Questioning Piracy, Part 3 – The 1 Per 5 Rule

Third Party Companies are justified in getting a little sensitive about the topic of copyright and piracy, regardless of the details of legality. When Amethyst was criticized on RPGNet (not relating to this topic), I held my hat in my hand to be civil. It resulted in more fans and my hardest critic becoming my editor for Evolution. I want to make all my fans happy, but I honestly have difficulty releasing a full product completely for free that costs me a couple months income to pay for.

I never objected to people using artwork from Amethyst, especially if it’s used in the advertising of Amethyst. I have seen artwork used in other areas, like character profile images. I look the other way. As long as it’s not used to advertise another product someone is trying to sell, I consider it fair use. The proper course of action, if there was some lofty ideology to sharing content in hope of advertising the quality of said products, would be to ask permission first before posting copyrighted information online. For Foundations, you can download the first chapter for free. Evolution offers nineteen pages on RPGNow. I created the Biohazard module, which cost me $100 in layout and art, and offered it on gratis. I’m doing it again in the fall with another free module for Ultramodern4 called Invasion Proxy.

People may not fully understand copyright law and what is and is not permissible. Many times, the law has to take precedence over the wants of fans because of the risk of corrupted ideals. Neil Gaiman’s ideology (spoken of previously) may seem pleasant and easily quotable, but his views are not reflective of the actual world. Despite the possible gains for free access to copyrighted files, you automatically run the risk of that work being manipulated and distributed by those only wanting something expensive for free.

If you were a game designer trying to make money from RPGs in one of the most volatile times to be publisher (with WOTC fragmenting their rules systems, Paizo continuously gaining ground and some fans believing that you can’t love both), you would understand how running a free database without permission could be an assassins dagger into the backs of third party companies. I know the arguments about the suffering American economy but the problem faces both developer and consumer. With large industries like fantasy fiction and console games, a company can underwrite lost revenue. Websites post whole sections of books and demos of games. Pen & paper role playing is a relatively small group of people in comparison.

Movies are making more money than they ever did. The music industry redefined itself with iTunes. Books are having a tough time. Brick and mortar stores are closing left and right. It’s becoming more difficult to even define copyright no less enforce it. You’re talking to the same guy that posted a rather “famous” public letter to WOTC regarding 3rd Party Publishers on this very website. We’re feeling the squeeze from Paizo fans (not Paizo), and WOTC is doing nothing to expand their own product penetration by supporting the very companies that signed to support them.

But that’s my problem to deal with, not yours. All you need to worry about is gleaning maximum enjoyment over what I present. I hire the best artists and don’t allow crap, at least not intentionally. I had to ask for the removal of Amethyst from the forum that started this dialogue because I had to from a business perspective. I stayed posting on it because I respect gamers…at least until they hurt my feelings…

So far, so good.

Actual Post

There seems to be little point in arguing with self-deluded people. I wish that you folks could actually hear what you’re saying from my side of the screen and realize how childishly insane your arguments are.

You are claiming that you have the right to steal because:

1) An author like Neil Gaiman who sells a million copies of his work as soon as it hits the stands, says that piracy is ok because the few 100 folks who pirate it only spread exposure. What about us small press publishers who think getting few 100 sales would be amazing?

2) That “sharing” a file so that many people do not have to buy it does not affect sales or revenue. Do you realize how insane that statement is? It’s the same as taking a book and photocopying it instead of buying it from the store and giving money to the author. That’s what affecting revenue means.

3) The law differs from country to country. Well for all those folks stealing the PDFs in the USA, you’re breaking the law. Sorry, that’s the facts.

4) You have been made aware of third party products by , which makes it ok to steal them. No sorry… if your only source of information is , then you aren’t much of a gamer. There are a dozen D&D blogsites, plus EN World, RPGNET and other sites all with product reviews on them. Apparently, you have not bothered to actually read any other game site, except the one that offers you a chance to
steal other people’s work.

If you’ve already downloaded Amethyst via the site in question or any other, know that I will never seek your testicles or (by some strange alignment of planets) ovaries in open court. I have to ask for the removal of public files out of policy, but I won’t hunt down or badger those that have downloaded it. If you have it and like it, throw me a few dollars and tell others.

