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Questioning Piracy, Part 6 – The End Result

October 10, 2011 | | Comments 3

(These series of articles involve quotes from posts on a forum website that distributed copyrighted material. With certain exceptions, names and website addresses have been withheld)

Actual Post
If people enjoy my free products, then it may get them off the fence to actually buy another product (and I already have a lot of free products available), but I don’t see those up on 4shared or other sites – only the products that I charge for. If they don’t want to buy it, then they shouldn’t download it by any other means. I can do without that kind of advertisement. Like I said, if it worked, I wouldn’t be here talking about it openly or even try to beseech others to stop it.

I think, in all actuality, those that provide illegal download links do so for egotistical praise and to ride on the coattails of others’ hard work, then they wear the mantle of “I am doing a service for the greater good of mankind, therefore what I am doing is right and just.” Now, that might not be the case for everyone (there have been a few when I have asked before I went to the authorities because it seemed they were sharing with their game group online, they removed the links when I asked them), but most just love the praise left in their comment section.

Let me take one of my more popular products (both highly regarded in terms of quality from customers and reviewers and it is one I see often on 4shared and other sites). Just a quick search and a little time, the product since its release in 2008 has been illegally downloaded 20,861 times (and that is only on a few sites that I visited – I am guessing there’s more). 5% of that is roughly 1,043 copies. Again, the quality of the work is not in question and I would not be here if I even sold 5% of its illegal download number. Since 2008, I have sold only 294 copies at $2.95 a copy (which totals to $1.92 for me after RPGNow/Drivethru takes their cut of 35%). That is 1.4 percent.

This is just of an example of one of my products – I am more. I think people believe because it looks professional and it’s a great product, that I must be making a killing – I’m not.

Look, frankly, I’m not angry with those that illegally download my products – locks only keep honest people out – my anger is more directed to those that illegally upload to the sites. When four people can distribute 20,000+ copies of my work while I have only sold 294 of that product – then when people try to justify it to me . . . well, it irks me a little bit. Especially, when my most of my products go for less than $5. As a poor gamer myself, I understand what it is like to waste money on a crappy product. That is why I don’t charge much (in case someone doesn’t like it and a gem if someone does) and why I started Poor Gamer’s Almanac years ago – a free e-zine in hopes that it would funnel customers to our other products. Unfortunately, I had to stop devoting time to it because it did not generate the business I hoped it would – advertising and other product purchases.
AleaPublishing

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Actual Post
I believe that Copyright is an idea that can’t survive in the long run. It only works now because it’s been in effect for such a short period of time (relatively to the history of the human race). Copyright and Patent law are different but are tied up in the same issues. If both extended backwards to the beginning of time, we’d currently be paying millions of dollars for a car because the car manufacturer would be paying licensing fees to the inventor of the wheel, steel, plastic, glue, rubber, etc, etc. All of whose ideas the car manufacturer is getting rich off of without paying them anything. But most of those things were invented before patent law, so our society continues to work.

The problem is that as society goes forward more and more essential things are patented. This is causing the Tech Patent wars where every mobile phone manufacturer is suing every other manufacturer because they are all breaching each other’s patents (they have to in order to make a mobile phone. No ONE company owns all the patents in order to make a phone). Because of this, the only thing that keeps us going is fear of mutual destruction. Most companies don’t sue each other out of fear that they’ll be countersued for things patents they are infringing. This situation will only get worse.

This applies equally to copyright law. Ideas are based on other ideas. Those ideas belong to other people who were inspired by other people. You ARE stealing their ideas. But I think this form of stealing is GOOD. It helps the human race grow. Copyright law holds us back. It will guarantee that Disney will still be making Mickey Mouse movies 100 years from now and have the Copyright on it.

I think people should be rewarded for their hard work if their hard work is valuable. I believe morally, it’s best to give some money or at least some sort of compensation to someone if you use their work extensively. However, I don’t believe people have a right to control all use of their ideas forever. I don’t even believe they should control all use of their ideas for even a short period of time.

I don’t want to run into a situation where I have to pay $5 dollars a day to the guy who came up with the idea to brush your teeth then $5 a day to the guy who came up with the idea to take a shower. Simply because you have a good idea, doesn’t mean you own it.

