Paizo Copyright Flap

Apparently Paizo somehow contacted Obsidian Portal and complained about a bunch of Item Card images being on a popular campaign writeup hosted there. This led to a takedown and some scuffling on ENWorld that Erik Mona chimed in on.

Paizo is “within their rights” but I’m not sure why they needed to do it, is the bottom line. They’re clearly not publishing them in a way that they hurt Paizo – the guy scanned cards he bought that he gave out to players in  his game so they could be added to the campaign record.  I am not a big fan of the current strain of IP law that says I can’t film myself playing a video game or holding a can of Coke without paying somebody. The DM was legally in the wrong but ethically is doing nothing wrong – so why hassle him? All the typical “you have to defend your copyrights” blather, but to what end?  What is it gonna get you? Someone’s going to steal your picture of a boot for some publication and then claim it’s OK because you let someone post it on an Actual Play, and this will put you out… More than the time you’ve already wasted thinking about it?

I’m sure there are all kinds of horror scenarios people can pose about the collapse of Western civilization if someone’s allowed to use something they bought and record it in some way, but you know what?  Fuck it. Most IP law is bullshit and most of it has been created whole cloth in the last 50 years, and we got along fine without it before then.

My advice to Paizo and other publishers – make real damn sure you have a very compelling reason to need to hassle your customers before you do so. And some esoteric legal point isn’t it. Will this really cost you money?  Really?  If not, sack up and move along, being happy that someone cares about your stuff enough to promote it.

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22 responses to “Paizo Copyright Flap

  1. Mxy… I don’t even own an IP. I just applied to Topps to get a fan-produced work for BattleTech out there – for free. I am giving away something I have sunk 4 years and $5000 dollars into. And I chose not to just publish and let the chips fall.

    The IP is the bread and butter of a lot of gaming companies. If they don’t go out there and defend it, who in hell is going to pay to use a license for it?

    No, the world is not going to collapse over a minor breach. But it is a breach. Defending it is not ‘hassling the fans’, it is keeping your income stream reasonable safe from folks who don’t, can’t or won’t pay for the privilege.

    ‘Hassle’ is an interesting choice of words. It’s another word for ‘annoy’ or ‘inconvenience’ or ‘bother’. But it’s also a buzz word, one often used to imply that (a) the Hassler is doing this just because they can, (b) they are getting their jollies from doing it and (c) beyond that they have no reason whatever to do it. The Hasselee is assumed from the start to be some innocent just minding his business.

    No one’s rights are being lost here, unless you count Paizo. No one is going to go without dinner because they were told to stop using copyrighted images – unless you consider Paizo, whose employees income does indeed depend on the company’s defending their IP.

    I may not be given permission by Topps to publish openly. That would be a shame for me, but I did this to entertain myself with writing (it is a hobby) and putting together a BattleTech Technical Readout more to my tastes. My world will not end. And neither will anyone else’s.

    • Yeah, again, they “have the right to.” Why? What does it get them? Some guy doesn’t use their images on his blog about his experiences playing their game? Yes, it is “hassle,” in that it serves no useful purpose. And he is a hassle-ee, in that he is an innocent minding his own business – conducting a campaign, posting about it on a campaign site. He’s not filing the serial numbers off cards and making “Dude’s Downloadable Item Cards” or whatnot. They are hassling him, not because it causes them any harm or loses them any money (on the contrary, it’s free promotion), but because of BS IP law and “oh if we don’t defend it we’ll lose it” kind of pseudolegal mumbo jumbo crap, which is what people prefer to evaluating if things are actually harmful or not in and of themselves.

      • My point is that it *does* serve a useful purpose. Maybe not to you, because you don’t own the IP. You don’t have to make a living licensing the art, etc. And not to me, because I don’t really have a dog in the fight, except defending the idea that you should be able to copyright something and protect it in court. The legal mumbo jumbo is what we have in lieu of sending someone over to break a guy’s fingers. It’s rule of law and just because it ain’t simple for guys like you and me to understand, doesn’t mean it isn’t necessary.

