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Copyright & Games: Is the Law Changing?

Copyright & Games: Is the Law Changing?

By on Sep 16, 2014 in Announcements, Boardgames, Fiction, RPGs, Videogames | 0 comments

Short Answer: Nope   Over the last year or so I’ve seen a number of people reacting to a few intellectual property cases in the videogame world with interest. Often the gut reaction is to condemn one company or another, sometimes taking aim at both for different reason, and every so often there are folks who wonder aloud if this is going to be the case which changes the general rule that games are not protected under copyright law. The short answer in pretty much every instance is that, no, games are not going to suddenly slide under that umbrella. Why? Because Section 102 of the Copyright Act says that the law protects: “…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.” And goes on in 102(b) to specifically exclude: “…any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is describe, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such a work.” Games are generally pretty bound up in and defined by the elements listed above, which means that while the language describing rules, the art, or the background fiction might all be original expressions you can protect under copyright law there is no room for simple ideas or what the courts might describe as mere functional elements. That said? If you want to know more, read on.   Long Answer: No, But…   Well the law is always changing, because court decisions are part of the law, and in this arena there have been a large number of decisions over the past few decades. There is a recent case that highlights how the line between the protectable expression of an idea and a functional procedure may not be as clear as people would like it to be. In DaVinci Editrice S.R.L. v.  ZiKo Games, LLC, et al. the federal judge on the case recently issued an initial opinion in response to various motions by the parties, and in crafting her opinion Judge Rosenthal draws on a large body of existing case law to argue about where system crosses over with original expression. Some...

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Documentaries & Drama: The D&D Story

Documentaries & Drama: The D&D Story

By on Jul 16, 2014 in Film, General, RPGs | 0 comments

Dungeons & Dragons is the most famous roleplaying game in the world, and when a group of people decided to make a documentary about it in preparation for the 40th anniversary there was a good deal of support. How much support? The Kickstarter for Dungeons & Dragons: A Documentary brought in $195,480. Things seemed to be going well. Then, last year, there was a falling out between the producers. Followed by an announcement that two of the producers would be doing a documentary, on the same subject as the original, called The Great Kingdom. The Kickstarter for The Great Kingdom has 4 days left at this point and has only raised roughly half of the money required to hit the campaign’s goal. Why? Many reasons, I’m sure, but one of them is likely the lawsuit. A number of sites have provided extensive coverage of the details as they came to light (such as The Verge and the very prolific Michael Tresca over a Examiner.com, but the legal issues boil down to an accusation that the producers who have split away are using material they have no rights to in the production of this unrelated film. The producers of The Great Kingdom claim to have used nothing but their own work: We started from scratch, raising private funds and some of our own to get us to this point. We knew there was an amazing story to tell. And like any complicated story, there will always be room for different interpretations. But their former partners disagree, in an update to backers: We would never object to competition, our position is that they have wrongfully attempted to use the assets of this film in their own, competing documentary. The sad part is that this all comes after a settlement that was reached when the relationships within the original company went awry, and is exactly the sort of thing that can happen when a business falls apart… and it will always, always be worse if those involved either haven’t agreed upon a contractual relationship or (more commonly, maybe) paid attention to their contractual responsibilities to one another. The sad part is that for such a relatively small industry, there is a history of intense disagreements and legal...

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Old Games Need Never Die

Old Games Need Never Die

By on Jun 26, 2014 in General, RPGs | 0 comments

Do you have any hand-drawn maps, background fiction, or filled-in character sheets from games in days gone by? Turns out, it may belong in a museum! Just the other day I was creating a character for a roleplaying game a friend of mine I’ve known since college will be running. In an e-mail exchange he mentioned he still had a character sheet that I’d used in a game that happened 15 years ago. That’s a very special sort of nostalgia, one that may only be rivaled by finding poetry or fiction you wrote as an adolescent, and I immediately smiled remembering even the many awkward missteps I made being so new to roleplaying. In one of those synchronistic moments, the very next morning I learned of The Play Generated Map & Document Archive on the Ken And Robin Talk About Stuff (hosted by fiction and gaming luminaries slash raconteurs Kenneth Hite and Robin Laws) podcast. The purpose of the archive is best described in its mission statement: PlaGMaDA’s mission is to preserve, present, and interpret play generated cultural artifacts, namely manuscripts and drawings created to communicate a shared imaginative space.  The Archive will solicit, collect, describe, and publicly display these documents so as to demonstrate their relevance, presenting them as both a historical record of a revolutionary period of experimental play and as aesthetic objects in their own right.  By fostering discussion and educating the public, it is hoped that the folkways which generate these documents can be encouraged and preserved for future generations.  While I am not sure of the value to those outside the hobby, at least currently, as someone engaged with it in my personal as well as professional life I must say that I wish them luck. I’m even going to look through some old folders I found during a recent move, hopefully finding something I can donate. If you’re at all interested in helping them out, please take a look at the Participate page and let your friends (especially those who no longer play) know about the project. For those curious about the copyright of things like characters, character sheets, or story materials generated playing a game someone else has a copyright on (because intellectual property is something many people online tend to be...

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