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Copyright issues

Started by Lorenzo Rubbo-Ferraro, September 25, 2004, 04:41:14 PM

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Lorenzo Rubbo-Ferraro

Hi everyone,

I have amassed a large volume of literature that is essential for my RPG that I am currently writing. The problem is that it is all copyright. As far as I can see I have two options here:

1. Plagiarize.
2. Ask for permission to use the copyright material and cross my fingers.

Option 1 is not really an option at all unless I want to dedicate the rest of the decade to the arduous task of rewording volumes of information for a game that I will be offering for free. My RPG, Maharatha, is an historical/legendary Hindu-esque game, so you can imagine the body of literature needed to present everyday life in ancient India, the characters and events of the Mahabharata and the Hindu universe. For example a one page description of each of the 30 major deities in the Hindu pantheon is crucial to run the game, let alone the culture, setting and events surrounding the gameplay all of which are verging on colossal proportions.

Option 2 is a mixed bag. I found a nice synopsis of the Mahabharata on the internet and asked the author for permission to use it, explaining how it would be used and stipulating that I would reference his name and web site address. He promptly and kindly granted me permission. This was free to read on the net however.

The way I look at it is if you deny someone permission you know that they can easily plagiarize it, in which case you may be short changed the credit for your work. If you give them permission and they reference you, it is an advertisement for you and credits your work. So for most authors the latter is most likely preferred.  

This doesn't take the other big factor in though: buck$. Most of the material I have comes from published books and using their work, even with references, in a free publication would probably concern them that they might miss out on these buck$.

I have emailed the publishers, awhile ago now, of one of the books I have taken most of the material from but haven't heard from them. I can't find any info or email address for the author either. This book was written in the seventies and can not even be found at Amazon so I dare say sales probably aren't that high currently-hopefully this will be to my favour.

So to get to the point, what have your experiences been with copyright material?
Is there a best way to ask for permission to use copyright material?
Isn't there some sort of law about the expiration of copyright?
What successes/failures have you had?


Ben Lehman

You need to be more specific about exactly what you are doing with what sort of texts.  Don't beat around the bush.  You may not be in violation of copywrite at all, for one.

Also, there are better places to ask these questions that this forum.  Like that fourm, over there:

Good luck!



I want to emaphasize what Ben just said, Lorenzo.  You need real advice on this, from people who know what they're talking about, not from gaming people.

Intellectual property law, which includes copyright law, is a great deal more complicated than you'd imagine, and since you'd probably think it's pretty hairy that gives you some idea just how bad it really is.  You haven't begun to ask a significant fraction of the important questions.  As Ben says, you might very well be in complete compliance with the law.

Go get professional advice, or damn close.  That forum Ben pointed to is very good.

I'm posting a "me too" in the hope that my wording is enough different from Ben's that later searches for copyright infringement, plagiarism, and how to quote and cite properly will come up with this thread.  It's important -- don't mess around, but you just haven't the faintest idea what you're dealing with.  And neither does just about anyone else around here!
Chris Lehrich


Well, hold up a second-

Are we talking original works of fiction or are we talking historical/philosophical documents?
IE I can quote from the Bible all I like, but I need permission if I start pulling things out of the "Left Behind" series. BUT, that doesn't mean I can't make my own RPG using the book of Revelations as the basis and adpating it to the modern world.

If you're looking to directly using someones written work as is, then you definetly need to get permission.
If you're using something such as an idea, the thought, etc, that will likely be public domain. As I said, I can do whatver I want with the book of Revelation, I can have a Vallhalla or Heaven and Hell or Limbo/Purgatory, I can use Lillith and angels and demons. But, I can't take Magic The Gathering artwork of angels and try to use it or Marvel Comic's images of Lillith.
Definetly check with the more concrete legal resources, but I'd recommend using your own imagination for the write ups as much as you can if it is indeed more public domain material.
Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!

Lorenzo Rubbo-Ferraro

Thanks for the reply guys,

I'm still browsing the intellectual property web site you gave me and posted in their forums for advice.

I'm confused by your suggestions that I might be in complete compliance with the law but I guess I need to investigate further.

