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June 2, 1997: Dirty Laundry

or, Copyright and Slander on the Net

or, What's a Little Flame Among Friends?

Updated, version 2.0

 
Well well well, it's been an interesting month. Sometimes, topics just leap right out at you. In this case, two Usenet brawls come instantly to mind. In ring one, we have an anonymous allegation against the otherwise saintly Paul Lidberg/ Crunchy Frog Enterprises. And in ring two, we show the Dana Jorgensen (Alternate Realities) vs Lattin Pesach (Sphere Publications) debate over... over... well, frankly, we're not sure what the issue has permutated in, as an as of yet unexposed party threw in faked posts and emails to add an incredible level of confusion. Ring three, though not in the public forefront, involves a case where RPGnet [believes that at one point it] had some pages appropriated without credit. These cases do raise the issue of web publication, of slander on Usenet, and of general netiquette.

"Netiquette?" (you may ask) "How does net etiquette figure into issues such as slander and theft? If there is even the remotest possibility that someone may have acted wrongly, isn't it our duty to flame them into oblivion?" Oh yes, I'm certain that really solves things. Net arguments tend to go in five well-defined stages:

There are ways to prevent this sort of flamewar. The easiest way is to add the topic to your kill file, or unsubscribe from the newsgroup for two weeks. It doesn't stop the debate, but at least you don't have to pay attention to it anymore. If enough people did that, we'd get to step 5 and finish much, much earlier. Or, as a second solution, we could impose a facist authority to monitor all newsgroups and delete any thread which could possibly cause controversy. This would have the added benefit of reducing net traffic to nearly 0. Or, finally, we could all be reasonable people and just treat such issues in a mature, well-th... heh heh heh, sorry, I don't think I can finish typing this with a straight face.

On to the actual cases, as determined by an independent fact-finding agency (me). The first, the Crunchy Frog case, is very simple. An anonymous poster claimed that Paul Lidberg didn't pay the promised royalties to his freelancers, and thus all freelancers should be warned. A massive response by individuals in the gaming community pointed out that:

  • If the poster had a complaint for Paul, talking to Paul instead of posting to Usenet would get a hell of a lot better results,
  • Late royalties in a small press are common and experienced freelancers should already know that, and
  • Paul had deliberately not filed for bankrupcy precisely because he felt honor-bound to pay all promised royalties, and was working hard to make Crunchy Frog solvent enough to manage it.

    In short, the allegations were inappropriate and untrue. Not that this stopped the debate from raging, which is a pity, as Paul actually is a nice fellow (in addition to being the wronged party in this matter.)

    The second case gets much more complex. The sequence of events is roughly:

  • Dana Jorgensen sends private email to Sphere Publications/Pesach Lattin pointing out that some of Sphere's web pages are actually copyright by MPGN/TSR.
  • Pesach posts to Usenet that Dana is trying to shut him down by fake legal threats, and besides that he thinks Dana's own publication (Gamers' Haven) is lame (the required snide attack.)
  • Someone (A third party? [ed.note-- removed Pesach from being mentioned here because he states he also received the faked emails]) fakes dozens of emails as if they came from Dana, to freelancers and publishers in the RPG industry. These email, with typos and ranting monologues, basically anger all the recipients and turn them against Dana. Fake posts on Usenet also begin to appear.
  • Pesach calls us (RPGnet) at 8am at our home number on a holiday to complain about Dana and ask us to kill Dana's web magazine on our site. We are extremely annoyed at being woken up on a holiday by a ranting caller for an issue that doesn't involve us. [ed note-- okay, so we're cranky when we get woken up on a holiday... apparently our home number was mistakenly listed in our Internic listing so Pesach was trying to reach our business number, and got faked out by Internic.]
  • More fake email continue to spring from AOL accounts. AOL starts taking action, shutting down the fake accounts and trying to stop the slander campaign against Dana.
  • Pesach continues to post about harrassment, while simultaneously trying to get Dana's AOL and RPGnet accounts/pages pulled. Dramatic irony!

