Professional GM: Possible Return

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pward

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I believe there is a difference between the player created content in a LARP, and the usage in whole or in part of a module for hire. Provided the LARP wasn't run for profit, WW doesn't have much of a leg to stand on. The rules and characters and whatnot are meant to be played that way. I think they went a bit too far with the "pay us 20$ a year regardless" issue. That would be akin to a module being sold with a recurring payment plan. $40 now, and $5 every time you run it.

Our local LARP paid to rent the location for game for a long while, as well as insurance for the group itself. That's what the admission fee covered. I don't recall if they had not-for-profit status, but that's mostly a tax issue.

Your intent is to take the money and support yourself with it, which is generally accepted to not be a not-for-profit sort of thing.

Again, if you replace the copyrighted module with a DVD movie, or an audio CD, and do the same thing with it, it's obviously copyright infringement. To use the media the way it was meant to be used, is not. Playing with/for anyone, so long as payment is not made is all fine and good. Come over to my cook-out and we can listen to my favorite album while we wait for the steaks to cook, no problem. Meet at a game store and play the latest module, no problem.

Meet somewhere to pay to have the module run for you, that's a problem. Just like paying to see a movie, or paying to hear the latest audio release. If it's not licensed from the copyright owner to do so, it's against the law. It might not end up in court, but it's still against the law.
 

Portal

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pward,

For a person who admits he's unqualified to provide a credible opinion on this matter, you seem to like to keep going with this. :) It seems to me WW backed off because they recognized they didn't have any legal leverage to continue doing what they were doing.

Just as a quick Q: where from the U.S. Copyright Act to you find quotes around protections of "media the way it was intended to be used", and how "intended to be used" is defined?

I don't see any reference in the Copyright Act outlining source materials for creative tabletop game experiences.
 

pward

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pward,

For a person who admits he's unqualified to provide a credible opinion on this matter, you seem to like to keep going with this. :) It seems to me WW backed off because they recognized they didn't have any legal leverage to continue doing what they were doing.

Just as a quick Q: where from the U.S. Copyright Act to you find quotes around protections of "media the way it was intended to be used", and how "intended to be used" is defined?

I don't see any reference in the Copyright Act outlining source materials for creative tabletop game experiences.
If you want me to stop posting my common sense interpretations, stop asking questions. That is a credible opinion, I've read the copyright laws, and formed an opinion. What it isn't is something you can take to court, for that you need a lawyer. I will repeat the opinion, with some description.


Books are meant to be read, either aloud or to oneself.

Roleplaying game modules are meant to be played, usually in a group where all members of the group probably haven't purchased the module.

Movies and audio works are meant to be played on machines that convert them to the pictures and/or sounds stored on the media.

None of the above can be put on public display for a fee.



You're really going to have to find better support for the "interpretive services" rights you think you have.

I agree that WW didn't have any leverage to prevent the players from playing the game, and even charging admission to events, provided the fees went to covering the costs, and not to enriching the coffers of the management. By all means, if there is a for-profit LARP group out there, or for-profit storytellers, WW should go after them. (If they think the expense is worth the return).
 

Portal

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pward,

As we all know, the Copyright Act states what can be placed on public display for a fee with no royalty kick-back to the source of original, non-derived work. Just check the text, and argue in court from there. :)

You have your opinion, I have mine. Nothing further to say.

All,

I look forward to hearing about CaptainCommando's business foray, and whether anyone has ever been successfully sued (or issued a court-backed cease and desist order) by a RPG company for providing commercial DM services in which that company's products had some kind of creative influence.
 
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pward

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pward,

As we all know, the Copyright Act states what can be placed on public display for a fee with no royalty kick-back to the source of original, non-derived work. Just check the text, and argue in court from there. :)

You have your opinion, I have mine. Nothing further to say.
Then do me a favor and point me to the section that permits this. Not the definition of public performance you posted earlier.
 

CaptainCommando

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I think ultimately motivation is the key word here. I don't distribute or publically display coyrighted material and I charge barely enough for compensating the cost. No damages = No fuss. Pirate sites are a more viable target for game company resources.

If I get a cease and desist (not bloody likely), then I'll just switch to a different rules system.

UPDATE (5/24/09)

I think limiting my updates on the forums to once a week will be best. Sunday is a good day so every Sunday should be fine.

I've got a start on my client incentive package. A popular Manhattan deli not far from Grand Central station is backing me with $5 coupons. On Tuesday I may be able to get $5 coupons from a popular Chinese fast food place near Penn station as well. A chocolatier, several restaurants, a bakery, a coffee shop, and an ice cream/frozen yogurt shop will round out my culinary incentives. Toys, games, and other services like a spa, bowling alley, or skating rink are also planned for the package.

