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WoT Pilot: We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

Posted by on 5:50 pm in Fiction, Film, News | 0 comments

WoT Pilot: We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know

Did you hear about the stealthy “pilot” for a tv series based on the much-acclaimed Wheel of Time series? Probably, as blogs on several geek and nerd/science and entertainment sites have spent time on the subject.

Aside from the general surprise at a rather low-budget production for such a big property (airing without fanfare, in the middle of the night, as paid programming), is there much else to talk about?

"wheel of time" by lostsmurf1, CC BY 3.0 license. http://lostsmurf1.deviantart.com/art/wheel-of-time-71728420

“wheel of time” by lostsmurf1, CC BY 3.0 license. http://lostsmurf1.deviantart.com/art/wheel-of-time-71728420

Well, there were two added twists: the nature of the production & broadcast are believed to have been a gambit to retain rights to the property by Red Eagle Entertainment, while author Robert Jordan’s wife appears to have commented that she was not aware of any such official project.

This is all made very interesting by two additional twists: in 2008 it was reported that Universal Pictures paid a large amount of money for the film and television rights to the property, with Red Eagle handling the potential production, and the rights were set to revert back to the original owners as of this Wednesday (02/11/2015). This latter sort of clause has a history, notably with several contracts Marvel Comics engaged in before their eventual success in the film industry, allowing the owner of a work to regain property it has licensed to other parties if those parties don’t do anything with it.

Who Is Red Eagle?

Image Copyright Chris Downer and licensed for reuse under Creative Common Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

Image Copyright Chris Downer and licensed for reuse under Creative Common Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

A few of the articles I linked to give much more information, but here is a summary.

Red Eagle, the company that optioned the film rights for the first novel back in the early 2000s (I have seen the year 2000 mentioned several times, but cannot find confirmation of that particular year), has been the source of numerous disappointments when it comes to the Wheel of Time property. There were short-lived comic book series, promises of videogames followed by mishandled crowdfunding initiatives or missed opportunities, and even Jordan himself wrote scathingly of the company before he died.

But Can They Even Do That?

Maybe. And it seems more likely than a few people are making it out to be, unless the people in charge of Red Eagle are far more foolish than they seem (yes, even given the above).

Until we find out more about the relationship of any production agreements or licenses between Universal Pictures and Red Eagle, it’s impossible to say whether this gambit to get in under the wire had any chance of success; if the rights and responsibilities ultimately rest with Universal, or if Red Eagle produced the footage without the rights, then it served no purpose but to get them in trouble.

Based on this interview from 2008, however, the company’s representative seems confident that it is Red Eagle Entertainment that acquired the rights:

“Red Eagle Entertainment optioned the WHEEL OF TIME property through a subsidiary about five years ago. Simply put, an option is the right to acquire something at a later time and at terms and conditions that have been agreed upon in advance. In our case, the option gave us the ability to purchase rights to develop, produce and distribute films and television programming based upon the WHEEL OF TIME, and also to license the themes and characters of the story for various applications such as video games and consumer products. We exercised our option and purchased these WHEEL OF TIME rights in February of 2008.”

While in 2010 another representative referred to the company’s arrangement with Universal Pictures in a way that indicate they had a partnership, rather than Red Eagle producing the film for the studio:

“With respect to the movie, we’ve been working on this project for a very long time. Recently, we had the good fortune to set up our film with Universal Pictures.”

Still, even if they do have the rights, it is not clear whether the airing of the pilot would satisfy the terms of the contract and allow them to move forward with additional projects after this week.

We’ll just have to wait and see as more information comes to light.

Should Authors Panic Over ‘Gravity’ Case?

Posted by on 6:12 pm in Announcements, Film, News | 0 comments

Should Authors Panic Over ‘Gravity’ Case?

 

Not yet.

Excuse me while I brush off a bit of the dust on my keyboard.

The International Space Station - Major location in the film and book under dispute.

The International Space Station – Major location in the film and book under dispute.

