Professional GM: Possible Return

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pward

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I got a better idea for you. Patent your "professional storytelling" method and sell the rights to the patent to theater companies, cover bands, stand up comics, and other performers so they can use someone elses material in their own performances without regard to copyrights.

"A business method to avoid the hazards of copyright violations."
 

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Grabbed a module off the shelf the other day at the game store, to check the copyright license. This particular one had an "open gaming" license, which was quite long and in fairly small print, so I didn't read the whole thing.

Checking Wizards site, found this FAQ and the Version 1.0a OGL (.rtf file, needs Word or WordPad to read).

Third question on the FAQ is fairly informative, especially the part about checking with legal counsel if you have questions.

From the OGL:
(d)"Open Game Content" means the game mechanic and includes the methods, procedures, processes and routines to the extent such content does not embody the Product Identity and is an enhancement over the prior art and any additional content clearly identified as Open Game Content by the Contributor, and means any work covered by this License, including translations and derivative works under copyright law, but specifically excludes Product Identity. (e) "Product Identity" means product and product line names, logos and identifying marks including trade dress; artifacts; creatures characters; stories, storylines, plots, thematic elements, dialogue, incidents, language, artwork, symbols, designs, depictions, likenesses, formats, poses, concepts, themes and graphic, photographic and other visual or audio representations; names and descriptions of characters, spells, enchantments, personalities, teams, personas, likenesses and special abilities; places, locations, environments, creatures, equipment, magical or supernatural abilities or effects, logos, symbols, or graphic designs; and any other trademark or registered trademark clearly identified as Product identity by the owner of the Product Identity, and which specifically excludes the Open Game Content;​

Product Identity is the stuff you can't use freely, game rules that aren't Product Identity (I think) are the things you can use freely.

So unless your module has a completely free license to use the Product Identity stuff in the module, performing it for pay is likely to be a no-go.
 

Portal

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pward,

Paying your way with someone else's work may very well be copyright infringement. Neither Portal nor myself are lawyers (AFIK), so CaptainCommando; you can fly under the radar and hope for the best, or talk to someone who knows what they are talking about.
Just because you don't know what you're talking about doesn't mean the same applies to others. While I'm not a U.S. attorney, I work in the records and information management industry and intellectual property issues are common course of business for my work.

The only legs the WotC OGL or any other analogous IP licensing agreement have to stand upon is whether the 3rd party work in question involves the development of stand-alone media for recording, codifying, and distribution. A book publisher has no legs to stand on for a 3rd party who is able to make money providing parallel, different services that doesn't interfere nor compete with the original publisher's products and services. The OGL would have to be explicit in identifying the prohibition of professional storytelling or game play of its products.

A lot of these mandatory commercial license agreements would never hold up in court if they were legally challenged. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't want to take on such challenges when up against an organization with more resources than they.
 

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pward,

Just because you don't know what you're talking about doesn't mean the same applies to others. While I'm not a U.S. attorney, I work in the records and information management industry and intellectual property issues are common course of business for my work.

The only legs the WotC OGL or any other analogous IP licensing agreement have to stand upon is whether the 3rd party work in question involves the development of stand-alone media for recording, codifying, and distribution. A book publisher has no legs to stand on for a 3rd party who is able to make money providing parallel, different services that doesn't interfere nor compete with the original publisher's products and services. The OGL would have to be explicit in identifying the prohibition of professional storytelling or game play of its products.

A lot of these mandatory commercial license agreements would never hold up in court if they were legally challenged. Unfortunately, a lot of people don't want to take on such challenges when up against an organization with more resources than they.
Working with intellectual property issues doesn't make you qualified to speak with the credibility of a lawyer in the specialty.

Read the OGL, and take a look at what it grants you with respect to the open content, and the protected content.

The storyline, characters and other artwork (maps, pictures etc.) are in the protected content area. The game rules for combat and spellcasting (but interestingly enough not the spell descriptions themselves) are open game content. Unless the copyright for the protected content allows public displays where costs are paid by the audience, that would likely fall under the "all rights reserved" clause usually accompanying the copyright statement. There doesn't have to be an explicit "you may not do professional storytelling" clause in the copyright statements. That would fall under the "all other rights"...