QuoteYou need to be more specific about exactly what you are doing with what sort of texts.

I was very specific when I emailed for permission on how I would use the text i.e. for a free, educational role playing that is reverent of Vedic culture and Hindu beliefs. I should have also mentioned that I could send them a copy for their approval before publishing to the net.

QuoteAre we talking original works of fiction or are we talking historical/philosophical documents?

The bulk of my material comes from two books; one is called 'Everyday life in early India' by Michael Edwardes and is his study on just that. The other is 'Hindu World, an encyclopaedia of Hinduism'.  Both of these books I believe were written in the early seventies. As far as I can see, the descriptions I want to use are copyright by their respective authors and the wording at least remains their intellectual property.

Quotebut I'd recommend using your own imagination for the write ups as much as you can if it is indeed more public domain material.

Man, it's just such a hard slog. I have enough trouble describing a few pages of the system, which is all my creation, let alone rephrasing volumes of other people's writings.

My initial thought, was to just write to the author and ask for permission, stipulating how I will use their material but the authors can not be found so I have persisted with their publishers. I think I will continue to peruse the web site on intellectual property and wait for a reply from the publishers.




As you go looking into this, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for discussions of "fair use."  The idea is that if you only use some portion of someone else's work, and you make very clear exactly where you got it and who wrote it, then you don't owe anyone anything.  Without this concept in action, you couldn't write a book about, let's say, Thomas Pynchon, because his work is copyrighted and as soon as you quote from him you'd be in violation.

But the problems are enormous.  Depending on the type of source material and the type of publication you intend, with all that these could possibly entail, the "some portion of" phrase in the paragraph above can vary wildly.  And for some kinds of sources, the range has yet to be set firmly, with valid precedents scattered all over the map; the sources you're talking about probably don't fit into this category, but you'd need to know that.

So you could be in compliance because you're not using enough of the texts to constitute unfair use.  You could be in violation because you're using too much.  But there's no way to know without knowing a huge amount about copyright law, or alternatively knowing just enough of the right bits of such law.

Anyway, focus on "fair use."  If that falls through, you will probably have to approach people about texts, but again it really depends on the source and your publication as to whether you need to talk to the author or the publisher, about what, how much you might have to pay, and so on.  Cross that bridge when you come to it; my suspicion (and it is an educated but by no means expert suspicion) is that you can do it all under "fair use" if you are careful and precise.

Good luck!
Chris Lehrich

Lorenzo Rubbo-Ferraro

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the info. 'Fair use' – yeah I forgot about that term. When I first read 'Everyday life in early India' I thought jeez I could use all of this stuff, and the thing is I would like to use a 'fair chunk' of it which would probably violate 'fair use'!

There is Option 3 of course but it seems so wrong I didn't mention it. If the publishers don't respond to me it may still be an option, crossing my fingers for the 'fair use' policy.

Option 3 is posting my completed game on the net, which contains their material. Maybe it's all I can do to finally get a response from them (probably screaming 'Take that off the net now or we will sue your arse!'). I can always take it down the same day I receive their email. On the other hand the aged authors who are not really getting any more sales or recognition might be quietly chuffed when they read the advertisement for their books and the accolades I lavish on them in the appendices!

Option 3 is suspicious to say the least, particularly because I am using so much of the source material, so I will investigate 'fair use' and persist with emails of petition first.



You've forgotten Option 4, which is to reference those works heavily in your material.  Do not duplicate information but instead instruct your readers to buy those two books.
--- Jonathan N.
Currently playtesting Frankenstein's Monsters

Lorenzo Rubbo-Ferraro

Hi quozl,

Yeah that is an option too but it just wouldn't have the impact. There are lots of bits and pieces throughout these two books as well as other texts that are in the public domain, that all conjoined make a powerful presentation. So you just wouldn't be able to 'get the picture' without them.

I am currently writing a stripped down version that just contains all my writing, it will be good for playtesting and feedback, and bide me some time before I resolve this issue, but a far cry from a full version.

By the way, all the volumes of the encyclopaedia of Hinduism alone are about $200!