Saturday, February 14, 2009

Galling

I mentioned my love of the Blackmoor setting the other day in another post. I also mentioned in one of the comments that, despite its antiquity, Blackmoor is one of the more poorly documented old school campaign settings, having had only one really "authentic" presentation -- 1977's First Fantasy Campaign published by Judges Guild. Unfortunately, FFC (as it is often called by the old folks) is long out of print, unavailable in legal PDF form, and finding old copies can cost you a pretty penny on eBay or from out-of-print game vendors. There was a series of 3e-compatible Blackmoor products, but, much like the late 80s "DA" modules produced by TSR, I felt they made too many tweaks, both large and small, to the setting to be accurate presentations of Dave Arneson's originals.

What's worse is that Dave Arneson, originator of the Blackmoor campaign, doesn't hold the copyrights on his creation. For reasons that are obscure to me, possibly having to do with the work he did for TSR in the 70s, Wizards of the Coast owns Blackmoor lock, stock, and barrel. Check any of the recent Blackmoor products and you'll see that it's produced under license from WotC. If WotC actually were doing something with Blackmoor or were considering doing so sometime in the future, I'd be more willing to cut them some slack on this score. But the odds of that's happening are slim to none. You will never see a Blackmoor-related official D&D product ever.

This is one of those cases where, had I the power, I'd return the entirety of Blackmoor to Dave Arneson as a gesture of goodwill and respect. I think the man deserves it, given the unfortunate history he's had with the game he co-created. I might wish to negotiate a perpetual royalty-free license to reference Blackmoor from time to time or use its Greyhawk doppelganger in the future, but I'd have to acknowledge Dave's copyrights to the original ideas and concepts. Truthfully, this would be the gentlemanly thing to do, especially now that Dave is the sole surviving creator of Dungeons & Dragons and is in ill health. I honestly can't see much benefit in WotC's sitting on Blackmoor and requiring that Arneson license back his own creation from them if he wishes to publish products based on it.

But then, with attitudes like these, I suppose I'll never manage to become a millionaire. Oh well.

17 comments:

  1. Back in the good old days, when the United States was first formed, you could copyright something for only 14 years. At the end of the 14 years, you could choose to extend your copyright for another 14 years. But that was it. In other words, no copyright could possibly last for more than 28 years.

    I dearly wish that were still the case today. That would mean that everything without exception that was published on or before Feb. 14, 1981, would now be in the public domain. Blackmoor would obviously be in the public domain.

    In fact, most of TSR's good stuff would now be in the public domain, and within the next 4 years everything that TSR published while Gary was still at the helm would be public domain.

    This "life of author plus 95 years" (or whatever it is now) copyright length is preposterous.

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  2. That would mean that everything without exception that was published on or before Feb. 14, 1981, would now be in the public domain. Blackmoor would obviously be in the public domain.

    What a glorious world that would be!

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  3. What puzzles me is Dave giving away the Blackmoor pdf on his (now defunct) website, as well as his hints that he is working on a pdf release of FFC. If he doesn't hold copyrights, how can he do this?

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  4. It's life +70, or 95 years for publisher owned works such as Mickey Mouse. Far too long, I agree.

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  5. If he doesn't hold copyrights, how can he do this?

    In the case of the Supplement II PDF, I haven't a clue. I used to wonder how he was able to do that myself. As for FFC, that might be because of the way the legal issues were worked out between himself, TSR, and Judges Guild back in the day, but I really have no idea. This is one of those areas where I wish I had a better understanding of exactly where things stand, since it's very confusing.

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  6. Blackmoor (such as it is) is moving forward with D&D 4e... Bleck! But here it is:

    http://mmrpg.zeitgeistgames.com/

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  7. I'll just chime in and also say that a return to the 14+14 year copyright duration is one of my most fondly wished-for desires in US governance.

    At this point, the entire global legal establishment is monolithically arrayed against that, however (by our demand).

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  8. What I find bizaar is that a founding member of a company can create something well before the company was actually founded and lose his/her rights to create more content for the product. It feels like there should be a creation clause in there somewhere.

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  9. It may be that Blackmoor is a trademark so the issue is not copyright. Somebody could ask Arneson this on the Original D&D forum

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  10. It's life +70, or 95 years for publisher owned works such as Mickey Mouse.
    Watch that latter one get extended once more when it next comes up.

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  11. yeah and wish for rainbows and gumdrop fairies and world peace while your at it.

    The benefit? Its he same reason they totally made the GSL unpalpatable: keeps competition away from their precious 4e product.

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  12. It may be that Blackmoor is a trademark so the issue is not copyright.

    Now that you mention it, you may be right. If I recall correctly, there is a huge list of names and words over which WotC claims control and whose use Dave must license from them. That does sound more like a trademark issue than a copyright one, but, even so, it's still pretty damned galling.

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  13. You know the obvious solution, right?

    Get to petitioning.

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  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  15. For what it is worth, Dave stated on the OD&D board he's working on a FFC pdf.

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  16. Personally, I more on the side of perpetual ownership by the owners. Mostly because I think people like Gary and Dave's wife and children have the right to benefit from their spouse/father's works--of course then corporations come into play. There are too many people now who think creative people should give up control to the masses ASAP, that recording artists need to "stop being lazy and tour", and that old meme "information wants to be free".

    I think works in the "public domain" just lead to a lot of bad Dracula movies, for instance.

    One thing to keep in mind to James, is that both Gary and Dave signed supplementary contracts/agreements, most notably when Peter Atkinson took control of TSR and absorbed it into WoTC. Peter was a good guy--he was really the only reason Gary got into talks about returning and started going to GenCon again--and I think both either agreed to a one-time fee or some sort of royalty agreement and credit in editions of D&D, for all remaining rights to their properties, and agreed not to make future claims--or something like that. One might argue that if they're willing to sign additional agreements then they fully give up rights.

    I have a gut feeling Mr. Arneson doesn't pay much for a license, at least I hope so. It might be the rights to use D&D that cost the money or facilitate a license.

    I think even if an executive wanted to give stuff back, it would be hard to explain to shareholders about giving away property like that, it might be seen as irresponsible. Even the fans sometimes act outraged at the possibility, if the recent reaction to the rights to Superman are any indication. (Image if Gary got sold back rights to Greyhawk and he decided to stat it out in Lejendary Adventures instead of D&D)

    I have to wonder how capable Dave is as an author. It seems that all work on Blackmoor since the 80s have been via co-writers and not from Dave himself. Gary once said that Dave needed co-writers to make the modules palatable. Dave once mentioned in an interview after Gary's death that Gary was either a prolific or good writer--can't remember--but in other words, Gary had the advantage of being very disciplined at his craft.

    While it's likely true Dave is rightfully the "co-creator" of D&D, I have a sinking feeling if the roles were reversed and Dave was the key facilitator of D&D--we might not have had as strong a product or TSR.

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  17. @Kelvin, you're more right than you think:

    http://articles.latimes.com/2008/aug/22/business/fi-mickey22

    Disney has been trying to keep Mickey out of the public's hands for years. The legal saga o is twice as long as War and Peace, but not half as exciting.

    As far as Blackmoor is concerned, I'd be all for D.A. getting it back, he deserves it after all he went through.

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