    This case would have been bad enough even without the faked emails and such. For example, a vast number of them were sent from "Dana Jorgelsen" at DJorgenI04@aol.com", a clear attempt to fake being the real "Dana Jorgenson" at DJorgen104@aol.com. Such illegal masquerades made the Paul Lidberg debate look like nothing in comparison.

    The reaction so far has been that Dana is still publishing, Sphere still has copyright work up without permission [ed. note-- Sphere claims to not have any infringed works up on their site as of now], and unfortunately many people have put black marks by both of their names. A tragic end to yet another matter that should have been privately resolved.

    And now for our own case. I personally maintain several RPG industry lists on the RPGnet site. We emailed Pesach asking if he wanted to cross-link with us. Pesach copied two of our lists (companies, and zines) verbatim to his site, but appended his own copyright. Our "demands" were simply that proper credit be noted. He agreed to make the lists private for now and work out an arrangement.

    At the time of this original column being written, I made comments about the state of affairs at that time. Fortunately, things have been pleasantly resolved. In the spirit of good will, Pesach (though stating he did not feel there was an infringement) removed their lists. He also offered an apology for any possible misunderstanding, and thus restored good will between our respective volunteer efforts. In turn, I agreed to update this column to remove any allegations against him, stopped pursuing the issue, and apologized in turn for any misunderstandings on our side. Sphere will continue their RPG site efforts and no more conflict exists. Yes, I know, you happy readers would prefer controversy and blood, but we _like_ to resolve issues quietly and with no ill will or loss of face for either site!

    Oh, wait, I forgot, sometimes people read this column to hear about Games, and not just Game Publishers. Here we go-- Jeff Franzmann publically posted the weekly top sellers at his store in Canada, Campaign Outfitters. AD&D Revised DMG (TSR's) took first for supplements... talk about staying power, I remember buying first edition, oh, a decade ago. A Rifts book took second (Lone Star), proving that Palladium's consistent advertising and support is keeping them strong in the marketplace. Ye gods, an RPG company that actually sees this as a business... more power to them for that. Third is Pinnacle's Deadlands supplement, "Independence Day", showing that this strong game released just last year has staying power. They're active, innovative, and produce good materials to boot. I must say I'm pleased they're getting the recognition they deserve.

    Three Star Wars CCG expansions took the three top places for CCGs. A TSR Novel ("Starless Night") took first for books/magazines, while "Scrye" came in second and "White Dwarf" in third. RPG Magazines in general are a tough market. "Arcane" has suspended print publication, though they state their web site will remain alive. "The Familiar" is switching to a shorter, more frequent format. "Shadis" is fortunately still chugging along solidly. Several APAs, 'zines and e-zines are alive-- our list can show you all of them.

    As long as you don't mind, that it.

    With much politeness,
    Sandy

    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg

    What do you think?

    Go to forum!\n"; $file = "http://www.rpg.net/$subdir/list2.php?f=$num"; if (readfile($file) == 0) { echo "(0 messages so far)
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    All Soapboxes

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  • October 2, 1997 "Fear of a Gaming Planet" (Welcome to the RPG ghetto?)
  • September 2, 1997 "Rush" (fame and adoration in lieu of pay)
  • August 2, 1997 "For the Money" (convention mating rituals)
  • July 2, 1997 "Good Deeds" (the dearth of evil game companies)
  • June 2, 1997 "Dirty Laundry" (copyright and slander on the net)
  • May 2, 1997 "Communications Breakdown" (company and player schisms)
  • April 2, 1997 "The Quick and the Dead" (dying companies versus new ideas)
  • March 2, 1997 "It's All in the Timing" (on hype and late deliveries, and on genres)
  • February 2, 1997 "Insiders and Outsiders" (who's who and who uses the web)
  • January 2, 1997 "Fits and Starts" (web presences, print runs, live roleplaying)
  • December 2, 1996 "Procastination Season is Over" (delays and new products)
  • November 1, 1996 "Best of Times, Worst of Times" (on rumors, survival, and larps)
  • October 1, 1996 "Post-Con fallout and not that many new games"
  • September 1, 1996 "Our launch, news from GenCon, demos, new LARPS"
  • Our reason for existence

    Other columns at RPGnet

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