Now, if you are a creative type or movie buff that hasn’t seen articles with big headlines about Tess Gerritsen‘s suit against Warner Brothers over money she claims is owed due to the production of the film Gravity [I originally linked to the film’s official site, but dislike websites that auto-play sound]. Some blogs aimed at writers and screenwriters have made a larger deal of the impact this could have on future contracts with studios.

Why? Well because it looks like if you sell a property to a studio and that studio later gets acquired by another company, the new owner could use your work without having to honor the original studio’s responsibilities.

And that would be bad. I just don’t think we’re there, and any talk of precedent (in the important legal sense) is probably extremely premature considering that all we have a is an order based on preliminary motions.

 

So What’s Going On?

The crux of Gerritsen’s position is this:

1) The rights to her book were purchased by the Katja Motion Picture Corp., an arm of New Line Productions, Inc.

2) The contract between her and Katja was guaranteed by New Line, who it was understood would actually be making the movie; she claims that Katja was a wholly-owned subsidiary of New Line that it used to acquire and develop literary property.

3) The movie was in the works with, unknown to Gerritsen at the time, the future director of Gravity attached to direct and he would have been given her book as well as additional material.

4) She created a modified version of the story for production that’s more like the movie than the book initially was.

5) The director and his son sometime later wrote a screenplay that not only is very similar to her novel, including a fidelity to scientific details, but to the additional modifications she produced for Katja.

6) Warner Brothers acquired control of New Line and Katja, and therefor all its rights and obligations regarding her work.

7) A year later the director and son transferred all their rights to their Gravity project to Warner Brothers.

8) Her contract has not been honored, and the film was indeed based on the book.

The contract in question would have given her a $500k production bonus if a movie was made, credit on a title card, and potentially a percentage of profits (as tricky as those can be to nail down). In her complaint she asked the court to find a Breach of Written Contract, a Breach of Continuing Guaranty, and require an Accounting by all defendants.

The judge has issued an order in favor of the defendants motion to dismiss. The reason given by Judge Morrow can be briefly summarized as this: Gerritsen’s presented evidence was not strong enough to “pierce the corporate veil” (quotation marks indicating a bit of oft-quoted legal jargon, not a statement by the judge).

 

Alter Ego & The Corporate What?

A huge amount of her claim comes down to the court accepting that Katja was not truly distinct from New Line as well as the idea that New Line and Katja are now complete shells that exist only for the use or benefit of Warner Brothers, which means that she is taking aim squarely at the protections that corporations and LLCs were created to produce.

The puppet master Mangiafuoco - By A. Bongini

Whether you can convince a court to treat one corporation as though it was another it has acquired depends largely on the relationship between them.

For example, Gerritsen points to Katja’s failure to object when another studio (Warner Brothers) produced a film that it could easily be argued infringed on their property (the film rights to her novel and additional material) as proof that there was no corporate separation between the companies. The defendants spent a good deal of time coming up with a chart of differences between the book and Warner Brother’s film specifically to try and show that Katja had good reason not to object.

She’s saying that these other companies are just different names that Warner Brothers uses to do business, now. An alter ego.

This is why, in her recent blog post, Gerritsen emphasizes that she does not see this as an issue of copyright infringement; as far as she is concerned Warner Brothers owns the rights to her book, used them, and owes her. The defendants argue the situation is not nearly so cut-and-dried.

 

So, Why Not Panic?

It’s easy to see why people are concerned about big companies playing shell games with contracts and rights, though at the same time it’s precisely these situations which cause companies to take great pains maintaining a separation of resources (and why creative types often ask fans not to send them pitches or scripts, hoping to avoid bad feelings or lawsuits should they ever use a similar idea).

Medieval Labyrinth

Some connections are easier to make than others.

The fact of the matter, however, is that that even on the facts as presented by the author this cannot be read simply as a case of one company acquiring another and using their material without honoring the contract; Warner Brothers is denying the alleged nature of its relationship with Katja’s intellectual property rights, not to mention the role of New Line in the whole affair, and the script created by the director (which was previously attached to an entirely different studio before Warner Brothers acquired the rights) adds an entirely new wrinkle.