If there was a "professional storytelling clause", you could get around that by claiming you were doing "professional oration, not storytelling" unless there was a specific exception for that... Game play is expected, since that's the purpose of the module. Getting payed to run the adventure someone else wrote, is not expected.

Bottom line is talk to a lawyer, or take your chances with someone else's work. Better yet, write your own adventures using the open parts of the OGL systems out there...
 

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Pete, Don't argue with Portal. He stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. That gives one extreme knowledge that comes when called directly from the posterior of the expositor.
 

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First, it's not like I'd be displaying or distributing the adventures to the public like a movie theatre or MMO rpg or some of the sites attacked by WotC. What I do is a private service for specific client groups that hire me to run the paperwork and set up and acting for that paricular adventure.

Second, there is insufficient motivation for WotC to challenge my business on what is an uncertain issue. It would be a waste of time and resources. Plus, it would be a loss of free advertising and promotion for their products.

EDIT: I found a way to add value to my services and reduce the effective cost on a client's budget. By partnering with local businesses (food in particular), I can create a client incentive package of coupons and discounts. Eventually, the financial benefit of the package may be such that a client actually saves more money paying for a game than joining a free game.
 
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pward

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First off, even a "private showing" of a movie, when you charge for the movie itself is against that copyright. I'm fairly sure you can't charge admission to a DVD playing, same sort of thing applies to the "private showing" of the module someone else wrote.

There may be little motivation on their part, but then again there might not be. That's up to WotC to decide. Depending on the module, it might not even be WotC...

Value added services might not make the difference either. Replace whatever it is you're doing with the module, with a showing of a DVD instead. If you think it's still legal, go for it, but don't expect WotC to see it the same way.

My recommendation to you is still to do your own modules/game-world, so as to avoid all the potential copyright problems.
 

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pward,

Working with intellectual property issues doesn't make you qualified to speak with the credibility of a lawyer in the specialty.
Following your logic and considering you're neither a U.S. attorney nor a professional in the information industry, what credibility level is achieved with your opinion? :smoke:

Unless the copyright for the protected content allows public displays where costs are paid by the audience, that would likely fall under the "all rights reserved" clause usually accompanying the copyright statement.
"All rights reserved" only indicates an interest in protecting rights actually provided by the law, not control of every form of content use that can be imagined. This stuff would only be relevant if the adventure module played itself using some type of automation. However, what the DM is selling is not provided by the original publisher in any shape or form. Nor does what he provide compete with the publisher's product, or interfere with it.

First off, even a "private showing" of a movie, when you charge for the movie itself is against that copyright.
Can you cite a few court cases where a movie studio successfully sued a private shower who charged an audience for providing display infrastructure, where there was no case of bulk content duplication or distribution involved?

Sounds like CaptainCommando is approaching his business concept the right way. Best of luck to him, and it would be great to hear how things work out.
 

pward

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pward,

Following your logic and considering you're neither a U.S. attorney nor a professional in the information industry, what credibility level is achieved with your opinion? :smoke:
Following my logic, he would be consulting with an attorney instead of listening to either of us.

"All rights reserved" only indicates an interest in protecting rights actually provided by the law, not control of every form of content use that can be imagined. This stuff would only be relevant if the adventure module played itself using some type of automation. However, what the DM is selling is not provided by the original publisher in any shape or form. Nor does what he provide compete with the publisher's product, or interfere with it.
If a DVD may not be played for public consumption for a fee, neither can the module be played for a fee. Regardless of the lack of suits filed against someone showing DVDs as if they were a moviehouse, it's still illegal.

Can you cite a few court cases where a movie studio successfully sued a private shower who charged an audience for providing display infrastructure, where there was no case of bulk content duplication or distribution involved?

Sounds like CaptainCommando is approaching his business concept the right way. Best of luck to him, and it would be great to hear how things work out.
I don't need to, nor am I qualified to do the legal research required to cite the correct cases. Short form is that the only complete answer can come from a judge, but that's only happening after a suit is brought. Before then, talk to a lawyer willing to back up their position in court should that happen. (Assuming the lawyer says it's kosher to charge admission for the module.)

