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2015-07-14 No Copyright

My recent discussion of the Mass Effect RPG and the reform of copyright led me to pick Piracy by Adrian Johns from the shelf and start reading. On page 53 he talks about the French revolution and copyright. In 1789, the revolutionaries abolished literary property. How did it turn out? It was terrible. Everything was reprinted, with cheap tools, at breakneck speed, anything to make a quick buck. What was left was newspapers, tracts, and compilations of old books.

You can read more about it in Carla Hesse’s book Publishing and Cultural Politics in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1810. It is available online, for free, from the California Digital Library. There, in the chapter The First Legislative Initiative (1789–1791), you’ll find the discussion between Denis Diderot defending the Paris Book Guild’s view of their privileges as a form of property and the Marquis de Condorcet arguing that ideas don’t originate in individuals but in a society and could therefore not belong to an individual. The only individual contribution was style, not substance.

This lofty discussion notwithstanding, the main problem for the people in power at the time was not the crumbling print business but that in their race to the bottom a lot of libelous and seditious material was being printed. Anything to make a quick buck. So, how can we fix the market of book printing and introduce accountability? The 1790 initiative by Sieyès proposed a limited property right of up to ten years after the author’s death. It was never voted upon. There was too much criticism. And so we come to another chapter, The Second Initiative (1791–1793). In 1793, a proposal by Chénier passed. It did more or less what the first initiative had said: a limited property right of up to ten years after the author’s death. It only differed in a few minor issues: libel and sedition were no longer mentioned, and old perpetual privileges from the old days were abolished. It was called the “declaration of the rights of genius”.

You’ll note that the discussion between Denis Diderot and the Marquis de Condorcet remained unresolved. Carla Hesse says:

This notion of a public domain, of democratic access to a common cultural inheritance on which no particular claim could be made, bore the traces not of Diderot, but of Condorcet’s faith that truths were given in nature and, although mediated through individual minds, belonged ultimately to all. Progress in human understanding depended not on private knowledge claims, but on free and equal access to enlightenment. An author’s property rights were conceived as recompense for his service as an agent of enlightenment through publication of his ideas.

– Carla Hesse, Publishing and Cultural Politics in Revolutionary Paris, 1789–1810, p. 121

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2015-07-01 Mass Effect RPG

Recently, Kirin Robinson started a discussion on G+ about the disqualification of the Mass Effect RPG from the ENnies. In another thread, I wrote some words about it…

Yesterday I learned that Trademark Law Does Not Require Companies To Tirelessly Censor the Internet. I didn’t know that. Bioware does have a choice. And in this case, as far as I remember it, Bioware still hasn’t contacted anybody, so it’s all happening between EN World, the Ennies, and the Don Mappin, the author.

Also, the PDF has a disclaimer at the very beginning:

What This Book Is Not

To be clear, this is not a licensed Mass Effect property. Mass Effect is the property of Bioware, a division of Electronic Arts. This is a work of fiction and done without their permission or involvement. No attempt to challenge their legal authority is intended in the publication of this material. Instead, it is our hope to expand the outreach of the Mass Effect property to another segment of games—role-players—who have long coveted a way to bring the events of Commander Shepard to life at their gaming tables. This product comes with one very important and unconditional stipulation:


As the sole property of Bioware/Electronic Arts, only they have the rights to benefit from the Mass Effect Universe. As such, this work is the result of countless unpaid hours and volunteer work to make it possible to bring to you. Why? Because we’re gamers too and we love Mass Effect just as much as you do!

I guess I'm mostly interested in outcomes. I really like the US constitution in this respect: “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries”. I want more useful stuff as fast as possible. Having the Mass Effect RPG out now, fan made, is great. It’s better for the gaming public.

What about the artists? The way I read the artist attribution page in the Mass Effect RPG, all those images were available on the Internet, on blogs of concept artists, on Deviant Art. So, without considering copyright law and just considering outcomes, these artists made things available for free, and now what they made is more available, for free. The author of the Mass Effect RPG doesn’t charge money for it. Presumably he’d share his gains with the artists in some way, if he were to make any money. But he isn’t, so he doesn’t. So, it’s still better for the gaming public, and it’s better for the artists, too. Yes, they had no voice, there was no negotiation, this doesn’t consider copyright. All I’m looking at is outcomes.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m with Don Mappin, here. I wish that copyright law was different. I wish that the fair use exception to copyright were clearer. As it is, it’s incredibly hard to tell whether something falls under the exception or not. That’s not good.