Personally I think it is entirely likely that someone at the studio saw the very similar script written by the Cuarons as a way of side-stepping the hurdles of getting access to Katja’s book rights without weakening the borders between the companies, or that Warner Brothers was already going to use Gerritsen’s book but saw getting Cuaron and the script as a way to shore up their legal position.

What the court has determined, however, is that the nature of the relationships as alleged by Gerritsen requires more proof than was present in her original complaint. To that end, her attorney is going to file an amended complaint and seems confident her case will move forward.

 

But What Can We Do Now?

If you are a worried screenwriter or author, the first thing you should do is make sure you have an attorney representing you on important contracts and that they are familiar with situations like Gerritsen’s.

They almost certainly will be, but it may set your mind at ease and keep the sort of situation everyone wants to avoid at the forefront when it comes time to review that all-important contract language.

 

Sherlock Holmes & The Case For Public Domain

Posted by on 5:39 pm in Announcements, Fiction, News | 0 comments

Sherlock Holmes & The Case For Public Domain
The Final Problem, by Sidney Paget Holmes and Moriarty go over the falls

Sidney Paget Art  From ‘The Final Problem’

As an attorney with clients concerned about protecting creative works, I am a big fan of copyright law. I especially appreciate the original intent of the law; to encourage the addition of new creative works to our society’s culture, including derivative works, by granting creators a limited window of exclusive rights to the work’s use.

You might even say I am pretty enthusiastic about making sure clients protect themselves and defending those rights for clients.

Over the last 75 years or so, however, there have been many changes to how the legislature and some courts approach copyright law. This has gone on to the point where many people seem to believe that the sole purpose of copyright law is to protect the creator’s exclusive rights, and the intended benefits to society as a whole are forgotten or misrepresented as being the fractional economic bump from a handful of financially successful works.

It’s that change in the public understanding that made seeing Judge Posner‘s opinion in Leslie S. Klinger v. Conan Doyle Estate, Ltd. this past June so refreshing, and as today the Supreme Court officially refused to hear the appeal by the Doyle estate I thought I’d talk about why.

The case revolved around an author named Leslie Klinger (well known by some as being responsible for annotated works like The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, which sits handsomely on my shelf, and The Annotated Sandman) who was co-editor on an anthology of new Holmes fiction in 2011. At that time he paid the Doyle estate a licensing fee, but when it came time for a sequel anthology Klinger insisted that it was not necessary and eventually asked a federal court to issue a declaratory judgment that would support his position.

The Conan Doyle Estate took the position that, while obviously many of the Sherlock Holmes works were old enough to fall into public domain, the works still protected by copyright  (ten published post-1923) were so informative to the character that even the public domain elements should be off-limits.

Judge Posner wrote:

More important, extending copyright protection is a two-edged sword from the standpoint of inducing creativity, as it would reduce the incentive of subsequent authors to create derivative works (such as new versions of popular fictional characters like Holmes and Watson) by shrinking the public domain. For the longer the copyright term is, the less public-domain material there will be and so the greater will be the cost of authorship, because authors will have to obtain li-censes from copyright holders for more material—as illus-trated by the estate’s demand in this case for a license fee from Pegasus.

 

 

Most copyrighted works include some, and often a great deal of, public domain material—words, phrases, data, en-tire sentences, quoted material, and so forth. The smaller the public domain, the more work is involved in the creation of a new work. The defendant’s proposed rule would also en-courage authors to continue to write stories involving old characters in an effort to prolong copyright protection, ra-ther than encouraging them to create stories with entirely new characters. The effect would be to discourage creativity.

I have to agree. There is something to be said for striving for a sort of pure creativity, and working within limits can certainly lead to unexpected results, but the truth of the matter is that stories and images and ideas that become part of our cultural language don’t just appear from nowhere. They’re drawn from everything that’s come before, and the well of commercial material from the past century (that doesn’t have to be carefully stepped around at least) is a bit dry at the moment.

