or just for even putting it out there?  Would I be violating a license agreement?  If so, exactly what is it that would define this violation?  Is it using terms for their cities, such as "Nuln" or "Altdorf"?  Is it using the names of their creatures, like "Skaven"?  Is it having the stats for certain creatures they've published in their book also published in my adventure (it's hard to run an adventure if you don't include the enemies stat block)?  Can I say the adventure is for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, or (if not) can I get away with saying it is "suitable for use with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay"?

Some final question are actually quite specific... are any old AD&D adventures still under copyright law, like the Slave Lords series for example?  Also, the film, "The Thing", was based on a short story called, "Who Goes There?".  Can anyone tell me if "The Thing" is copyrighted since it used all of the material from the story?  Is it just the name, "The Thing", that is therefore copyrighted?  Could I write anything that made direct reference to the film, or would even call it "The Thing"?

A lot of questions, I know.  They've been building up for some time.  I just hope someone can help.  It would suck if my first post got no response!

Thanks in advance to anyone who responds.

--Steve--
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--Steve--
daMoose_Neo
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Posts: 890


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« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2006, 10:02:16 PM »

IANAL (I am NOT a Lawyer) but the safest answer is: if you don't know, don't go near it.
Otherwise, there is a sticky of copyright resources at the top of the thread. But simple matter: if you don't own it, its a no go.

Actual practice will vary, as D&D players wrote their own modules for years and shared them with friends, though that technically violated copyright polcies producing them in a manner that was usable with TSR's manuals. Hell, kiddies produce Harry Potter games all the time. So it happens. You'll find precident. It won't make it right however so watch your step with the aforementioned properties.
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Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!
Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #2 on: September 02, 2006, 01:21:43 AM »

Hi Steve, and Welcome to the Forge!  Nate has said pretty much all there is to say here, I'm afraid.  Copyright/IP issues can only be resolved for you by your own research into the matter (preferably with appropriate legal assistance), and the links in the sticky at the top of this forum are where to look.  For what it's worth (which is not much, if you take my last sentence as seriously as I think you should), I wouldn't touch any of the stuff you discuss in your post.  GW has shown great willingness to go after folks for percieved infringements far more questionable than the ones you mention, and current US copyrights last a really, REALLY long time - nothing RPG-related (nor related, even via an older short story, to a modern film) is likely to fall into public domain for decades. 

But mostly read those last sentences as filler to my "welcome!" and "what Nate said" points,

Gordon
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IronMessiah
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Posts: 3


« Reply #3 on: September 02, 2006, 04:19:58 AM »

I guess I see what you guys are saying (and I certainly doubt I can afford a copyright lawyer to answer my questions as I understand they cost a fortune), but I'm trying to figure out a loophole that would let me write something for a system I really feel deserves it (Warhammer is a great system for a new player to try as the rules are very light and to the point).  I can easily put non-Warhammer creatures and city names into the adventure, but can I say "suitable for use with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay" and be alright?  That seems to be the solution used back in the early eighties by a lot of AD&D module producers.

P.S. Didn't Wizards of the Coast release a bunch of the old AD&D stuff to the public domain?  I think they were even giving stuff away as PDF on their web site for a while.  Is there a way ti find out about this?

Thanks for the welcome, and I hope other people give me their opinions too!
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--Steve--
guildofblades
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« Reply #4 on: September 02, 2006, 07:16:59 AM »

>>  I can easily put non-Warhammer creatures and city names into the adventure, but can I say "suitable for use with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay" and be alright?  That seems to be the solution used back in the early eighties by a lot of AD&D module producers.<<

Nope. Certainly can't. Required use of their material and marketing as such will effectively make your product a derivative of their game and you become liable. They can potentially sue you to get all of your revenues from the venture (regardless of your expenses), slap a penalty fee on top, and end up with complete ownership of what you wrote.

If you wish to market your product with any mention of someone else's trademarkerd brands there is really only one non licensed way to do it. It ust be done in a manner of competative comparison. You must establish your product as a competitor to their product. Hence for RPGs or board games, etc, your product must stand alone on its own merits, without any need of their product, and must be recongizable as a direct competitor. Just like Pepsi is a competitor of Coke and how they are always making reference to Coke in their advertising. And by going this route, as a small company, you still risk the legal wrath of a larger company trying to bury you within the legal system and their many lawyers, weather they have the legal right in the issue or not.