I'm not a lawyer, and I’m looking at the points one ought to consider:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

Reading through the Wikipedia page and following along, as a layman might be expected to, I guess:

The use was not really educational – or can a game be educational? Maybe? It teaches you how to run a Mass Effect RPG using Fate rules? Does it help “fulfill the intention of copyright law to stimulate creativity for the enrichment of the general public”? It sure looks like it to me. To me, the process of turning the video game into a set of rules for Fate is transformative, not merely derivative.

Nothing in the nature of the game seems to warrant more or less protection than usual. It doesn’t rightfully belong to the public domain. All the artwork the author used had already been published, even if not intended for use in the game, so we don’t need to consider “the aspect of whether the copied work has been previously published”.

As for the amount, I think that the material taken from the game itself is definitely not major. We’re talking some of the background material, the description of things in the game. But the games are about so much more. Characters, plots, levels, graphics. The material taken from artists is major, however. Basically the entire picture was used. I started making a little survey by searching for the first ten items on the artists credits page of the Mass Effect RPG:

  1. Huen, Benjamin. The Team. 2012. I don’t like wet socks. Cover. → available from BioWare store, official, copyright by BioWare, I assume
  2. ZingerNax. Mass Effect: Earth. 2013. deviantART. p. 1-2. → copyright by the author, inspired by but not an obvious derived work, it would seem to me
  3. 04NIloren. MASS EFFECT - SPECTRE WALLPAPER. 2012. Desktop Wallpapers 4 Me. p. 13. → looks like fan art to me
  4. Olejniczak, Patryk. Mass Effect 3 - Miranda, Mass Effect 3 - Jack, Mass Effect 3 - Zaeed Massani, Mass Effect 3 - Mordin Solus, Mass Effect 3 - Grunt, Mass Effect 3 Teaser Wallpaper, Mass Effect 3 Thane Krios, Mass Effect 3 - Kasumi Goto, Mass Effect 3 - Legion, Mass Effect 3 - Garrus. 2011. deviantART. p. 14-15, 28. → here’s a gallery, self-declared fan art (10 pieces!)
  5. devtardi. Thessia - Mass Effect 3. 2012. deviantART. p. 30. → I’m guessing fan art based on comments elsewhere (“All characters (c) by BioWare and Electronic Arts.”)
  6. rome123. Drell Assassin Infiltrator. 2012. deviantART. p. 39. → looks like official stuff because it says “model for me3 multiplayer”? But the copyright apparently does not belong to BioWare but to rome123 (or is that a limitation of deviantART?
  7. johntesh. Thane Krios 09. 2012. deviantART. p. 40. rome123. Krogan (Default). 2012. deviantART. p. 44. → self-declared as in-game screen capture
  8. DP-films. Urndot Wrex the Krogan Warlord. 2012. deviantART. p. 48. → self declared as fan art
  9. Hallucinogenmushroom. Geth Prime. 2012. deviantART. p. 53. → self declared as fan art
  10. Euderion. Fight for Rannoch. 2013. deviantART. p. 57. → self declared fan art

Looking at the numbers. Fan art: 15. BioWare: 3. Others: 1. Continuing the analysis of “amount”, I’d say that the amount of art-work taken from the Mass Effect series out of the copyrighted material by BioWare isn’t so big: 3 pieces out of a huge work. As for fan art: If they are not violating BioWare’s copyright because of the fair use exception, then another piece of fan art reusing them should not be violating BioWare’s copyright, either.

So, what is fan art? FAQ #572 has some information: “Original fan art are those works in which the submitting artist has done 100% of the work but the work itself depicts characters, scenes or other themes which were properly created by another creative person. […] Fan art may be copyright infringement and you may be forced to remove it by the copyright owner who may also choose to initiate other legal action.” I’m not sure that BioWare is interested in going after fan art in this respect. Therefore, my understanding of fair use and fan art leads me to suggest that we’re in the clear, here.

That leads us to the last point in the fair use examination, the effect upon the work’s value. Does BioWare and it’s Mass Effect based revenue suffer? Not at all, because they’re not selling a role-playing game. Now, if they were, perhaps they’d be justified under the law to go after the existing game. Now you have to argue that a company wanting to make money making a licensed game is being deterred from entering the market because the existing free fan-made game is so good, taking it down will produce a lot of bad blood. But from a customer’s perspective, that’s OK. We have copyright in order to promote the useful arts. If the useful arts are being promoted without copyright, then that’s even better. This is not an outcome to dislike, at all.

I’m still with Don Mappin.