A strong copyright law makes sure that creative individuals or organizations have an opportunity to profit from their labors without worrying over competing with third party reproductions, but a strong public domain makes sure that the pool of inspirations and materials our artists can freely build with is constantly being refreshed. It’s nice to see that get some recognition.

Copyright & Games: Is the Law Changing?

Posted by on 9:37 pm in Announcements, Boardgames, Fiction, RPGs, Videogames | 0 comments

Copyright & Games: Is the Law Changing?

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 future party could potentially use this opinion as a rather handy guide, should they ever find themselves in that gray area, and I believe that the law it covers will be of interest to designers from the various flavors of tabletop games (roleplaying, card, and board games).

The core of the case, at this point, is that ZiKo and Yoka are selling a game called Legends of the Three Kingdoms “the same rules, methods of play, and roles” as DaVinci’s game Bang! “but substitutes characters and themes from ancient China” and DaVinci alleges that doing so has infringed on protected materials (it provided a chart which noted 64 different similarities, and the judge divided them into four categories).

Image by  J.C. Leyendecker, courtesy of Project Gutenberg

Image by J.C. Leyendecker, courtesy of Project Gutenberg

The fact that the rules are pretty much identical in function, though not exact text, and the various character roles as well as actual cards in the game have been reproduced in a new “skin” isn’t in contention by either party. For those not familiar with Bang! I almost want to repost Judge Rosenthal’s entire summary, as it’s remarkably clear, but will settle for linking to this rules overview on Wikipedia (I promise it is brief).

Judge Rosenthal concludes that the nature of the Character Cards and the Roles (a Sheriff after Outlaws & the Renegade, Deputies trying to protect the Sheriff, Outlaws trying to kill the Sheriff, the Renegade looking to be the last one standing, and all of them but the first a secret from other players) in Bang! are original expressions that go beyond a functional process or method, making them protectable.

There is a ton of interesting material, and implications, in how she got to her conclusion.

Before I go any further here, I want to make a few things clear:

  • Judge Rosenthal’s primary purpose was to determine whether there were grounds to dismiss DaVinci’s claim against ZiKo and Yoka. She puts together a strong argument for why DaVinci’s claim is good, but she’s looking at what is possible or required by the law rather than making a ruling.
  • This is not precedent in the way that most people mean. This case could be settled out of court, or if it went to a jury they might decide that despite everything the protectable elements are not substantially similar enough. See above.
  • This is just an educational look at an interesting case, from far outside the loop on what information the two parties have, and not legal advice and definitely not to be construed as the creation of an attorney/client relationship. I like Douglas Linn’s comment:

‘The law is complex. This article is not. I am purposely avoiding throwing intense legal doctrine at you. Please read the words “most of the time, and there are exceptions” into any sentence you’re about to argue with me on.’

So, most people might be aware that “you can’t copyright games” or “you can’t copyright game rules” but as the definitions I mentioned above show it is more complex than that. Those broad statements are held to be generally true because of the close relationship between games and the mechanisms of play, with many of the older cases dealing with variations on widely-known games based on the traditional 52-card deck.

See, because ideas aren’t themselves protected by copyright, courts tended to issue opinions that found “[w]hen an idea is so restrictive that it necessarily requires a particular form of expression, that is, when the idea and its expression are functionally inseparable, to permit the copyrighting of the expression would be to grant the copyright owner a monopoly of the idea” (Freedman v. Grolier, regarding adding numerical point values to honor cards in bridge decks).

In any case, Judge Rosenthal lays a good deal of groundwork for the idea that, while many of these cases shot down protections, they often did find that protection in similar cases may be possible. Even while a game’s control panel and instructions were just functional, “sequences” and “arrangements” in games can indeed add a layer to a work that is entitled to copyright protection.

