In Germany there seems to be no more prominent and hotter topic than the discussion about copyright in the era of the internet. In our country, this is certainly related to rise of the Pirate Party, but also in other countries there is much commotion. The conflict is driven by the legislative on one hand, who realized that the internet cannot be regulated with existing laws, on the other hand by the net community, who fears for her well-beloved liberties and even tries to transfer conventions of the net into the “real world”.
In this situation it is somewhat regrettable that Pen&Paper or Tabletop-RPG is not more prominent, as many questions of the copyright debate which are now renegotiated are relevant to us from day one of the RPG movement.
Let’s look at a typical scenario:
A game master gathers a group of gamers to try out a new system. Since he thinks the original character sheets are poorly made, he distributes a set of alternative character sheets he downloaded from the net. Since he is the only person owning all the necessary rulebooks, he shares them during character creation with his group. Finally, he is doing his first self-made adventure based on the provided setting.
This short text contains at least four potential conflicts with copyright laws:
1. The use of non-official character sheets
Usually, role playing game publishers allow the copying of provided character sheets for personal use, the creation of similar character sheets of you own and distributing them via internet is clearly beyond that. By copying and sharing these within his group, the game master becomes part of the distribution of a potentially illegal copy.
2. The sharing of rulebooks within the group
Here we see the sharing of a piece of work of which only one copy was purchased. This sharing goes beyond the household of the owner of the purchased copy. The situation becomes even more problematic if the game master should get the idea to copy needed tables or sections and hands them out to his players.
3. A self-made adventure based on the provided setting
A setting is the part of a role playing game most definitely protected by copyright. Numerous conflicts concerning copyright are dealing with “derivative work” based on such material and nothing else is a self-made adventure. The grey area of “originality” decides in these cases, if the original work was plagiarized or if an actual new work was created, which does not make things easier.
4. Game mastering in itself
While you may discuss about the group at home in the cellar, game mastering at open events like a convention clearly constitutes the public performance of copyrighted material. Should a game master even dare to use music as background, the ASCAP will have a party – and they DON’T take it easy in ANY WAY.
Many of those things are explicitly encouraged by the producers of those works, of cause. Nonetheless, the only judicial basis which made this possible is none: It relies only on the waiving of rights and eschewal of an appeal to court by the copyright owners.
Further issues and the even bigger judicial swamp of publishing fan-made material on the net will be examined in the near future, but now, we will jump head-on in said swamp with the following articles:
On Tuesday, blut_und_glas delivers the third installment of his advanced classes for Red Star in English.
On Thursday, we’ll give you something new and provide you with an NPC to be used with Shadowrun in German.
On Saturday, we have the NPC from Thursday in English as well.