        ‘Slippery slope’ is a phrase I like to avoid, mostly because it’s part of ‘boardroom speak’ and the soundbite mentality too prevalent in these days of Twitter and Facebook. But I think it applies here and again, I think they were within their rights, they have an obligation to their employees and the fans to protect those rights, and if it looks like hassling from The Man, it’s possibly because we don’t have all the facts and we don’t have anything to lose.

        As for innocent – what, he’s innocent because he’s doing something on a minor scale rather than wholesale ripping off, like that fellow who is doing Tunnels and Trolls on the side? You might as well use that as a defense for the fellow who was caught dipping in the till. “Sure, he’s stealing money from the company, but it’s not like he took a gun and went in and shot people.” There are degrees of guilt, not innocence.

        The fellow might not have thought his stuff was stepping on toes. He might have thought it was, but decided he was small potatoes and went ahead anyway. We don’t know, as I said, and it isn’t our IP that is being infringed on.

        IN any case, it sounds like they stepped pretty lightly on this one. Why the fuss?

  2. I have many complaints about Paizo but them not being generous or fair is not one of them. They have an absurdly open and fair policy towards fans and use of their content. People complaining about this is unreal.

  3. I do have one point to make if the original subject had made his campaign private ala “for personal use, and not public use” he never would have had an issue.

    I personally see both sides of the coins, paizo did not sue the guy, they did not send a cease and disest, they asked some folks to take down some images or go private.

    to me this is an overreaction by the campaign creator.

  4. One point to remember about copyright/trademark law…

    If you ever DON’T defend your trademark/copyright to the fullest extent of the law, you abdicate you claim. These companies, once they know about a violation, no matter how small, have to take action or they lose their claim. Its one of the more idiotic aspects of the law at times, but unfortunately required to prevent copyright trolls from being as prevalent as patent trolls are these days…

    I feel just as bad for Paizo as anyone else for having to be the bad guy here.

  5. @Anonymous: That is very roughly true of trademarks (but not quite spot on). It is not true at all for copyrights, though – it’s a common myth that is unfortunately continually perpetuated by people who probably shouldn’t be talking about copyright as if they’re familiar with it. You have no obligation to protect your copyrighted work or risk losing it. Those protections are yours for as long as the copyright’s duration lasts, no matter who infringes. Paizo was not acting in order to satisfy some protect-it-or-lose-it requirement.

  6. As a business you have to protect your IP. The long term ramification of you not doing could actually cost you the ownership of your IP. And that is just not right or fair.

  7. LPJ is right on the spot. If you let your protection of IP lapse, it will only invite MORE people to do so. And one day you will wake up with a commercial product that walks over your IP, which means you have to sue. And lawsuits are expensive.

  8. But Scott is right, there is no “defend it or lose it” for copyrights, that’s pseudolegal mumbo jumbo. The slippery slope argument y’all are making here has no basis in fact, it’s just FUD.

    And everyone, Paizo included, lets copyright infringement flourish in the form of fan fiction and other derivative works. Everyone knows the laws as written are BS and so everyone allows a certain amount of it. Why crack down on this guy when his use is clearly not a problem?

  9. There is a major difference between taking somebody’s work (i.e. images) and copy-pasting them at your place, and writing fan fiction. Notice that Paizo has an extremely generous fan fiction policy, down to encouraging fan fiction contest and letting Wayfinder thrive.

    Just because you think that “laws as written are BS” doesn’t mean that you can ignore neither them or the intricacies of how they work.

  10. Yes, Paizo does have a very generous Community Use Policy, and I think that’s very much to their credit.

    I’m not going to advocate for whether or not Paizo is right or wrong about the note because not all of the information is available. You don’t have to ignore the laws, though. The law provides for certain uses that are not infringing, and as much as I love Paizo and Vic Wertz, the advice he gave on the related thread on the Paizo board is not good advice. You shouldn’t have to contact an attorney to assert fair use (which is one of those ways to use copyrighted material that is not an infringement of copyright); that weakens the concept of fair use to the point of near worthlessness for the average person. Learn about it, yes, but it’s not something you should be afraid to assert, and certainly not in this context.