I think we need to be careful, here. The copyright lobby is so strong, it keeps extending the copyright protection time window, it keeps bombarding us with annoying messages as we play a DVD or go to the movies. This is a war being waged about our hearts and minds. And they have all the money to run their campaigns and we have nothing except our will to share everything because we’re nice and willing to help our neighbors. That is why I don’t like people saying: “I hope that Don rebuilds and reposts the files, this time only including his work.” If we have a fair use exception to copyright, then this exception is our right. It’s a mess to figure out and and it’s hard to be sure, but if we assume that everything Don made falls under fair use, then he should not have to repost the files, and he should be free to include the works of others. That’s how we build on each others’ work. That’s how progress is made. We don’t create ex nihilo. Fair use is our right.

What about the ENies? I understand their decision. The entire thing was a hot potato. They had to make a decision, fast. And I’m guessing they don’t have legal defense funds and lawyers at their disposition. That’s how the scare tactic works. We’re afraid to exercise our right, the associations we build are afraid to exercise our right. How will we learn to claim what is ours except by pushing the boundaries and arguing for our rights?

Recommended reading: Free Culture (PDF).

Comments here or on Google+.


Comments on 2015-07-01 Mass Effect RPG

Alex Schroeder
I’m copying some of my comments from that Google+ thread to this page.

Internationally: Since I live in Switzerland, I am very well aware of the different copyright exceptions in different jurisdictions. I wrote the blog post using US Fair Use because that seemed to me to be the most relevant: the Mass Effect RPG author is based in the US. Sure, !BioWare is based in Canada, but it belongs to EA, which is based in the USA, so an international case would be harder to look into.

Fan Art is illegal. I am not so sure. Yes, 17 U.S.C. § 107 says “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” But then it continues: “In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include: …” and then it goes into the four points I discussed in the blog post. In these four points, no reference is made regarding the purpose of the derived work. My reading is that these are clear cut examples of transformative use. But when I look at some of the websites talking about it (googling for fair use purpose and clicking on the top links [1][2][3]), I see that this is an area of dispute. My conclusion is that this Fair Use is murky waters. But I don’t see the purpose of a murky piece of legislation if that means we’re never going to touch it. Thus, where as I understand the decision of th ENnies, I think copyright reform is important and talking about cases, and expressing how we would have liked to see them go are an important first step in this process.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-07-02 09:36 UTC

I believe you are making some incorrect assumptions. The Fan Art itself is also copyright - even though it might also at the same time violate someone elses copyright. All creative works are copyright by default unless the author has published them explicitly without copyright or with a limited copyright. Fair use in dealing with art rarely allows you to use someone elses image. The fact that the author is not making money from the publication isnt a defence. It can be part of a defence but it is not a defence in and of itself. You also say - we don’t need to consider “the aspect of whether the copied work has been previously published” - and then move on as though that statement is sufficient to remove it as having any bearing on the matter.

Damian 2015-07-02 12:34 UTC

I’ll definitely have to think about it some more. There are also a ton more counter arguments to my post on the G+ thread. What I need to understand is why fan art collecting other fan art should be considered different from the fan art it collects. I want to figure out what the exact arguments are both from a legal standpoint and from a moral standpoint. The first stumbling block as far as I am concerned is that an entire category called Fan Art exists on Deviant Art. Why is this allowed? If it is allowed, why isn’t Mass Effect RPG allowed? If it isn’t allowed, I still feel that it should be allowed. The current copyright situation doesn’t satisfy me. (Many of the counter arguments on G+ also deal with what is legal and what is not and I feel like I’m the only one talking about the kind of change I want to see.

AlexSchroeder 2015-07-02 13:15 UTC

Alex Schroeder
I’m copying some more of my comments from that Google+ thread to this page.

Fair Use: 17 U.S.C. § 107 says “for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.” But then it continues: “In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include: …” and then it goes into the four points I discussed in the blog post. In these four points, no reference is made regarding the purpose of the derived work. My reading is that these are clear cut examples of transformative use. But when I look at some of the websites talking about it (googling for fair use purpose and clicking on the top links), I see that this is an area of dispute.

The EFF page mentioned above points out that time-shifting and search-engines also ended up benefiting from Fair Use. That’s why I think we’re not limited to the purposes listed in the opening of §107.

My conclusion is that this Fair Use is murky waters. But I don’t see the purpose of a murky piece of legislation if that means we’re never going to benefit from it. Thus, where as I understand the decision of the ENnies, I think copyright reform is important and talking about cases, and expressing how we would have liked to see them go are an important first step in this process.

