Sunday, May 6, 2012

Don't Fear GW, Respect Them!

Sam And The Two Watchers in 'The Return of the King', Rankin Bass

SandWyrm here. In my last article on our Business Planning, Canageek posted the following comments, which I think express something that needs to be addressed in it's own post. How afraid should we be of lawsuits as we create our 40K alternative?

Canageek Wrote:
"I'd say, as the voice of caution, that you are opening yourself up to a huge number of potential lawsuits the second you try and release anything for pay."
There are many myths about Copyright law. One of which is that it's legal to copy something if you're not making any money off of it. This is completely false, at least in the United States, which is where we will be incorporated. ANY copying or republication of a Copyrighted work is illegal. The law is called copy-Right (not 'Write') for a reason. Because barring a few specific exceptions, the owner of a work legally controls the right to make copies of it.

Now, the company that owns the work may CHOOSE to overlook your transgression if you're not making money, but that's not the same thing at all. They can still shut you down at any time. Entertainment companies do this all the time with infringing Web Comics, Fan-Fic, Fan-Films, and whatnot. As long you stay under the radar, they can pretend they don't know about the infringement. But as soon as they become popular enough, the infringement has to be addressed or they'll risk losing their rights. Copyrighted works have to be defended or they're lost. It's the law.
Canageek Wrote:

"Now you've said before you don't think you are breaking any copywrite laws;..."
Like most blogs and websites, we've informally broken copyright law with many of the images we use. But I know for an absolute fact that we have not broken Copyright on anything created by Games Workshop. Nor have we infringed on any other company with whom we intend to compete for customers. It's part of keeping our nose clean.

The other blog authors can attest that I have a set of very strict rules and procedures on this. All GW-authored images are strictly forbidden. When you do see them (like in my Logo post), it's because they have a direct bearing on something that we're discussing. In that case, I make sure that they're properly attributed. This is in keeping with the law and the exceptions it allows for commentaries on a copyrighted work or trademark.

Using their trademarked names is harder to avoid, but again, this easily falls under the category of discussion and commentary. We're quickly reaching a point though where we no longer need to think in terms of Space Marine, Eldar, and Necron. Because we now have the Knights, Colsar, and the Genii. Whose background, rules, scope, and themes are all significantly different from GW's expressions. Not only does that follow the letter of the law, but the spirit as well. We're not copying, we're re-imagining and creating an improved product.

That leaves only one basis for a lawsuit: That we are deliberately confusing GW's customers by making our products look like theirs in order to benefit from their name/trademarks. So we have GW's own disclaimer at the bottom of this page. When we release the rules, they will also describe who we are so that there is no basis for confusion.
Canageek Wrote:
"...That doesn't matter, they can still sue you, even if you are right. 
As a former video game boss once explained to all of us in a company meeting: "Anybody can sue anybody for any reason. It's scary the first time it happens, but being sued has nothing to do with being right or wrong. It's just something you have to deal with in business from time to time. Relax, keep working, and don't do anything that you know is wrong."

So I can cower in a corner and not do anything for fear of what others might do. Or I can decide to get up, educate myself, and do my best to mitigate the risks. Just as each of us decides to walk down the street or drive a car; even though we've all seen terrible road accidents where people were killed. That's life.
Canageek Wrote:
Do you have the $10,000 it would take to stop a lawsuit from one of the big players? I'd say a much better matter would be to jointly release under CC or one of the GPL style licenses, co-listed among all the authors to keep one of them from stealing things later (As happened with Nexuiz), try try and avoid being seen as a threat"
GW has a certain reputation in regards to dropping the IP hammer on other companies. But I've yet to see a case where their target wasn't clearly infringing on their IP in some way. If you don't know the law, and you don't understand how new ideas and products are developed, then it's easy to think that they're acting unreasonably all the time. But the truth is that they have certain responsibilities under the law to protect their IP. So if you cross the line, they have to go after you.

So we won't cross the line. We won't infringe. We'll obey both the letter and spirit of the law and create a competing product that re-imagines their themes and incorporates other ideas. Just as GW did when they created their games and universe.

It would be easier to simply copy 40K with a few tweaks, re-name everything, and release it without fluff. It could even be done legally if you're careful, but not morally. I'm a creator, not a copier.
Canageek Wrote:

"Also, frankly, I'd probably be willing to edit text if you are releasing things for free; I do it on Wikibooks all the time, and due to editing papers and stuff I'm pretty experienced at it. However, if you are going to be making money off it I'm not going to help someone else make money, and I suspect a lot of people feel that way."
That's why I've outlined going the route of a non-profit. Because at the end of the day this project will not be completed without a paid staff to do the work. It's impossible. So I want to set up a structure that lets us pay people to design, edit, and publish our game. Without profit motives clouding every rules decision.

That game will then be available on-line for free as part of the non-profit's mission. Though other publication forms, like nice printed books or Apps, could be purchased by customers to support development.

I also want to make it clear that it's not all about me. I want to make a living doing something I love, but I don't expect to get rich doing this. Comfortable will do. So I'm willing to create a corporate structure where others have oversight over my pay and activities in the service of our mission. Where I get paid (by IRS regs) a defined salary only. There will be (by law) no stock, shareholders, or options. Just a board of directors and members. Where all profits (by law) must be reinvested to support the stated mission of the corporation, and not simply distributed as bonuses to the company's officers or those that gamble with it's shares on Wall Street.

I neither want to be a Kirby, nor create a corporate structure where one can arise. Going Non-Profit accomplishes that and shows that I am sincere in what I say. It also lends assurance that everyone's volunteer efforts will go towards achieving the mission and not simply lining someone's pocket.

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