By his logic and yours, the local movie house could just get projectors suitable to play DVDs (or other electronic media) and just play them for ticket purchasers, regardless of copyrights. "They are just renting the seats and the facilities, the movie itself is free" wouldn't fly there, and it won't fly IF the copyright owners want to make a case out of it for the module.

CaptainCommando could no easier turn the module into a Broadway play, without paying for that license from the copyright owner; than he can present the module itself for a fee. He may very well fly under their radar, but if he doesn't, he should be aware of the potential down side.

The whole intent of copyright is to protect the owners interest in the work. Using someones work to generate money, when you don't have the right to do so, is a copyright violation. There are some provisions for fair use, or scholarly work, or the other usual exceptions for using the copyrighted material in another work. Taking the whole work, and putting it on public performance (or even private) for hire should not be one of the expected fair use provisions.

I still think he's better off not taking the chance, and going with his own adventures and world setting.
 

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I still think he's better off not taking the chance, and going with his own adventures and world setting.
Well currently the bulk of my planned adventures are going to be original anyway. After reading a number of published adventures, I can't guarantee a quality service for a majority of them. There's only so much one can do with a poor story. My last test run for an adventure that I wrote was praised for having a flow of story considerably deeper than "whack the bad guys and get their treasure".

TODAY'S UPDATE

I've reduced prices one last time. There isn't going to be much profit from running game sessions alone unless multiple sessions on the same day are requested. Publishing the adventures and the professional storytelling, which has more real life support, will contribute most of the profit until the expansion plans are implemented (that's when the real money will come in).

With the May Special making it really cheap to hire for just one session, whatever sessions I run this month will be about establishing regular clientele and gaining recommendations.

If I can nail client discounts for food at restaurants and delis, I will also reduce my own costs for food as well since I also get to use the discounts. I'll be concentrating on client benefits in Manhattan since most of my potential clientele will probably be from or work in that borough and it's pretty much the city center. Bakeries, coffee shops, chocolatiers and candy shops are also on my list, then perhaps the game stores or toy stores.
 

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Just had a fresh look at the U.S. Copyright Act. "Public performance" of a literary work for commercial fee is included as a protected clause under the law. However, it would only be applicable if the DM was reading out the published adventure module page-by-page, point-to-point to a public audience (i.e. "perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered").

Until there are clauses in the Copyright Act outlining protections associated with unpublished, unrecorded derivative oral reinterpretation and alteration of original work, there is no way a DM could be successfully sued for selling DM services.
 

pward

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Just had a fresh look at the U.S. Copyright Act. "Public performance" of a literary work for commercial fee is included as a protected clause under the law. However, it would only be applicable if the DM was reading out the published adventure module page-by-page, point-to-point to a public audience (i.e. "perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered").

Until there are clauses in the Copyright Act outlining protections associated with unpublished, unrecorded derivative oral reinterpretation and alteration of original work, there is no way a DM could be successfully sued for selling DM services.
Check to see if that public performance involves money changing hands. I suspect that it does not, and is there to allow someone to read aloud to any passerby when tickets/admissions are not involved. That "open to the public" part is very important, I think.

Have you got any links to the Act you can share?
 

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Public performance for a fee is definitely protected under copyright law. However, it only protects direct performance of the original work. DMing isn't a point-by-point read-aloud of an adventure module or the game rules system.

A link to the U.S. Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C.):

http://www.copyright.gov/title17/
 

pward

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Thanks for the link, but I don't think you have parsed the laws properly.

Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:
<snip>
(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;
<snip>
§ 101 Definitions said:
To “display” a work means to show a copy of it, either directly or by means of a film, slide, television image, or any other device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show individual images nonsequentially.

“Literary works” are works, other than audiovisual works, expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or indicia, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as books, periodicals, manuscripts, phonorecords, film, tapes, disks, or cards, in which they are embodied.

To “perform” a work means to recite, render, play, dance, or act it, either directly or by means of any device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show its images in any sequence or to make the sounds accompanying it audible.

“Pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works” include two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of fine, graphic, and applied art, photographs, prints and art reproductions, maps, globes, charts, diagrams, models, and technical drawings, including architectural plans.<snip some stuff not relevant to current discussion>

To perform or display a work “publicly” means—
(1) to perform or display it at a place open to the public or at any place where a substantial number of persons outside of a normal circle of a family and its social acquaintances is gathered; or
Your quote above was from the definitions, not the permissible uses of a copyright protected work.

§ 107 · Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use - There might be some leeway here, if you were being paid to teach the game system, rather than game-master the module. Though it looks as if there is plenty of room for interpretation under fair use. (That's where a case law review and rulings search comes in handy. Queue the legal assistant.)

§ 110 · Limitations on exclusive rights: Exemption of certain performances and displays - paragraph 4 might have helped, except for the "without any purpose of direct or indirect commercial advantage and without payment of any fee or other compensation for the performance to any of its performers, promoters, or organizers,..." and the following sub paragraphs.

So, care to explain to me again where someone would have the right to charge for a public performance under the US copyright laws? I don't think there is a definition that meets your "page by page reading" would be protected, but somehow performing the work as intended would not.
 

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Keeping this separate from the copyright discussion...

Kudos to CC for being creative and looking for a worthy enterprise to support himself. And I'm glad he seems to be going with home grown modules, rather than published stuff.

I was thinking about another benefit to the home grown modules:
1. You will know the material better than you would likely know the published module.
2. You can alter the situation, and ad-lib much better than with a pre-done module.
3. Any changes you make, don't affect the "cannon" of someone else's game world.
4. There are no advantages to your players in having read or played the module previously. (No "well, let's look for a secret door 30' down the west hallway, because that's where I found it last time", XP penalties only go so far...)
 

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pward,

The only possible leverage under the law lies in the word "play" from this paragraph (and dependent on how a judge interpreted the word "play", as the standard context is for public theatrical performance, not privately-booked tabletop gaming):

"To “perform” a work means to recite, render, play, dance, or act it, either directly or by means of any device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show its images in any sequence or to make the sounds accompanying it audible."

However, the leverage would only exist if the DM followed a strict script from the original module, did not make any creative edits or reinterpretations, or otherwise modify the creative aspect of the module to tailor to his game groups' needs. I've never met a DM who ran a module point-to-point by the original script ever. And I don't think a professional DM would start doing so, because their efforts would add little value for what the player-customers are being asked to compensate.

I don't think there is a definition that meets your "page by page reading" would be protected, but somehow performing the work as intended would not.
Because once a DM has engaged in creative modification and re-interpretation, he is no longer performing the original work. He is performing his own intellectual endeavour from which the original work was an influence.

2. You can alter the situation, and ad-lib much better than with a pre-done module.
Never seen this as a barrier before, both as a player and DM. Pre-done modules are great for giving a DM a skeleton and framework for play sessions, and then you just re-interpret and modify from there.
 
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pward

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pward,

The only possible leverage under the law lies in the word "play" from this paragraph (and dependent on how a judge interpreted the word "play", as the standard context is for public theatrical performance, not privately-booked tabletop gaming):

"To “perform” a work means to recite, render, play, dance, or act it, either directly or by means of any device or process or, in the case of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to show its images in any sequence or to make the sounds accompanying it audible."

However, the leverage would only exist if the DM followed a strict script from the original module, did not make any creative edits or reinterpretations, or otherwise modify the creative aspect of the module to tailor to his game groups' needs. I've never met a DM who ran a module point-to-point by the original script ever. And I don't think a professional DM would start doing so, because their efforts would add little value for what the player-customers are being asked to compensate.

Because once a DM has engaged in creative modification and re-interpretation, he is no longer performing the original work. He is performing his own intellectual endeavour from which the original work was an influence.

Never seen this as a barrier before, both as a player and DM. Pre-done modules are great for giving a DM a skeleton and framework for play sessions, and then you just re-interpret and modify from there.
So are you saying that if I have a script to a broadway play or hollywood movie, I can read sections of it to the public for a fee, and so long as I only pick and choose some parts, it's not against the copyright? If I leave out some boring dialog, or "edit for time" would that be enough to create a separate "interpretation"? I think not.