I guess I’m arguing two different things. The first thing I’m arguing is that I don’t mind using someone else’s art without permission because I like the outcome, even if our current copyright doesn’t allow for it. The second thing I’m trying to argue is that the Fair Use exemption offers us an incremental way out: we can fight for a broader application of Fair Use until we’re getting the outcomes we want. This part is important: I know I’m not happy with copyright law as it stands. Where do we start the political process of change? We need to talk about what makes us unhappy, say what we would like to see instead. I have to start somewhere. So that is why I’m starting with the copyright limits.

Not the only solution: One counter argument I heard was that the laws are there “for a reason”. I argued that this doesn’t mean that the current solution is giving society the best outcome. The Mass Effect RPG explicitly said: UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES MAY THIS PRODUCT BE CHARGED FOR OR RENUMERATION EXCHANGE HANDS. IT MUST REMAIN FREE OF CHARGE. That doesn’t sound so bad. So yes, selling at cost via print on demand services is starting to blur the line, but I can imagine an alternative where the fan made free alternative is available to us. Maybe even free games could be available to us. Hopefully games that cost money would also be available to us, and hopefully for the authors of those paid for games and products and printed books and games would be much better than the free stuff. Just one possible alternative. And if not, well, then a free fan made product is still a better outcome than the current situation. And yes, perhaps a different solution could be made to work, with contracts to sign, and risks to take, but if the outcome is the same product but it costs a lot, then perhaps that’s a loss all around.

Valuing artists: In the comments of that G+ discussion, I was accused of believing “that artists/creatives are a lower class citizen”. Ugh! The discussion had been quite interesting until it took this nose dive. What had led up to this accusation? I was basically arguing that the state has no obligation to protect any particular business model. The other side was aguing that licensing revenues made up a significant section of their income. And then: “Of course, your coding job, like most, probably affords you a very lucrative 130-175% level of income greater than mine because technology always trumps production/art for salaries and standard of living. So you get to go on making stuff you love without any expense while I have to pick up some other trade to make ends meet all because you think everything creative should be free.” But here’s the thing. I work a 60% job because I don’t care too much about the code I write for money. I care about customers, about their problems, about solving those problems using new processes and using our software, of course. But it’s not an excitement I experience on a visceral level. It’s my job. All the stuff I write for love is Free Software.

I don’t think these anecdotes should matter when we’re talking about politics. Looking after our own best interest is understandable, but as a society we need to look at the larger picture. We need to keep negotiating our laws – and copyright is one of those areas where there is tension between authors and consumers. The pain of artists needs to be weighed against the pain of consumers. All the things that are wrong with copyright: DRM, loss of freedom, legal hassle whenever you want to do something derived on other works, whether it be remixes, quotes, improvements, fan art, some allowed by the fair use exception, some not, who can tell? The hassle of finding and negotiating with right holders, movies languishing without anybody restoring them, take down notices, DMCA style burden of proof for innocents, all of this! All of this we need to compare to artists and their shitty financial situation. The current system is like a lottery. If you are in the top ten, you win the lottery. Everybody else is living off scraps. Do we need to accept all the crap copyright gives us in order to uphold an unfair system? Is there really no other world possible? That is why I refuse to be swayed my the plight of artists. Our current copyright is a law fit for paper publishers in a mass media world, top down, controlled by the few. In a digital age, where anybody can produce, where copyright affects us all, what we have is not good enough. It doesn’t produce the outcomes I want. An where as I understand the plight of artists, copyright as we currently have it, is the wrong tool. I don’t feel the obligation to protect this job. I don’t feel the state is obligated to protect this job. Yes, it would be cool if there was a different solution. A way to make money doing the things we love. Writing free software. Being an artist. Current copyright is not the way I feel like supporting.

So, do I think artists are lower class citizens? Of course not! I am so much in favor of finding ways of people making a decent living no matter what they do, doing the things they love, I don’t know how anybody can conclude that I think of artists as lower class citizens. That is so wrong I don’t even know where to start.

I think capitalism treats the making of art as something other than the production of things to sell or the sale of services – and the net effect is that almost all artists are vastly underpaid. I just don’t think that copyright is the right tool to fix that problem. There are many people producing art for free, prices go down. Sometimes this leads to a situation where making art is no longer sustainable as a job.

My wife used to dance. There was very little money in gigs. There was regular money in giving classes. There was no money in all the choreographies she wrote. There was no copyright to help her. No revenue based on licenses. She gave it up when she got an interesting full-time well paying job. It would have been great if somebody like her could have made a decent living doing the stuff she loved to do. But we live in a capitalist society. Too much supply, not enough demand.

Barring an unconditional basic income solution, or a more limited support for artists by the state, I don’t see it happening. And so most of the musicians and dancers I know do it in their free time. Just as I write the code I love in my free time.