The Guild of Blades has published a large number of "Variants" for Axis & Allies, Talisman, Risk and Titan. Each has been marketed as a "Variant", but specifically designed and packaged as a stand alone product they could be a direct competitor to the named brand. We did not use any of their trademarks and writings inside the products, just took the core of their game engines (not protected by law) and tweaked them until we had the games we had sought to produce. And yes, over the years, we've been contacted in a threatening letter by two fairly large companies that happen to be owners of some of the above mentioned brands. We were in the legal right and knew it, and knew how to defend ourselves from bullying, so nothing ever came of it.

If you are dead set on trying to produce material potentially useful or "for" another game system, it IS possible, but you had better have your legal ducks 100% in order. It requires a strong understanding of trademark and copyright laws and the fair use exception clauses within. If you do not have that understanding, just don't do it, or be prepared to spend some fairly big money with some lawyers both up front in your pre design stages, when you are drafting your marketing plans, and then also later when you get that knock on the door by the other peoples' lawyers. If you go the lawyers route make sure you get a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property rights.

>>P.S. Didn't Wizards of the Coast release a bunch of the old AD&D stuff to the public domain?  I think they were even giving stuff away as PDF on their web site for a while.  Is there a way ti find out about this?<<

They may have been giving stuff away for free as PDFs, but that is ENTIRELY a different thing as releasing something into the public domain. They would have zero reason to do that and hence I very much doubt they ever did. Its pretty safe to assume any writing or artwork done for any D&D product is still under copyright protection and will remain so until 75 years past the author's death. Now, it is possible that some materials may not be owned by WOTC at all and rather may have reverted back to the ownership of the original authors. That would depend on the contracts those authors had with TSR back in the day.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
http://www.1483online.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
greyorm
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My name is Raven.


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« Reply #5 on: September 02, 2006, 09:38:03 AM »

Nope. Certainly can't. Required use of their material and marketing as such will effectively make your product a derivative of their game and you become liable...If you wish to market your product with any mention of someone else's trademarkerd brands there is really only one non licensed way to do it. It ust be done in a manner of competative comparison. You must establish your product as a competitor to their product.

I want to take a moment to point out this is only the case in adventure game publishing. In the wider economic market, numerous manufacturers legally produce derivative products "compatible with" or "to be used with" other brands (and openly labeled as such) every year without needing to worry about licensing or setting themselves up as stand-alone competition.

So he would be correct about being legally allowed to do so. Of course, even though "suitable for use with" is a completely legal business strategy and does not violate copyright, etc., what no one can avoid is being threatened or frivolously sued, which seems to happen regularly in the RPG scene.

As such, I would also stay away from producing specific game-compatible material, unless you have the time or money to fight for your rights in court. Now, court is not the only way to change this behavior in our hobby -- and court is not a really good way regardless -- but that is a discussion best saved for another thread.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Blankshield
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« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2006, 11:52:03 AM »

Hi Steve, and welcome to the forge!

Why don't you ask the people who own the copyright/trademark/etc?

I mean, we can give all kinds of opinions, even informed ones based on experience (hi Ryan!), but in the end, it's just opinions, and doesn't amount to a hill of beans.  If you want to do something with someone else's copyright, you have three options:

Wait until it's public domain (a long, long time with the properties you're talking about - you'll likely be dead), or
Go ahead and do it, relying on 'under the radar' and or legal protection, or
Ask.

Odds are that you won't get an answer, or that if you do, it will be a legally worded "no.", but you might be surprised.

Bottom line is that if you want to deal with someone else's intellectual property, sooner or later, you will be dealing with them.  Might as well be polite about it.

James
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I write games. My games don't have much in common with each other, except that I wrote them.

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daMoose_Neo
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« Reply #7 on: September 02, 2006, 02:12:35 PM »

Fourth alternative, and this one makes the most sense:
Do what Ryan essentially did~ Write YOUR material, retool THEIR material until it no longer is their material, generisize what you can, and include "conversion notes" in the product to help people scale it according to some common, baseline factors. Almost ALL systems give a break down of what they consider their baseline- D&D, for example, uses Humans as a baseline, at values between 9-11 for a normal, average adult. From there, "Significantly stronger" than your average human makes a stat range, say, +10, so between 19-21. If the system involves Elves, use their elves as a baseline, or orcs, or whatever.
Avoid THEIR property like the plague, but the mood & environment can be duplicated in your work and fans of the core property will be able to see and find the usefullness in your work.