Dungeon Delves and Teaching Games are now available. I'm delaying the performance storytelling service until sometime in June.

I'm going to be putting up a separate site for a default setting for the pre-made adventures that is fully compatible with most DnD material.

I'm planning to make another setting that may interest fans of the MMO genre.

I've devised a "block" format for designing adventures. Each block will have a certain amount of narrative, a skill challenge, a combat encounter, and a story encounter (teaching game is the exception). A block is 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours of play time. Most adventures will be at least 2 blocks long.

By the end of this next week, I am hoping to start the main phase of my advertisement.
 

pward

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You're missing the point, it's not about the rule system, that's (mostly) covered by the OGL if you're playing D&D. The content of the story/maps/characters in the module is the copyright violation.

One one hand, I'm impressed by the entrepreneurial effort you're putting into this. (Making your own way from nothing.)

On the other hand, it looks to be supported on the labors of others without their permission. (Pretty much my understanding of the intent of copyright protection.)
 

Portal

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pward,

You've stated your opinion a few times now, and also admitted you're neither a copyright lawyer nor work in a field related to intellectual property issues. I think it's time to leave Commando alone and just pay attention to the interesting tidbits he's sharing about his endeavours.

Feel free to bring the copyright stuff back on the radar once you've found a legal case where a RPG publisher successfully established a court-backed cease and desist on a private, for-hire GM.
 

Cherper

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Portal, since you aren't a moderator or playing one on GameSquad, it is not your place to tell anyone to go away.
 

pward

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pward,

You've stated your opinion a few times now, and also admitted you're neither a copyright lawyer nor work in a field related to intellectual property issues. I think it's time to leave Commando alone and just pay attention to the interesting tidbits he's sharing about his endeavours.

Feel free to bring the copyright stuff back on the radar once you've found a legal case where a RPG publisher successfully established a court-backed cease and desist on a private, for-hire GM.
I don't need an established court case to form the opinion that the use of a module for hire is just as illegal as hiring out a DVD you bought at the store.

I'm still waiting for your quote of the copyright laws that allows the "creative modification and re-interpretation" is allowed. There are exceptions, such as for teaching purposes and commentary and fair use, to name a few. Wholesale use of the entire module, is strictly forbidden even for those exceptions.
 

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Cherper,

I told pward I think it's time to stop, from my point of view. It's his choice whether to do so or not, and up to you guys (GS mods) to throw any weight around if need be. I'm not, nor was, telling anyone what to do.

It seems to me Commando, the thread starter, is starting to get tired of the copyright discussion. Considering nobody is presenting any tangible court history or proof that charging for admin logistics and creative interpretation services around for-hire DMing is in violation of any copyright attached to a legally purchased and acquired RPG adventure module, blowing smoke over the same issues over and over seems unlikely to fall within the original intent of the thread, IMHO. There is also zero clear evidence Commando is violating any copyright with his plans, so it's not fair for us to keep chasing the topic if he's not interested in discussing it further.


pward,

I've already quoted the portions of the Act which support my viewpoint, IMHO. If you want to argue this point further, you might want to pursue a law degree and take a case in front of a judge. :)
 

pward

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Portal,

You quoted the definitions of public display. Hardly a convincing argument. You basically described the public display that CaptainCommando wants to do, and proved it's under the "right to public display" provided to the copyright holder.

There is no doubt that the modules are covered in part by copyright. (With the possible exception of a module that was released in it's entirety as OGL for some reason.) Once the material is covered by copyright, you have to have permission in the law to use it.

§ 102 · Subject matter of copyright: In general (footnote 28)
(a) Copyright protection subsists, in accordance with this title, in original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression, now known or later developed, from which they can be perceived, reproduced, or otherwise communicated, either directly or with the aid of a machine or device. Works of authorship include the following categories:
(1) literary works;
(2)-(4) <snip stuff that likely doesn't apply>
(5) pictorial, graphic, and sculptural works;
(6)-(8) <more stuff that probably doesn't apply>​
That covers what is and is not copyright material, as I stated above, I don't think there is a question that the modules are covered. (Or at least the stuff that's not OGL content.)

§ 106 · Exclusive rights in copyrighted works (footnote 38)
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:
(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords;
(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
(3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending;
(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;
(5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
(6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.​
Check the definitions section for more information if you have any questions about what is an is not an exclusive right.