Reform is necessary: A summary of the current situation and its problems can be found in a recent Ars Technica article, The battle to reform 300-year-old copyright law for the digital age. This what I am talking about:

As is evident, the only “solution” that the Commission could imagine was one based around licensing. The idea that non-commercial user-generated content might not need a licence at all—that it could be covered by an exception as it is in the US under the “fair use” approach—never seemed to be an option. – Glyn Moody, Ars Technica

Too many of us cannot see beyond the current system. We need to imagine a different future and work towards it. We don’t need to strengthen copyright. Artists must be able to make a living and we need to find a way to allow that without DRM and the criminalization of all the little things we want to do. We need to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” using different means.

– Alex Schroeder

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2014-05-16 Firefox and DRM

I just sent the following email to Andreas Gal, following a call by the Free Software Foundation, FSF condemns partnership between Mozilla and Adobe to support Digital Restrictions Management. Gal is the Chief Technology Officer at Mozilla and wrote Reconciling Mozilla’s Mission and W3C EME. In my email I also mention Mitchell Baker’s blog post DRM and the Challenge of Serving Users. If you’re wondering what Iceweasel is: It’s a rebranded Firefox by the Debian Project.

I guess it’s fairly obvious where I stand. Free Culture! Maybe Cory Doctorow’s piece can serve as an introduction, Firefox’s adoption of closed-source DRM breaks my heart.

(I also fixed some typos in this copy.)

Subject: DRM
From: Alex Schroeder <>

Dear Mr. Gal

I recently learned of Mozilla’s decision to include DRM in their product. In the past, people have been switching from IE to Firefox. It was the obvious choice. These days people seem to be switching to Chrome. Apparently it is faster or whatever. I didn’t care very much, because I felt that Firefox was the obvious choice for users that valued their privacy and their freedom. None of my peers made the switch to Chrome because they wanted DRM. Those of us who stayed with Firefox, those of us who keep recommending Firefox to younger users, those of us who care about privacy and freedom, however—we might end up leaving. I’m not quite sure what I’ll choose instead. Perhaps it will simply be Iceweasel.

By choosing to cave in to the demands for DRM, Mozilla has become one of them instead of remaining one of us. It hurts! From what I’ve read online, Mozilla has tried to soften the blow, and I appreciate that. Nevertheless, DRM is a symbol of oppression instead of freedom. DRM is a symbol for disenfranchisement instead of empowerment. DRM is a symbol for big business streaming their content down to silent users instead of Remix Culture. Is this the future we want for ourselves? Even if a lot of people wanted this future, is this the future Mozilla wants? Instead, Mozilla could be the future it wanted to be. DRM takes away the rights we have as users and forces us to place our trust in companies that only think of our money. We must necessarily hope that in their mercy they will allow us to exercise our rights (Fair Use and similar regulations in other countries).

To illustrate this absurdity, I’d like to illustrate the situation here in Switzerland where I live. I have the explicit right to make copies of copyrighted works for myself and my close circle of friends and family. DRM prevents me from exercising this right. In order to exercise my right, I need to use software that removes DRM, and this is legal in Switzerland. Advertising for such software, however, is illegal. What were they thinking? I don’t know. All I know is that DRM is degrading. It tramples my rights and requires me to dabble with the Dark Side. That’s not the future I want to be!

All of the above doesn’t even touch the issues around Free Software and proprietary DRM blobs. Yuck!

I’m not sure if there’s a good way out of this situation. In Mitchell Baker’s blog post she said that each user “will be able to decide whether to activate the DRM implementation or to leave it off and not watch DRM-controlled content.” Perhaps a good first step would be simply distribute two versions of Firefox: Firefox and Firefox+DRM. The unfortunate symbol would still stand. The separation would have benefits, however: The separation would make sure that the separation remains a simple one on the source level. It would make life easier for people repackaging Firefox as totally free software. I’m thinking of Iceweasel, obviously. It would make it easier to ditch DRM later. It would assure us that the sandbox wasn’t even there if we didn’t want it. Less code to maintain, less code to review, less bugs to fix, for those of us that don’t care about DRM. It would also allow you to discover whether 30% of the traffic also corresponds to 30% of the users. Who knows whether that is true?

Anyway, I’m hoping to see Mozilla leave at least a foot and hopefully all of its feet in the free software camp. I’d love to see Mozilla take steps to make a change in course at a later date easy to implement. Pack the flexibility to change the stance on DRM into the source code, don’t just make it a setting.