    I agree with mxyplk to a certain extent. It’s hard to decide without seeing the images; but if they weren’t an actual replacement for the product, then the use was probably not infringing. Paizo wouldn’t have lost anything by not attempting to enforce their copyrights in this situation. On the other hand, if the images were possibly a substitute for the product, then I think Paizo’s action was probably appropriate.

  11. I’m sorry you feel annoyed and betrayed about this. However, I don’t see how this is unexpected. It’s all about property and what the blogger didn’t pay for.

    It’s not even about IP, really. It’s about using an Image without permission. The blogger doesn’t own the rights to the image, even if he ‘scanned them in’. They belong to someone else, in this case, Piazo. He didn’t buy the right to use the work, or obtain permission.

    Not that I want to make the blogger out to be some bad guy. I’m sure he’s probably an okay person, but Piazo paid some artist for probably all rights to the work of art. If they bought only Publication rights, than it’s worse, because at that point the Blogger is not dealing with Piazo property, but they’re cheating the artist out of a small paycheck, and most artists sure could use that paycheck.

    Artists, and those who own the art, have to go out and protect their interests in this. You can’t let art be used for free if you plan on making money off the works. You let it happen often enough, the work becomes worthless, especially now when the Digital Age is eliminating the need to have Physical Works at all.

    Yes, they have to annoy their customer base about this, because the ‘customers’ DON’T give a crap. The common person feel art should be free, no matter how many hours or days or weeks it took for the artist to create it. I’m sorry you feel that it’s bad press, but it’s necessary.

    Scott: While you are correct, that doesn’t mean that having a image freely distributed enriches the artist. The more a image is used and distributed, the harder it is to earn money off that image. It has nothing to do with “Losing the rights to make money of an image”. It has everything to do with “How many times can an image be used before I can’t sell it to anyone?”. There is a real danger when some stupid kid copies all the art he likes from an artist, and then some other kid doing the same on another site. It’s become Nightmares for artists, and you should be ashamed of suggesting that Piazo, or the artist in question, doesn’t lose anything by letting it continue.

  12. My understanding is that it was just one email – not a crackdown or some long process. They saw an infringement and someone sent an email. Less than a minute really. As a graphic designer, I would certainly take that step if I saw someone using an image I had created.

  13. From what I’ve read online, these images were from the Item Cards. These are a deck of cards that give the text of a magic item on one side (along with room for notes) and show a picture of the item on the reverse side.

    Given that the text of these magic items is available for free online, the artwork of the items essentially is the entire draw of the product. And this user was publicly posting them online. True, he had shrunk the images down, but since the original images are of a larger size to begin with, resizing them back up would not be difficult.

    I believe that Paizo took action because they saw this as being fundamentally similar to releasing a pirated electronic copy of their Item deck. If you’re getting the images for free, then there’s nothing left that that product can offer that you can’t already get. Hence, this was not some random crack of the whip – it was them reacting to someone freely releasing one of their pay-for products online.

    And for what it’s worth, Paizo acted with restraint. They didn’t send a C&D, just a note asking the guy to stop. He voluntarily took them down and set the campaign to private.

    Paizo has, I think, earned the benefit of the doubt from its fans in this regard. They’ve been very pro-fan in many, many ways that other game companies (i.e. WotC) have not – a single, lightly-handled instance of asking someone to please stop freely distributing their pay-for artwork is not the same as sending a C&D letter for posting character stats online.

    At some point, even the most permissive company will take action to protect their work; this action should be viewed in context, rather than being seen as a blanket “big bully picking on the helpless little guy” action.

  14. Yeah yeah, I’m a Paizo fanboy too, but the bottom line is that regardless of their rights, there’s nothing that someone posting a pic of some of their cards is going to do to hurt their business. Period. So they should have abstained.