In my opinion the four most notable precedents the judge pulls up, and the findings she takes from them, are:

1) Tetris Holding, LLC v. Xio Interactive, Inc. – “[T]he dimensions of the playing field, the display of ‘garbage’ lines, the appearance of ‘ghost’ or shadow pieces, the display of the next piece to fall, the change in color of the pieces when they lock with the accumulated pieces, and the appearance of squares automatically filling in the game board when the game is over” are protectable even when they have functional roles.Also noted that just because rules by themselves are not copyrightable, this “does not mean, and cannot mean, that any and all expression related to a game rule or game function is unprotect[a]ble.”

 

2) Midway Mfg. Co. v. Strohon – Even though a PAC-MAN modification kit called “CUTE-SEE” went out of its way to cover elements of game cabinets and remove in-game assets that would infringe on Midway’s audiovisual property, the underlying “literature” (here meaning object code on the chips) was infringed.Meaning that just because you are not infringing on one protectable facet of a property, which in the Bang!/LOTK case means the art, does not mean there isn’t an infringement.

 

3) Capcom U.S.A., Inc. v. Data East Corp. – A character or game element (in this case special a special move) isn’t examined without context when determining if there is enough similarity to find infringement, or whether a work is protectable. Instead “a court looks at the ‘totality [of the characters’] attributes and traits’ as well as the extent to which the defendants’ characters capture the ‘total concept and feel’ of figures in the plaintiff’s work.

Characters that are just archetypes, broad caricatures or “stock” characters, aren’t entitled to protection.

 

4) Spry Fox LLC v. LOLApps Inc. – The court denied a motion to dismiss, holding that the game’s “object hierarchy that progresse[d] from grass to bushes to trees to houses and beyond” (where you combine three of a kind to get one of the next level up) was a copyrightable element of expression. In that case it was a matter of two games which played almost identically but which had different themes for objects and enemies.

Here Judge Rosenthal outright says, “The player’s roles in Bang! are analogous to the object hierarchy in Spry Fox.”

 

With me so far? Because there were a bunch of cases that I would love to go on about, but the general arc of the judge’s thinking should be apparent there.

Using the Tetris case she establishes that functional does not mean unprotectable, meaning that even if game elements are all DaVinci can base a claim on there may still be a case.

With Midway she shows that ZiKo and Yoka having changed the art does not mean the works can’t be substantially similar enough in other ways to be infringement.

From Capcom she gathers that if the Bang! character cards aren’t stock, and she feels that they are original expressions despite being inspired by Wild-West models, they are protectable. If that is the case, and other than the art the character cards in the two games are just about identical, this would be bad for the defendants.

And Spry Fox gives an example of how “the sequence of [a work’s] events [and] the development of the interplay of its characters” could end up being a copyrightable element.

Her final paragraphs from the analysis of that issue are perhaps worth sharing in their entirety, as they speak pretty clearly for themselves (bolding mine):

As a role-playing game, Bang! differs from traditional games that have received little or no © protection. Role-playing games are not necessarily played with a 52-card deck, with its limited possibilities for creative expression or interactive variety. Role-playing games are also far less limited than most games by mechanical processes such as the roll of dice or the pattern of a game board. The driving forces behind the experience of a role-playing game are individual decisions and the interactions among the players. The creative methods a game designer uses to define and shape that experience are the expressive elements that are protectable under © law. The impact that artwork has on the “total concept and feel” of a role-playing game has less relative significance than the manner of game play that the creator defines through expressive choices such as player roles.

The characters of Bang! and the roles defining the interaction among the players are creative expressions protected by ©. The side-by-side comparison shows substantial similarity between the characters and roles in Bang! and the corresponding characters and roles in LOTK. DaVinci has stated a claim on which relief can be granted. Yoka and ZiKo’s motion to dismiss the copyright infringement claim is denied.