Yours sincerely
Alex Schroeder


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2014-01-14 My Favorite Swiss Copyright Exception

Almost every country has some exceptions to copyright law. You need those in order for a modern society to work. In the US, it is called Fair Use. In Switzerland, the exceptions are listed in the copyright act itself. My favorite of these is for personal use. In other words, you are allowed to make copies of protected works for personal use. You are not allowed to distribute copies to strangers on the Internet, but amongst friends and family, copying is OK. In fact, you pay a tax on all consumer goods on which copies can be stored in order to remunerate authors. Empty tapes (remember those?), blank CDs, iPods and other MP3 players, hard disks… all of these are more expensive because of this tax. In return, you are allowed to copy things from friends and family. This is great. ok

This is URG Art. 19 Verwendung zum Eigengebrauch.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend about a PDF for a game one of us might possibly have and he said he wouldn’t mind sharing with us since we were only going to play it once or twice. I was confused and explained that it was perfectly legal for him to share it with us. He laughed and said “but, you know, on moral grounds…” I was even more confused. Apparently the constant propaganda of the recording associations, of the movie associations, of the various collecting societies had already convinced him that he was doing something wrong even though it was perfectly legal and even though he had paid for the right to do it. sucks

Anyway, yesterday the EFF started Copyright Week “talking about key principles that should guide copyright policy.” Sounds good to me!

Remember how the Swiss government said in 2011 that there was no need to change copyright. Most significantly: there was no need to criminalize downloads for personal use. This was around the time of SOPA and NDAA. Sad panda times. And they just won’t stop. In 2012 the government decided to create a commission to investigate the need for reform and in 2013 they delivered a report. On Twitter, @olknz sent me a link to a discussion of the AGUR12 results (the German “Abschlussbericht”). It has some recommendations which look mostly helpless (IP and DNS blocks, best effort to not overblock, make sure there’s legal recourse), the need to inform the public about its rights (my point when I started writing this post), a general inability to adapt to the future of e-books (failing to see how and why the future is being dominated by Google, Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble, all of them US companies).

It’s a good read, if you read German. Thanks, Oliver Kunz.


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2013-12-08 Old School RPG Planet Going Down

Recently John Payne talked about distributing RSS feeds in eBook form on Google+. Interesting idea, and the resulting discussion of copyright and feed aggregation soon touched upon the Old School RPG Planet. Ian Borchardt correctly said “Just because the authors post their work to the web doesn’t mean they forfeit their copyright. If you collect this work into another form, you are violating their copyright.” Andy Standfield replied “This has all already been covered by many courts and legal experts. This is all considered fair use.”

I started to wonder. Many courts? I decided to google for some more information and found What’s the law around aggregating news online? A Harvard Law report on the risks and the best practices. This 2010 article said that all the parties settled before a finding was made. In the US, that would mean we don’t really know. The article also has a longer section about the Fair Use test and how to apply it. In addition to that, the situation would be different outside the US – possibly more restrictive here in Switzerland, for example.

Drinking my coffee I thought about it some more and finally decided to take the Old School RPG Planet offline. I wasn’t really using it anymore and I really dislike the idea of further discussions with annoyed blog authors. I also didn’t feel like contacting a hundred bloggers, most of whom don’t have their email address on the front page of their blog. The site should now redirect to the Legacy D&D section of the RPG Bloggers Network. It supposedly does more or less the same thing, except that the authors have to register their own sites. Too bad the RPG Blog Alliance doesn’t have categories.


Comments on 2013-12-08 Old School RPG Planet Going Down

Hey Alex,

Too bad that some idiots ruined the good thing you started. Thanks for all the hard work.

Tedankhamen 2013-12-08 16:12 UTC

Don’t worry, I don’t think that a particular person is to blame. I blame it on the copyright system we have and the companies and individuals pushing it, extending it, spreading their interpretation of it until we end up in the society we are living in.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-08 17:14 UTC

Alex, This is a real bummer. I used your OS RPG Planet exclusively to keep me informed of what was going on. Legacy doesn’t seem to contain the same coverage of blogs and it was always handy using the Planet to check out those old dormant blogs. Well, it was good while it lasted. Thanks for keeping me up to date on the OSR.

– derv 2013-12-08 18:16 UTC

Perhaps there are some alternatives available out there? This is what I had listed on the wiki. Wow, the list contained a lot of dead links and a spam link, too.

If anybody knows more, leave a note! :)

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-08 18:23 UTC

I just want to say, it’s a gradation, right?

I follow several law and copyright blogs, and this is why we need them, because a lot of these situations aren’t clear cut. It’s a complicated issue.