Also, a fun word of note: doing this kind of thing is really a good mind bend and creativity exercise. Just how far can you take a base property and warp it? I'm wrapping up work on a similar idea, Genetisys, from back in my fanboy days as a Pokemon RPG player. Same concept: Monster battling!, but I've drastically altered the world, monsters, characters, mechanics, etc but its still very much the same type of world: kids exploring and fighting, but in a Jurassic Park style science lab overseen by a managing company. Mysterious "legendary" monsters, which are new breeds being tested. Ancient legends, which stem from a secret kept by the overseeing corporation managing the island reserve. You can certainly see the inspirations, but the materials are 100% original.
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Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!
Thunder_God
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Still Here.


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« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2006, 12:28:54 AM »

There is also the first/last option. Give it for free.
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Guy Shalev.

Cranium Rats Central, looking for playtesters for my various games.
CSI Games, my RPG Blog and Project. Last Updated on: January 29th 2010
IronMessiah
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Posts: 3


« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2006, 06:16:22 AM »

Hmmm... based upon these options, giving it for free might actually be the way to go.

I've been considering adapting some old classics (like the Slave Lords series) to the Warhammer system, adding story and logic to what was largely a blind dungeon crawl.  I thought it would be a fun writing exercise that I might be able to get paid for, but barring that it would *still* be fun to write.  It might also be quite challenging.

I love the idea of introducing concepts into an existing game that the manufacturers would never consider adding, and giving new players a bit of a feel for the old-school would be cool too.  Perhaps even slipping in some special Forge-inspired rules to enhance the game while at the same time opening the players/GMs eyes to some new gaming concepts.  It would also be nice to offer fans of Warhammer an alternative to the few adventures that are available to them, with themes that are more varied than "Chaos abounds and, *man*, is it pissed!"

Whatever I were to do, it would be an homage to those old modules (I use Slave Lords for my example because I love the cover of (A1) Slave Pits of the Undercity) simply because I think that would be pretty cool.  Yes, I know in their raw forms those modules are pretty rough from a modern writing/game play perspective, but that can be changed.  Even though it wouldn't actually *be* the classic module (whatever it was) it would still be pretty close... not exactly Dungeon Crawl Classics, as I am still talking about heavily basing it on the actual old modules, but adding all of the modern gaming infrastructure that didn't exist at the time... plot, story, etc.

So, given this new information it seems there is no way for me to CHARGE for the product (from what I've gathered), but what about doing it for free?  Can I do that?

By the way... thanks for all of the response and the outpouring of welcome.  It means a lot to me.
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--Steve--
guildofblades
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Posts: 297


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« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2006, 06:51:11 AM »

>>There is also the first/last option. Give it for free.<<

I am sorry, but that is not good advice.

Producing something that is a derivative of another company's IP and giving it away for free does not release you from any liability from having violated that company's intellectual property.

First, if you are deadling with GW, that company has a notorious reputation for sending its lawyers to shut down fan sites publishing unauthorized materials. Usually that had been in response to Warhammer stuff, so I have no idea if they would react as strongly to WFRPG or not. But they might. They take protecting their intellectual property, as they have designed or had it designed extremely seriously. You do NOT want to be on the wrong side of the law when dealing with that company. I assure you, dealing with them when you are on the right side of the law can be troublesome enough.

While GW can not legally recoup money from you that you did not recieve, if they can prove n court that your freely distributed goods has in any way hurt their sales of product related to that brand, they can still go after you for damages.

I would never advise anyone to publish anything unless they are doing so in a perfectly legal manner. There are some grey areas of "fair use" with regards to intellectual property rights you may chose to take advantage of, if you feel like taking a bit of a risk, but outright copyright infringement, trademark infringement, or trade dress infringement, most definately stay away from.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
http://www.1483online.com
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Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group
http://www.guildofblades.com
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2006, 06:56:49 AM »

That's enough.

Guy, never give legal advice on this forum, ever again. Everyone else has come a little close on this thread as well, too close in fact, despite some care on Ryan's part, for instance.

The topic of this thread is ultimately a legal one. When someone new asks questions like this, direct them to the sticky at the top of this forum, and don't take it upon yourself to be their lawyer.

Best, Ron
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