Creative modification and reinterpretation still requires a license from the copyright owner, when the usage of copyright material is substantial. Using the entire module in whatever order, sounds fairly substantial to me. You would likely (in my non-lawyer opinion) fail with just the map usage, or displaying images created for the module, even if the text in the module was covered by such an exception.

The module is meant to be used in a certain way, which is flexible in it's execution and relies on certain game rules and random chance in the dice. None of which should detract from the copyright owners rights to be paid for use of his/her work in a paid performance.

The copyright owner doesn't need leverage. The performer needs permission to charge for the performance.

Find me the section or paragraph that describes the limits and conditions under which copyright is not applicable to a reinterpretation or creative modification.
 

Portal

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Let's see what I can do:

"§ 106. Exclusive rights in copyrighted works38
Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

...

(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;"

From the definitions:

"“Literary works” are works, other than audiovisual works, expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or indicia, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as books, periodicals, manuscripts, phonorecords, film, tapes, disks, or cards, in which they are embodied."

You'll notice only what is explicitly encoded in documented form is protected. Unrecorded and uncodified ideas produced by the DM have no right of control by the original publisher. If the DM makes it clear he or she is charging fees for his games' administrative and value-added creative services, the original publisher has no claim for royalties based upon the influence of the adventure module.

The law only protects what it explicitly identifies. There is no need to provide exclusion notes to specifically denote what is not covered. If a condition is not specified, it's not protected.

BTW - At best and with a generous judge, the publisher might have an outside chance to force the DM to cease and desist. However, there would be no way the publisher could seek financial compensation, as proof the plaintiff is suffering financial damages and lost business is required under civil law. Until WotC gets into the business of providing professional, private DM services, there is no way for them to establish damages.
 

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Let's see what I can do:

"§ 106. Exclusive rights in copyrighted works38
Subject to sections 107 through 122, the owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

...

(4) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly;"

From the definitions:

"“Literary works” are works, other than audiovisual works, expressed in words, numbers, or other verbal or numerical symbols or indicia, regardless of the nature of the material objects, such as books, periodicals, manuscripts, phonorecords, film, tapes, disks, or cards, in which they are embodied."

You'll notice only what is explicitly encoded in documented form is protected. Unrecorded and uncodified ideas produced by the DM have no right of control by the original publisher. If the DM makes it clear he or she is charging fees for his games' administrative and value-added creative services, the original publisher has no claim for royalties based upon the influence of the adventure module.

The law only protects what it explicitly identifies. There is no need to provide exclusion notes to specifically denote what is not covered. If a condition is not specified, it's not protected.

BTW - At best and with a generous judge, the publisher might have an outside chance to force the DM to cease and desist. However, there would be no way the publisher could seek financial compensation, as proof the plaintiff is suffering financial damages and lost business is required under civil law. Until WotC gets into the business of providing professional, private DM services, there is no way for them to establish damages.
So, by whatever means he gets to the part about "you enter the dank dungeon tunnel..." at that point he's not violating copyright with a paid public performance how?

I wouldn't think it would need a generous judge. It would need a financial reward over the cost of the lawsuit (to include some fairly intangible things like 'standing up for our copyrights', vs just how much money they can get from the defendant).

Saying that he's providing "professional DM services" is like saying the theater company in the city you live in is providing "professional playwright interpretation services" when they do a production of Cats, without paying the actual playwright...

Damages are not required to get the cease and desist letter from a judge, and enforcement of that order by loss of the infringing material.

Heck, you might just argue (probably unsuccessfully) that the counter artwork infringement going on in ASL land is just "replacement parts availability".
 

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Back in 2005, White Wolf attempted to put up a license policy that forced organizers of pay-for-play games to pony up $20 a year to the company. There was a lot of negative backlash and argument about what a game company can or can't enforce legally. The policy was retracted not long afterwards.

Here are couple of threads from the time of the short-lived license policy.

http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=204059

http://www.enworld.org/forum/general...play-deal.html

Here's a fun little rant about the topic.

http://jrients.blogspot.com/2005/07/...lf-idiocy.html

Here's a statement from White Wolf after the policy retraction.

http://www.gamingreport.com/article.php?sid=17839
 
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