On the other hand, I do believe that no one else should be making MONEY off of your ideas. I believe that Copyright should instead give a very short term license to make money off an idea. Like 10 or 20 years. After that, you need to come up with a new idea to continue making money. During that time, people can use your idea as long as they aren’t selling it. Assuming they can get a hold of your idea. If you don’t tell anyone, no one will know it. But if you purposefully put it out into the public (by publishing a book, for instance), then you can’t expect to have a law protect that idea from being communicated. After the 10 or 20 years, people can charge for your work if they want. However, since it is in the public domain and free to everyone, people would be stupid to buy it. It might be worth it to pay 5 or 10 dollars for the service of printing it out and binding it.
(Name Withheld)
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The line between inspiration and plagiarism is narrow and precarious. Some artists don’t care and sue flagrantly (looking at you, Ellison), but most understand that ideas can be coincidentally similar or even inspire one another. How many works borrow from Tolkien? George Lucas turned the ring into a baby and called it Willow. Variations on a theme are permissible and even encouraged in some circles. People have accused Amethyst of taking ideas from Shadowrun, a game I haven’t read. I knew of the setting, but actually thought it was stupid. People “assumed” it was Warmachine or Arcanum (oh, that last one upset me). If you really track back the twenty years of development with Amethyst, what you find is the film Dragonslayer and the anime Wings of Honneamise, neither of which bare any resemblance to Amethyst.

So, if someone has an idea that is a techno-fantasy, I won’t really care, even if the work claims to take inspiration from Amethyst. However, if it is blatantly obvious that all they did was change the name of places and characters and kept basically everything else intact (which is done often in Hollywood), I’d be calling my lawyer.

Taking a book without paying for it and maybe bringing it back is different from buying a book and wanting a refund. On the topic of films, DVDs and books, the industry has done a VERY competent job of convincing people that they should accept crap they don’t like. In fact, most people don’t ask for their money back after watching a film they didn’t enjoy. I know I never do. I only complain to the theater if they screw up (bad seats, bad sound, etc).

If you could easily get your money back without any guilt or hurdles, film companies would be going out of business. I have worked in retail for twenty years. Try to return an open game or movie. We don’t make it easy. In fact, most retail outlets prohibit returns for open console games. You can trade in with some locations or they charge a restocking fee, but most don’t just hand you your money back.

The big shift with the industry, the one corporations are fighting the most, is the belief that you don’t have to pay for entertainment you don’t enjoy. I know that I believe that. I think if something is bad, you shouldn’t have to pay for it. I read reviews, and I gauge my desire to see something based on people I trust. This is why I’ve seldom ever seen a bad movie in a theater. This is why I rent very few DVDs, but own a great many.

So after six installments, detailing only a fraction of the conversations that occurred over the three weeks on this forum, what did I learn? Honestly, not much. It more confirmed my opinion that most everyone has pirated something at some point, regardless of the laws in their country. So how can I enforce my intellectual property rights? The answer is that I just do, because it’s still my creation which I must defend. I did realize, however, how dedicated people can be if they support something they love. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of using free distribution to help advertise a product. The question is would I be willing to do that, post a finished product for free in hope that honest individuals will come forward to support it. I can’t do that with Amethyst because I’m too closely connected to that IP, but maybe another.

Ultramodern4 has no creative setting. It’s just a bunch of rules, most of which I couldn’t copyright anyway. So what if I allowed free distribution of Ultramodern4′s bare files, before any layout or artwork was implemented, then it would only by my work that was being distributed on gratis. That would give people who downloaded it the impression that it was an OGL. Fourth Edition rules are GSL, not OGL, but any rules I create could be. That would allow anyone to not only use the rules, but implement them in their own products as well, even ones they sell, assuming they are signed under the GSL as well.

It would be DEM hanging its neck out, taking a chance in the industry, replicating a business model that WOTC itself admitted as being a mistake.

Pass the word among the masses. Ultramodern4 will be free…

Kind of…

Me out.

Filed Under: Role-PlayingRPG

About the Author: Chris Tavares Dias is the literary equivalent of that crusty burnt cheese at the bottom of the fondue pot. Some people claim he looks like Mathew Perry. He would like that to be true. It's not. In 2010, Chris co-wrote and created Amethyst Foundations, a 4th Edition setting based on the previous version under 3.5. It has received critical acclaim for integrating science fiction into classical fantasy. In August of this year, Chris was last seen staring at a dead raven that had fallen beside his car. Two months later, his watch and notepad were found in the stomach of a basking shark that had washed ashore off the coast of Florida.

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