So, no, the place of games under copyright law isn’t going to dramatically change overnight. As the judge’s opinion shows, the legal interplay between copyrightable expressions and those which can’t be protected has existed for a while now in “modern” gaming, going the way of the party seeking protection a number of times, without causing a sea change.

my other hobby ii by Carsten Tolkmit, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

my other hobby ii by Carsten Tolkmit, (CC BY-SA 2.0)

But, there are some compelling arguments that game elements popular to many tabletop RPGs might be closer to that line than is commonly recognized. Maybe.

Hopefully you found that overview interesting, or at least informative, and I do recommend taking a swing at the opinion itself even if you’re not much for legal writing. Just be careful you don’t find yourself reading all those old videogame cases like I did, because I lost hours.

Documentaries & Drama: The D&D Story

Posted by on 9:33 pm in Film, General, RPGs | 0 comments

Documentaries & Drama: The D&D Story

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.

https://flic.kr/p/ajgULx

IMG.9889 by keith.bellvay on Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

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 disputes in the roleplaying games community.

In any case, check out the Examiner.com piece for some more quotes on the legal rumble, and remember that part of preparing to go into business with someone is having a plan for what happens in the worst case scenario.

Old Games Need Never Die

Posted by on 7:08 pm in General, RPGs | 0 comments

Old Games Need Never Die

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!

IMG_3319 by Marc Majcher (CC BY-SA 2.0).

IMG_3319 by Marc Majcher (CC BY-SA 2.0).

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 interested in or concerned about), I plan on a future post that will cover that. In the meantime, just consider that more than a few fantasy and science fiction series, like have openly credited characters or setting elements to roleplaying games played in by the authors.

The War of the Lord of the Rings

Posted by on 2:32 pm in Announcements, Film, News | 0 comments

The War of the Lord of the Rings
One Ring to Rule Them All by Jan. CC BY-SA 2.0

One Ring to Rule Them All by Jan. CC BY-SA 2.0

Big licenses are often a source of serious conflicts, especially when the property has a strong following or is worth enormous amounts of money. In the case of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, primarily The Lord of the Rings but also The Hobbit, both cultural cache and lucrative deals are a factor.

A History of Trouble

This has led to a number of lawsuits surrounding those properties, with a number of the bigger claims occurring in the 2000s, mostly revolving around people involved with the rights to the film feeling like they weren’t getting what they were owed.

In the news now is the battle between the J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Limited and Warner Bros. over whether Warner has overstepped the bounds of its license (with Warner Bros. counterclaiming that the Estate has harmed Warner by improperly revoking certain rights).

Why Now?

While I am certain that there are many reasons that this suit is picking up steam, and you can click through to The Hollywood Reporter here to see some of the action, what it really boils down to is Warner’s recent move to license tie-ins that include online gambling games that use Tolkien’s works as a theme. Not only does that have the already-protective Estate upset, reason enough for them to challenge these download or cloud-based products, but they claim that it and works like it violate the limited right to create “tangible” products given to the studio under the agreement.

An Old Agreement

Apparently the source of contention is what the specific terms of that agreement were or meant, something you would hope to be contained in the four corners of the document itself, but with evidence (in the form of witnesses and work-product) being fought for tooth-and-nail by both sides it seems that things are messier than outsiders could have imagined. This is likely in part because the agreement is decades old, meaning that applying it to the current markets using the language of its day opens up room of interpretation… but we can’t know for certain right now.

Street Fighter 4: Latest to Marry Two Types of Gaming

Posted by on 7:30 pm in News, Videogames | 0 comments

Street Fighter 4: Latest to Marry Two Types of Gaming

“Gaming,” at least until fairly recently, has meant something very different to the general public than it does to people who play video- or tabletop games. With the explosion of the videogame market in the last decade that’s changing, but the association between the words “gaming” and “gambling.”

And what does this have to do with Street Fighter?

Double Dragon fruit machine - Lee Maguire

It was recently announced (Polygon’s brief article being a great introduction to the subject) by Capcom and Virgin Gaming that the two companies would be teaming up to provide a money match service for Street Fighter 4. This idea isn’t new to Virgin Gaming, as its business model is built around facilitating just that sort of exchange between online players, or to videogame players in general (that link explaining what exactly a “money match” is connects to a Super Smash Brothers wiki).