I mean if you have a group of gamers sitting around a table, although I would love it if they all paid for a book they’re using, this rarely/never happens. The GM has always been the book man. “I want the vanguard class.” Print it for that player. “I need feats.” Print it for that player. Pass the iPad around. Send the PDF wirelessly around the group. In the end, leaving it within the circle is the most we should ever ask; that’s how it’s always been. One purchase per party, pass and copy it around. That’s how I did my playtesting; only one member of the group signed the NDA, and he or she was responsible for the security of those files. So if you buy Amethyst, you can send it to your friends in your game group. I mean my group is composed of five people. There are only two PHBs and couple individual splat books between us. We ran a Midnight game once, one copy, Aberrant, Warhammer Fantasy, Iron Kingdoms…one copy.

Sharing is a way of life and certain tolerances must be accepted. When you rent a movie, you don’t watch it alone (well…unless you’re me), you invite your friends. They don’t pay for the rental. Half the novels on my shelf are those my friends gave me after they’d read them. Only digital games have had the luxury of forcing individual purchase…which is why their games are so widely pirated and are still make a killing. Pen & paper games have always been cursed by the “one-book-per-five” mentality. So distribution without compensation is a way of life; it’s when you remove the 1-per-5 requisite where I (and perhaps we) get worried.

This is why many of the arguments for Free Culture irk me…it’s not a black and white issue, and pen & paper games give quite a bit back to the community by allowing (not that they have a choice) inner-circle-distribution. Making a comparison to Google+, it would be like distributing Amethyst to your close circle of five friends, but not to any of the other circles, while some people see it as Facebook: everyone, all the time. (I’m not suggesting by the way that someone distribute games via Google+; I’m only making a metaphor.)

WOTC hit a windfall with DDI, allowing players to create and maintain their characters online, and doing all the math and indexing for you. But there was an interesting side effect: you each had to pay for the service. My group is old school. We prefer the paper character sheets, despite most of them owning laptops or iPads. WOTC had effectively and successfully circumvented the inner-circle-distribution “curse” that all game books had tolerated until that moment. It was economic genius, a shift in industry that WOTC prevents its own GSL companies from taking advantage of. We’re still stuck with 1-per-5. The GSL prevents us from going digital, so we can’t make our own.

So in the end, even our most enthusiastic supporters can still call pirates…funny thing is, they’re still customers.


Chris Dias

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.

7 thoughts on “Questioning Piracy, Part 3 – The 1 Per 5 Rule

  • September 20, 2011 at 12:12 am

    How many more posts do you intend to write in this series?

  • September 20, 2011 at 1:56 am

    I see your point, but has two things to say:

    1)I wouldn’t buy Amethyst Evolution if I hadn’t been able to download and look through it first.
    2)People who didn’t pay for your books will not pay even if you manage to destroy all the sources of the pirated pdfs on the Internet.

  • September 20, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    There are six parts to the series, and you may be surprised where it ends up…

    • September 27, 2011 at 1:15 am

      Duly noted. I’ve found only one compelling reason to avoid intellectual piracy. It hasn’t yet appeared in this series. I’ll read the next two posts to see if you also mention it.

  • September 20, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Hi there I just wanted to make a couple of comments. Until tablet PCs / e-readers get better and cheaper an actual book is still going to be the easiest thing to bring to the gaming table.

    What stops me and many people I know buying gaming product out of the US is the price of the postage and the time it takes to arrive. Unless of course it’s being sold on Amazon, which has reasonable shipping costs. On the other hand I can buy product from the UK and have it make it all the way around the world within a week, that’s at a reasonable standard shipping rate.

    If someone really wants a US gaming product, and a PDF is the only option, printing and binding it generally costs more than actual printed book would (minus US shipping). So I see a lot of people printing pirated PDFs, but if the book appears on Amazon (generally with a discount) they buy the book

  • September 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm

    Hmm, well I’m a bit bummed to hear that the “1 in 5” rule applies to Rulebooks as well. I expected that with adventures (there’s only 1 DM, right?) but I thought campaigns and what not would get a higher pull through. That said, of my gang of 5 I play with regularly, only 2 bought the PHBs, and the other’s just wing it as you mentioned.

    Enjoying the series.

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