So, somewhere in sections 107-122, you need to find permission to create this "interpretation" and perform it publicly for a fee.

Exclusive right is fairly straightforward. Earlier I listed some places where you might have some traction, but most of those are for limited sections of the protected work. For instance, section 107 covers "fair use". Section 109 allows for the sale of a lawfully made copy. Section 110 has some exceptions for educational purposes.

Not one of those sections 107-122 says anything about professional interpretation. (Other than section 121 covering translation for the blind and other disabilities.)

You might also want to take a gander at sections 504 to 506. Possible penalties can be quite stiff.

Or, you can hope to fly under the radar and dodge the suit. It's a whole lot like speeding or making a mix-tape/CD for a friend. You might get caught and fined, but then again you might not... Just don't try to claim it's a legal use of someone's copyright protected work.
 

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It seems to me the cleanest way to avoid the whole potential issue is to charge strictly for the administrative and logistics services of organizing an RPG play group (i.e. finding a space and organizing play sessions). The original publisher is offering nothing in this regard that be claimed to be their property, and it can be clearly proven this is a value-added service in its own right.

Keep the creative interpretation stuff entirely free, even though it remains in doubt whether any copyright is being broken when the gathering involves a select, limited audience of less than 10 people (IMHO, not qualifying as "public" in terms of any Copyright Act public performance definition) and does not involve the codifying of any tangible, documented "work" for potential later distribution to a wide audience.
 

pward

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It seems to me the cleanest way to avoid the whole potential issue is to charge strictly for the administrative and logistics services of organizing an RPG play group (i.e. finding a space and organizing play sessions). The original publisher is offering nothing in this regard that be claimed to be their property, and it can be clearly proven this is a value-added service in its own right.

Keep the creative interpretation stuff entirely free, even though it remains in doubt whether any copyright is being broken when the gathering involves a select, limited audience of less than 10 people (IMHO, not qualifying as "public" in terms of any Copyright Act public performance definition) and does not involve the codifying of any tangible, documented "work" for potential later distribution to a wide audience.
That would fly just about as much as "you're paying for the seat in the theater and the AC to keep the room comfortable, not to see the movie".

Charging for the table space and selling concessions, no problem. But the draw is the professional service of running the copyright protected stuff.

If the "creative interpretation stuff is free, then when does CaptainCommando go to others houses, or other locations to provide that free service?

The draw to the location is the game master running the game. (Much like the draw at the theater is the movie.) If he's doing it for profit, I don't think these semantics will last long before a judge.
 

CaptainCommando

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I'm not distributing or displaying copyrighted material en masse.

It's free advertisement and generation of new potential customers for the game company.

People do get financially compensated for running tabletop rpgs, particularly DnD. The game company can't go after one without endangering/insulting the rest, an action which could be interpreted as saying "only people of a certain wealth level should run our games because groups can't pool their money to make sure that the game master can afford to prepare and run the game". It's not worth the potential bad press.

As long as I don't repeat the mistakes of certain websites that got cease and desist orders, I am not going to be stopped for receiving financial compensation for making games possible to play for some.
 

pward

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Get this straight, regardless of whatever faulty logic you're using to justify this to yourself, you are putting copyright material on public display for a fee.

If other people are getting financially compensated for running tabletop RPGs, then they are also violating the copyright holders rights. A group of friends getting money together to "go dutch" on a new module, is a far cry from you purchasing a module and using it for financial gain.

You're not likely to be stopped because of the return on the investment in prosecuting a case vs an individual is likely low. In the event that you are charged, in the civil case alone, if the judge/jury doesn't agree with you, the worst case maximum civil penalty can be $150,000. (See section 504 from the PDF linked above.)

Much like speeding (again with that analogy) the cops can't catch every speeder on every street every day. Publishers and copyright holders can't afford to prosecute every misuse of their copyright.

To be blunt, you've already made a mistake in posting your intent here. In the unlikely event you are sued, it will likely be evidence that the violation is indisputably willful. (Thus carrying harsher penalties.)

Do the right thing and run your own campaign.
 

Portal

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pward,

Commando has obviously read your view and chosen to make his own business decisions. You don't have proof Commando is violating any copyright, and you already have two voices in front of you which establish doubt that there is fair ground to call Commando's business ideas illegal (including an opinion of one person who deals with IP-related business issues everyday).

Seriously, pward, you should back off the truck, please. You've already been heard. You're now acting like an online bully.
 

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Thread closed. This issue has been hashed and rehashed. Let the whole thing drop.
 
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