-C 2013-12-09 08:32 UTC

Yes, of course. In addition to the situation not being clear cut, the particular elements I considered are particular to just me. There was my own lack of use, first of all, which made me unwilling to fight the slightest non-technical problem. As far as I can see, there were two big non-technical problems: The bigger problem was the law itself. I already knew that I was unwilling to fight a legal battle. I was unwilling to serve as a precedent. Let somebody else drink this cup. With me not being a US resident, the situation is even trickier. No thanks.

The lesser problem was the possibility of people complaining. Many months ago I already got a terse email from Alexis, telling me to remove his blog. The possibility of having my name dragged down into the gutters, of people calling a project of mine seriously a dick move or saying that it wasn't fair or honest currently make me very unwilling to do anything at all for people playing role-playing games. And not everybody would have had Alexis’ calm. M. W. Schmeer didn't want a private conversation at the time, for example. Ugh. No thanks.

I think I’m just going to run my games, write my blog… « Il faut cultiver notre jardin. »

But: if anybody is interested in running their own site, I can help! The first step is installing Planet Venus which requires an installation of Python.

The config file is also easy. Here’s what I used. The example config file in the Planet Venus distribution also comes with a commented config file. When I first started, I used the “musings” theme; later I wrote my own.

name = Old School RPG Planet
message = Collecting Old School RPG blog feeds for the curious.
link =
owner_name = Alex Schroeder
owner_email =
cache_directory = /home/alex/planet/rpg
log_level = INFO
output_theme = /home/alex/src/old-school-planet-theme
output_dir = /home/alex/
items_per_page = 100
activity_threshold = 120
filters =
omit = strong em b i u
width = 1000

If you are running Venus for yourself only, you might consider deleting the filters setting.

What follows is the list of blogs you want to subscribe to, with their names:

name = ((nil) is (not(null)))
name = . . lapsus calumni . .
name = ...and the sky full of dust.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-09 08:57 UTC

Ok, I know I’m not the best person to reply, due to my own knee jerk reaction. But I have this to say.

Your work is appreciated by the silent many. Also, me personally.

I cannot tell you the impact your comment to me about how many blog posts of mine you had favorited had. I still recall it clearly.

My point is, is that the people who are a--holes, also have that kind of impact. If you recall, there were a few dudes who were ON FIRE about the fact I was talking about how to run traps. Not Loomis, the guy behind Grimtooth, not any of the other publishers who made traps that I talked about. But just some person on the internet.

His random negative comment sapped more of my enthusiasm for blogging then anything before or since. But I learned something from it.

The more successful you are, the more certain insecure, jealous, and often untalented people will hate you for it. So what it means when you get a comment like that is that you are really doing something that is meaningful. Not that greatness is applicable, but every great thing ever done was hated by thousands. The hate isn’t what they remember. People don’t talk about that one guy who was pissed off. When my traps get mentioned, its as an appreciated resource.

What I’m saying is that what I learned, was a reaction like that is a sign that you are doing well, not poorly. I mean, as long as you are remaining introspective as the tone of this post indicates you are.

Thanks for your reply and the time it took to link those arguments. That situation sucked. I’m telling you thank you, and water off a duck’s back.

-C 2013-12-09 09:47 UTC

Thanks, -C. Very much appreciated.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-09 09:54 UTC

Wow. OSRPG Planet was one of the first sites I checked every day. Sad to see it go. And, since I never said it: thanks for providing that service for so long, I really enjoyed it.

– Max 2013-12-09 12:37 UTC

Thanks. I just had another thought: It should be possible to filter the RPGBA feed for blogs I consider to be OSR and republish that. Then again, somebody is probably going to say they only intended the RPGBA to republish their feed. I’d have to ask Jeff. Perhaps he’d host something.

Update: I asked Jeff and he said, he’d prefer to get the bloggers’ permission or consent to do it. Which brings me back to square one. Too much hassle.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-09 12:58 UTC

I am incredibly sad to see this happen. OSRPlanet was one of my daily go-to sites for what was going on. It will be missed greatly. Thanks for all the hard work, Alex.

Sniderman 2013-12-10 14:03 UTC

Sorry to see it go - i get plenty of unauthorised feed sites leeching me your was only one i liked

chris 2013-12-10 15:45 UTC

Thank you.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-11 08:56 UTC

On The Nine and Thirty Kingdoms there is a blog post talking about the situation. I totally understand all the points about copyright, licensing and all that. The only point I want to pick up is the closing paragraph:

In other words, you’d have to ask me first. And really, why wouldn’t you ask someone first before publishing their work? What is everyone afraid of?

