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:
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:
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,