    Sure they paid for the art. Sure it’s theirs. Someone posting a scan of it on a campaign page degrades their use of it how? It competes with them how? It makes someone want to buy their stuff less how?

    And I’m not saying they are not generally permissive, and I’m not saying there’s a “crackdown” – y’all are happily making stuff up. I’m just saying that in this case, I see no reason why intervention was warranted, and it’s unfortunate they did because it got them ENWorld front page and Obsidian Portal front page bad press. Doubly unfortunate because they are not usually like that.

    • I already explained why it was warranted, though. Posting the images from the Item Cards removes all reason for buying them. It does hurt their business when someone takes the scanned pics, resizes them back up, prints them out, and fills out the relevant material on the back of the card…which is exactly what the real Item Cards do.

      These images potentially did hurt their sales. So by your own logic then, they should not have abstained.

      That’s not being a fanboy, that’s simply applying good sense.

      • Come on dude that’s retarded. “Someone might resize the images, print them, and then have a couple from a deck of item cards, after going to hours of work and printing expense?” When they also post some of the item card images on their own blog?

        In theory, all the SRD info available online undercuts their sales.
        In theory, all the art they’ve posted on their blog that people are free to use (they have said so) undercuts their sales.
        In theory, their playtest info undercuts their sales.
        In theory, the new crit/fumble iPhone apps undercut their deck sales.

        But you see, in general, Paizo is smart and realizes that this is NOT the case. They seem to have had a brainfart in this case, which is regrettable but notable mostly due to its lack of alignment with an otherwise smart strategy.

  15. Pingback: Encounters in Intellectual Property | Mad Brew Labs

  16. Hilarious. So much misplaced outrage on behalf of the Obsidian Portal GM in question. I bet when he gets a traffic ticket he cries fowl that “The sun was in my eyes! Why else would I have been doing 100mph in a 35!?!? The government doesn’t want me to drive and they want me to go blind staring at the sun!!!?” How about we all put on our big boy pants for a second and take a little responsibility for screwing up…make amends and move on. Rather than making outrageous non-related claims like “Paizo unfair to gamers! News at 11!”

    IP laws are there to protect IP, not differentiate between the success of the rip-off. Jim Shipman is a total IP crook arse-wad and he made money at the expense of other people’s IP. The GM that scanned Paizo item cards didn’t create anything worth profiting off of. The defense put out by people is that they were such crap scans that they weren’t IP infringement…so I don’t see why the GM bothered to post them at all but that’s another issue. But the fact remains that they both took art that didn’t belong to them and distributed it. Sorry charlie…a rule is a rule. Even if it is a crappy rule.

    Besides it’s not like Paizo sent their legal team to the guy’s house to shave his grandma’s back and light his toilet paper on fire. They simply asked that the blog be made private. waaaa? *tears*?

    When in doubt…”Don’t be a Dick!” ~ Will Wheton

  17. As someone else just posted, Paizo doesn’t sue people for posting their material. All they ask is that fans using their images and maps keep their exchanges private so the rest of the Internet can’t steal them outright. That’s as fair a request as I’ve seen in an age where sharing a copy of a song could cost you more money than you’ll make in a lifetime if the RIAA gets wind of it.

    I don’t see piracy as black and white, but Paizo goes out of their way to keep potential customers on their good side. With all their rulebook PDFs priced at $10 and almost all their rules available as open content, people have to like them to want to pay for all their other content. I suspect Wizards of the Coast lost a lot more fans in their day with the sudden cancellation of Dragon and Dungeon magazines and changing their entire line to 4e than Paizo has in its entire existence.

    • “Other people are way more assholes about it” isn’t really a worthwhile argument in my book. The bottom line fact is that someone using their images in their campaign journal does not hurt them or deprive them of income in any way. and therefore enforcing IP law is just being a butt. All the arguments supporting this have been fallacious (there is no “defend it or lose it” for copyrights, etc.).

      I’m certainly not saying Paizo is as bad as the RIAA or WotC. It’s just a shame they’ve bought into that mindset even a little – let’s stop them because we *can*, not because there’s any valid business reason to.

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