A lot of people are doin' a lot talkin' about things they know nothin' about. Certainly talk is cheap but at the same time it can do harm.

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Strange Love,
or I How Stopping Hating TPPs and Starting Loving ASL
by Robert Delwood
(c) 2002 Wayward Publications


Rex Martin, editor of the ASL Annual, wrote that in 1992. The article, worth reading (Annual 92, p. 60), continues and admonishes a few of the independent publications such as The Rout Report and ASL News. In the article’s course he points out Fire for Effect (FFE) is subtitled “committed to the progress of ASL and its players.” He singles out Kurt Shilling for his outstanding contribution to the hobby. As most already know, many of the FFE staff will continue on as MMP. Not only are they now the official voice of ASL but also has been accused of stifling competition. Therein is the irony. What was good for MMP back then is suddenly bad for the hobby now.

But before vilifying MMP, it’s interesting to point out that much of the criticism concerning third party producers (TPP) comes from the field itself, not MMP. Some maintain (and quite vocally I might add) that TPP products are ruining the hobby, stealing money from MMP and blatantly breaking every copyright and trademark law ever written. For that reason we need to be careful. Careful, not because the nay-sayers are right but precisely because they are wrong.

Don’t know? Then don’t tell.
The whole issue of hating TPPs revolve around copyrights. Some think they are trampling on MMP and ripping them off blatantly. Copyrights have to be the least clear of all the issues. It is a convoluted and vague branch of the law with few absolutes. And yet, it’s the issue everyone thinks they’re experts in. In short, if you don’t know, don’t say anything. If you’re prone to say stupid things like “I don't need a lawyer, judge, and/or jury to tell me what is right or wrong,” you really don’t need to be posting to the list. Like it or not, for copyrights you do need a judge to tell you what’s right or wrong, or at least what’s legal and what’s not. Most of the laws in this field are case law set by precedents and precedents are determined by judges. It changes over time.

You can set your own hypercritical standards and live by them, no one is saying otherwise. If you can justify speeding in a car (even if only a few MPH over the limit), do so. These same people probably don’t declare taxes on the five dollar bill they find on the ground. Yet as righteous as they pretend to be, not only do they pass moral judgment on others but are pompous about it. The truth is few people know if copying a scenario is even legal or not. Does personal use matter? Does my having a copy to write on detract from the value of the body of work? Is MMP losing money on it? Yes, these are all factors for the question of copyright.

Yet at the same time, these people do not even know what they are protecting. Which aspect of the copyright laws do they think is being broken? The easiest issue is copying artwork - for sure that is protected, provided they do a straight copy. However, the overhead depiction in and of itself of a Panther tank can not be copyrighted. Nor can the depiction of a wheatfield. Layouts can not be protected. The New York Times can not copyright their front page layout in the same way the Wall Street Journal or the New Yorker can not either. Yet, all three are very stylistic and have a signature layout. The same protection goes to ASL scenario cards. If you look carefully at the most significant precedence in this hobby, the AH/CH suit, the only real outcome was that CH had to change their artwork. Even so, many vocal people still blame CH for copyright violations. Like it or not, a formal judgment was not actually set the trial was not completed since the parties negotiated a settlement). A precedent was determined and until it is challenged the law is set.

At the same time many advocate using MMP as a clearinghouse for ASL-related products. In short, they claim MMP has to approve all ideas. That puts them in a role Rex Martin never intended. Suggesting we voluntarily give up our creativity to gain MMP approval is the very opposite of what he encouraged. Sanctioned ideas are fine and but all others are to be buried or discouraged? Rex advocated the marketplace of ideas for ASL. That it is the responsibility of TPP to come up with new ideas. While not all ideas are good, there is also a subjectivity among them. Players will like some ideas and not others; the good notions go on. Diversity does not fragment the hobby as long as we keep perspective. As an example, there are as many flavors of Diplomacy as there are players and yet they can all get together and play the same game. Which game has self-destructed because more players became involved?

This also introduces the concept of the official version. MMP is indisputably the official voice of the game. By being the official version, they benefit from substantial advantages. They have the most organized group, the funding to do things right, and the presses to create outstanding components. Few can argue that MMP products are not the best. On the other hand, Rex, a member of the ASL elite at AH, advocated noblis oblige, an approached to encourage TPP development. What was good for the hobby was good for AH. Perhaps arrogance or supreme confidence but he encouraged companies that one day could have challenged AH.

Critical to this case is that MMP also has the legal backing for enforcement. This legal component is not a private-jackbooted-Janet-Reno kind of army ready to suppress any and all opposition. And neither is it the final authority of all issues ASL. Many advocate asking the Hasbro lawyers if their player group actions are legal or not. Curiously the answer may not be definitive or even relevant. First, Hasbro is in the business of protecting themselves. If you think the toy industry is a good-natured one like Willy Wonka’s, think again. While they may not go after all potential competition, when asked, they may not encourage it either. They may certainly maintain it is illegal but it doesn’t mean it really is. That’s why we have courts and court cases. You have two sides of a legal issue, one maintains an action is illegal and the other side not.

Damage Control
Perhaps we can dismiss these embarrassingly uninformed people as mere irritations, like speed bumps along the information highway. But their comments do damage. Spreading misinformation and alarm is harmful. We as hoi polloi are the not guardians of MMP property nor is it our place to do so. Has MMP ever asked anyone to do this for them? Certainly we can be respectful and considerate but we are not enforcers of MMP’s rights and it is dangerous to do so. Each of us can make the decision to like or dislike TPPs. Think them villains, hobbyists with a love of the game, or people with just too much time on their hands.