If you’re not interested in following a link, money matches are exactly what they sound like; competitive matches in which a wager has been placed on the outcome. And if you’re not asking “wait, is that legal?” you are either already bored with this post or more on top of online gambling regulations that many.

The law can be pretty confusing on the issue (and that’s without getting into the Federal Wire Act); many places online will tell you that games of skill are fully protected while games of chances are not, but in August 2013 a judge in the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals held that poker was a game of skill even while agreeing the defendant could be prosecuted under the Illegal Gambling Business Act. And then, just days ago, the Supreme Court refused to hear the defendant’s final appeal.

So how are there so many skill-based gaming sites out there? Well, part of that relies on the fact that states have the freedom to legislate various types of events that have entry fees or prizes and to determine if these count as gambli

ng. Every state is different, and it’s for this reason that many sites offering things like money matches will explicitly exclude states like Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland and Tennessee (it’s worth noting that the site Skillz also excludes Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, South Carolina, and South Dakota).

With fights still going on in the courts and legislature regarding the state of skill-based gambling and sports betting it is clear that technology has outpaced the law in many areas, but it’s understandable why a giant like the Virgin Group would feel safe stepping into these waters. While the arena of gambling law and the Federal Wire Act aren’t subjects I have much familiarity with, I would venture that both companies have a good number of attorneys that know the material cold.

Vampire Creator Returns Via Kindle Worlds

Posted by on 7:55 pm in Fiction, News | 0 comments

Vampire Creator Returns Via Kindle Worlds

!!3 by Julijia MazhoraLJ Smith was the original writer for the popular series of Vampire Diaries novels, starting back in 1991, but in 2011 was fired by her publisher over a dispute as to what should happen in one of the stories. Considering that she was working the entire time under a somewhat extensive work-for-hire contract, meaning that Alloy Entertainment owned the property and works in their entirety because she was brought on to create the series for them, the series continued on without her even though it still had her name attached.

Well, with Amazon dipping its toes into the world of fan fiction by letting people sell stories set in specially approved properties, it turns out that LJ Smith had an interesting opportunity.

Yes, for those of you jumping ahead, the original creator and author of the Vampire Diaries novels is now writing and selling Vampire Diaries fanfiction [thanks to The Daily Dot for this one] in addition to her other projects.

They’re also in the Top 5 Kindle Worlds sales at the moment, and the top two spots in the Teen section.

I know that I’ve seen original authors accused of writing fan fiction in their own worlds before, but finishing the a trilogy as she originally planned instead of the direction the publisher took it (and getting 35%, IIRC, of the money from the sales) after getting fired?

That’s new, at least for the Age of eBooks (having been recently reading about the glory days of printing piracy, I would be shocked if similar situations hadn’t popped up during that period).

Anyone have additional thoughts or information?

!!3 by Jūlija Mazhora on Flickr, available via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

About Flat Fee Services

Posted by on 7:24 pm in Announcements | 0 comments

About Flat Fee Services

Billing by the hour is the traditional method of charging clients for legal services, but that may be changing. In the 21st century hourly billing looks to be on its way out, at least as the default, and that’s ok with me.

One of the things I’ve brought to Geek Law is experience in creating flat fee packages, which allow me to take a careful look at the proposed representation and give my potential clients a clear idea of what sort of cost it will entail. So if a client is only interested in the creation of a specific document, needs me to write a memo about potential legal repercussions, or wants me to file a trademark application on their behalf I can tell them exactly how much it will cost to make that happen.

It’s true that some circumstances, like extended legal proceedings or negotiations, would make coming up with a reasonable flat fee almost impossible; those times are the exception. Such situations are also not the normal daily concerns of independent artists, small businesses, and other working creative types.

Flat fee services mean that every consultation is an opportunity for me to help a potential client, no matter how ambitious or limited their needs might be. It’s my hope that this will make it easier for all my future clients to get the representation they deserve.