A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer



Cease and Desist

I'm on vacation right now, so I really didn't need this...

I just received a "cease and desist" letter from Wizards of the Coast's legal department that states that my Fire From the Sky Gamma World module "...infringes on Wizards' intellectual property rights..." and "...is an illegal derivative work of Wizards' copyrighted D&D GAMMA WORLD property and constitutes wilful copyright infringement..."

I have been instructed to pull the Drive Thru RPG listing (which I already have) and cease distribution of the module. It is now contraband!

Well *that's* a kicker, isn't it?

So as it stands now, there will be no more Gamma World content... that's for sure. Dr. Neb will have to stay silent and my planned GammaCore module will die a slow painful death.

Furthermore, now *everything* that I may publish under the 4e GSL is in jeopardy, including my non-Gamma World content.

As I said, I'm on vacation right now and can't really focus on this until Monday the 18th, but there you go. Discuss at your discretion.

Filed under: 4e, DnD, Gamma World, RPG Comments Off
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  1. Wow, sorry to hear about that. Did they give you any indication of what you did wrong?

    Enjoy vacation anyway!

  2. That sucks, wishing you luck through all this.

  3. If you like, I’ll distribute your adventure for free at all the conventions I go to, just to get it out there.

  4. Sorry to hear that. I’d really have liked to see more Gamma World content.

  5. I am so sorry to hear that. Didn’t you try to contact them about publishing your modules? You’d think that they would tell you then that they wouldn’t allow it.

    It’s truly sad that your creativity is being squashed. I hope you nothing but the best in the future!

  6. That’s okay. We’ll make our own system. With liquor, and blackjack!

  7. I’m no lawyer, so take this with a grain of salt, but, I believe that distributing something for free gives you more latitude (fan fiction, et al) – the sticking point may have been that you were selling it.

    • I’m very sorry to hear about this. Certainly it’s such a difficult position to be in, and worse to have to get the news while on vacation. Hopefully you can clear your mind, distill some spirits, and enjoy the rest of your time off.

      The troubling thing about this is what it means, on both sides of the issue. Clearly, there is a demand for more GW product, whether WotC-sanctioned or otherwise. WotC is obviously unable to meet that demand, and yet they will not allow any 3rd party product of any kind.

  8. Well, Benoit, I *am* a lawyer (focusing on intellectual property and real estate), and not surprisingly, I say “maybe.” 🙂

    News reporting is generally a for-profit exercise, yet it justifies limited infringement as a fair use. On the other hand, making copies of the entire PHB and distributing them through the Internet free of charge kills WotC’s ability to make money off their work, so that clearly is *not* a fair use. It all depends on the facts of a particular case, and I don’t have all the facts here.

    This case appears to be a little less direct. If this product is free, but if it cuts into WotC’s ability to sell its own distinct adventures, then it could be just as illegal as me selling PDFs of the PHB. Even worse, depending on the facts (that again, I don’t have), it could rise to the level of criminal activity, though that requires a particular set of circumstances.

    I suggest everyone read my series of articles over on Loremaster.org called, Protection from Chaos (http://www.loremaster.org/content.php/123-protection-from-chaos). Part VIII was posted just yesterday. They all focus on IP law as applied to the gaming industry.

    • Here’s the monkey wrench in that particular line of thinking: WotC does not sell, and by all apparent means has no plans to sell, adventures for Gamma World. There is literally no sensible argument that they could make in a legal context in which they can prove any sort of damages *if* distribution of this product is free.

      I understand that this is not the case here, and I would agree with WotC if their only issue was someone else making money from their product, but punishing fans for creating and distributing materials that increase interest in their product is a borderline insanity. (Imagine if Stephenie Meyer or J.K. Rowling were sending cease-and-desist letters to every fan-fic writer of Edward/Harry slash on the Internet – ridiculous, no?)

      Furthermore, I’m all for protecting one’s IP *if* one is still expecting to profit via said IP. But from all available evidence, they’ve effectively shelved this product line, with no plans to resurrect it in its current form. This evidence goes so far as a total lack of customer support for the product, as evidenced by multiple reports of non-responsiveness of the Customer Support line in regards to Gamma World questions, and the fact that Gamma World errata board on their own forums has not had an official response to inquiries in nigh-on a year.

      One last thing: the product in question come rather close to infringing upon IP owned by other companies itself. Witness the Appearance description of the Anti-Matter Blaster Origin: “Your skin is pale blue, you’ve got no hair, and your eyes glow with the watery light of a crystal glacier.” And since I brought up Stephenie Meyers earlier, the Appearance description of the Vampiric Origin: “You’re pretty. Ancient vid-star pretty. Your skin is flawless, your hair is impeccably styled no matter what you’re doing, and your gaze is startling.” Either of these sound familiar?

      Sorry to be so wordy, but as someone who regularly relies on the fan-created material for Gamma World (which is quite often superior to what WotC has published for the setting), this is a topic rather close-to-home for me.

      • If you’re arguing what the law *should* be, fair enough, but if you’re arguing what the law *is*, you’re objectively wrong. It simply doesn’t matter whether WotC is producing Gamma World adventures. What little they own — RPG producers can’t protect nearly as much as most think they can — they can selfishly horde if they choose. It’s so simple, though, to write material without violating copyright or trademark law that fan-made material will always be available.

      • Oops. Forgot to mention that copyright and trademark law aren’t the real issues here. The problem is that the author signed a GSL, so he *agreed* to abide by those terms, some of which wouldn’t be enforceable under copyright and trademark law alone. Whether he violated the GSL, I don’t know. I haven’t seen the material, but I wouldn’t post a legal opinion publicly even if I had, so don’t hold you breath. 🙂

  9. I’d expect that if you didn’t give them correct attribution in the PDF, as Rob mentioned in his article series, and if you used the Gamma World logo without permission, then that is why you would have trouble at first glance. Next it would be use of terms such as GammaTerra and names of locations, char classes or monsters that they created.

  10. Oh, and now I’m glad I bought it. Trying to build up some Gamma World stuff for when I start playing.

  11. Well, that sucks. Especially since you tried repeatedly to contact them before the fact. 🙁

  12. I know that frustration, I have had the run around with WOTC legal in the past, simply trying to verify if they in deed hold the intellectual property of something I had following the bread crumbs of ownership to. Finally the only response I received was ‘If we do hold the IP, we would not be interested in discussing anything about it’.

  13. what a fucking joke

  14. Thanks for the responses everyone.

    As stated, I am still on vacation (in Pennsylvania right now), and won’t return until Monday night. I will follow up with the attorneys then.

    I have also asked for permission to post the C&D letter in its entirety; I will not do so untl they authorize it, for safety reasons.

    Stay tuned!

  15. There’s also the issue that in some countries, a copyright infringement that is not pursued by the IP holder counts as voiding that claim to that IP. I know Games Workshop had this issue, forced to prosecute a case in Germany they did not necessarily want to. It may be relevant here (unlikely though) since sites like drivethrurpg are essentially international markets.

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