I think the short answer is that asking for permission just doesn’t scale. It’s OK to ask one person, but asking a hundred people is not how I want to spend my time. The long answer is in the pages of the Free Culture book. Just search for the word “permission” and learn about the differences of permission culture and free culture. Here’s a paragraph from page 192f:

The building of a permission culture, rather than a free culture, is the first important way in which the changes I have described will burden innovation. A permission culture means a lawyer’s culture—a culture in which the ability to create requires a call to your lawyer. Again, I am not antilawyer, at least when they’re kept in their proper place. I am certainly not antilaw. But our profession has lost the sense of its limits. And leaders in our profession have lost an appreciation of the high costs that our profession imposes upon others. The inefficiency of the law is an embarrassment to our tradition. And while I believe our profession should therefore do everything it can to make the law more efficient, it should at least do everything it can to limit the reach of the law where the law is not doing any good. The transaction costs buried within a permission culture are enough to bury a wide range of creativity. Someone needs to do a lot of justifying to justify that result.

I recommend the book. It’s a long read, but I liked it. It also made me unwilling to spend time asking people for permission to do anything. I’d rather spend my time elsewhere.

So that’s my answer to “What is everyone afraid of?” I’d rather spend my time elsewhere.

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-18 08:59 UTC

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2013-12-02 New Creative Commons Licenses

Creative Commons Licenses Version 4.0 November 25, 2013. Creative Commons released 4.0 versions of their licenses. Yeah! More info on their blog.

Cory Doctorow says the following on BoingBoing, which is where I learned about the new versions:

The new licenses represent a significant improvement over earlier versions. They work in over 60 jurisdictions out of the box, without having to choose different versions depending on which country you’re in; they’re more clearly worded; they eliminate confusion over jurisdiction-specific rights like the European database right and moral rights. They clarify how license users are meant to attribute the works they use; provide for anonymity in license use; and give license users a 30 day window to correct violations, making enforcement simpler. Amazingly, they’re also shorter than the previous licenses, and easier to read, to boot.

I must say, I was always a bit annoyed when I saw the local versions of Creative Commons licenses. What does it mean for me, when I live in Switzerland, host stuff in the US, and said stuff is based on the Canadian port of the license? The FAQ now says: “Unless you have a specific reason to use a ported license, we suggest you consider using one of the international licenses.” :ok:

I also often wondered about additional rights we have here in Europe. For example, I might allow you to make copies of my face, but I can still control the use of said copies here in Switzerland using my “personality” rights. The blog post announcing the 4.0 versions of the licenses now says: “Where the licensor has publicity, personality, or privacy rights that may affect your ability to use the material as the license intends, the licensor agrees to waive or not assert those rights.” :ok:

Tags: RSS

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2013-11-26 Licenses and Followup Projects

Today I was asked via email whether the author of a One Page Dungeon released under the Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license could revisit the adventure and release a different (longer?) version using a different license. Here’s what I replied, slightly edited.

You can release everything you ever wrote under as many licenses as you want. Thus, you can work on your previous One Page Dungeon Contest entry, with the same map or a different map, the same or a different text and release it under a proprietary license, a Creative Commons license, or whatever other license you like. The situation is different if you’re building on somebody else’s work: somebody else’s map, somebody else’s monsters, etc. This is true for any other of your One Page Dungeons. You wrote it, you get to change it and release it anyway you want. The only thing you cannot do is prevent other people from building on those old One Page Dungeons that you released under a CC license. But that covers only that particular map, that particular text and doesn’t affect anything else you care to publish.

You’re good to go! :)


Feel free to send me any other licensing questions. I’m not a lawyer but I’ve been thinking about licensing issues for a long time. 8-)


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2013-03-31 Never Ending Story

Stop the Hollyweb! No DRM in HTML5


Comments on 2013-03-31 Never Ending Story

Lucky at least one of the biggest web browsers is open source!

– Anonymous 2013-04-02 07:13 UTC

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2012-10-25 DRM

I liked the Boing Boing article about the recent DRM problem: A woman living in Norway had her Kindle wiped by Amazon and was not given an explanation. What I loved was this logo:

Break the chains!
DRM PNG 1 900, a CC-BY-SA image by listentomyvoice

Nice set, by the way: Librarians Against DRM. :ok:

Tags: RSS

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2012-05-30 New Router

Note to self: Today I replaced my !AirPort Express with a new one. The old one was simply unreachable and resetting it made no difference. I bought it back in 2005. It lasted for seven years. That’s pretty good.

I’m once again dreaming of an OpenWlan, specially in the light of recent decisions:


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