Encounters in Intellectual Property

d20 Law

Intellectual property infringement was popular this week in the world of roleplaying games. We have seen an entire game company disappear seemingly after Berin Kinsman[1] discovered and ousted obvious plagiarism and copy & paste jobs from two different products. And a small kerfuffle erupted over Paizo Publishing enforcing their rights as owners of copyrighted works.

RPG Plagiarism

From a Google+ post by Berin: Anaithnid Games’[2] The Operation[3] cuts and pastes swaths of John Wick’s Wilderness of Mirrors.[4]

From John Wick’s Wilderness of Mirrors:
My game is about spies. My game is about spies. More specifically, it’s about creating the kind of atmosphere present in a James Bond or Jason Bourne
novel. Players want to be James and Jason and we should let them do just that. Not first level chumps who have to work their way up the ladder to become Mr. and Mrs.
Smith, but the kind of characters who can walk beside The Saint and Mrs. Peel without feeling like scrubs.

From Anaithnid Games’ The Operation:
This is a game about spies. Players want to be James Bond or Bourne or Burke when they play. Not first-level chumps who have to work their way up the ladder to become Mr. and Mrs. Smith. The kind of characters who can stand beside The Saint, Nathan Ford or Mrs. Peel without feeling like total losers.

Apparently, this is not the first product to be so blatantly copied. Berin also reported that this was after Anaithnid Games’ copied portions of Sword Edge Publishing’s Sword Noir.[5] Luckily RPGNow/DriveThruRPG were swift in removing the infringing products, which is something that cannot be said of the digital book purveyor that Amazon.[6] Since Berin reported the infringement, Anaithnid Games has disappeared from the web, even closing their Facebook fan page.

This is fair use of the image, because I'm using it to clarify a news report
Paizo Publishing - This is fair use of the image, because I'm using it to clarify a news report

Infringing Upon Paizo

Geek Related[7] first alerted me to the tempest in the teacup concerning a recent request from Paizo for the administrator of an Obsidian Portal[8] campaign log to remove copyrighted images of scanned item cards from his pages.

Paizo has a long history of excellent fan support, and even provides a generous amount of imagery through their community use policy[9] and community use package.[10] Which, no one has to use, but you would be far more restricted in the use of that imagery if you only applied fair use as provided by US law.[11]

There seems to be a lot of pissing and moaning about what Paizo did,[12][13] and comparisons to what WotC & TSR did in the past. I also saw a lot of armchair attorneys talk about things they don’t understand (and I’ll admit, I’m not a lawyer either but have lots of experience/knowledge concerning IP). Posting scanned images of protected works, not matter how small they are or whether or not you posted copyright disclaimers does not absolve you of copyright infringement. It’s not transformative, like say the case of the pixel art cover to the album Kind of Blue.[14]

This sense of entitlement concerning Paizo’s property is unfounded, and I think I have a very liberal philosophy about intellectual property. Paizo was even pretty polite from what I’ve gleaned from the discourse; Obsidian Portal and the offending user should be grateful they merely asked the service to resolve the situation instead of bringing legal action (cease & desist notifications, etc.) to bear.

Yeah, you bought the cards. Sure, make scans so you can create copies for personal use. But once you post them on a commercial site and make them available to the public, you’ve crossed the line. Be smart, gamers.

Listening to: Nine Inch Nails – The Crow OST – Burn


[1] Piracy, Plagiarism, & Hot Coffee by Berin Kinsman[2] Anaithnid Game’s now dead Tumblr blog[3] Anaithnid Game’s The Operation [no longer available]
[4] John Wick’s Wilderness of Mirrors
[5] Sword Edge Publishing’s Sword Noir
[6] Recent copyright infringement woes on Amazon[7] Paizo Copyright Flap on Geek Related
[8] Obsidian Portal hosts online campaign journals
[9] Pathfinder Community Use Policy
[10] Pathfinder Community Use Package
[11] Copyright Fair Use
[12] Justin Mason complains about being asked to remove infringing material in the comments
[13] Eric Mona chimes in on the kerfuffle on ENWorld
[14] Kind of Screwed, fair use but still bulldozed


2 thoughts on “Encounters in Intellectual Property

  1. Thanks for the link love. My blog post on the subject will go up later this morning, but I deal less with specifics and more with philosophical issues and possible solutions.

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