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Re: (TFT) Open Source TFT

----- Original Message ----- From: "Christopher Fuhrman" <fuhrman8or@yahoo.com>
To: <tft@brainiac.com>

--- Ty Beard <tybeard@sbcglobal.net> wrote:

But if we restate every single rule, we go a long ways towards
any unintentional copyright infringement.

No offense Ty, but I think you're treading on thin ice with this
approach. This method is strikingly similar to the students in one of
my C programming classes who tried to avoid plagiarism by changing
every variable name on each line of the software "borrowed" from
someone who had already solved the assignment.

I think you're equating two very different things. One can plagiarize without infringeing on copyright. Plagiarism is an academic concept, not a legal one. You plagiarize when you use someone else's ideas or work without attribution. But you cannot copyright ideas. So I can steal your idea and not infringe your copyright, though I may well be "guilty" of plagiarism. Two completely different concepts.

In addition, you specifically cannot copyright the game mechanics. That's one reason why all of the various D&D and Monopoly knock-offs are out there. To quote the US Copyright Office, you cannot copyright "[i]deas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices..." Of course, some of these things may be patented, but patents cost a lot of money and last a relatively short time. Metagaming did not patent TFT.

There *is* some ambiguity in the system when trying to distinguish noncopyrightable ideas from copyrightable expression, but there are fortunately some on-point cases -- Landsberg v. Scrabble Crossword Game Players, Inc., (736 F.2d 485 (9th Cir.), which held that the defendant's "Scrabble Players Handbook" did not infringe the copyright on plaintiff's draft book "Championship Scrabble Strategy", submitted by plaintiff to defendant, because, although the lower court found defendant surreptitiously retained copies of and copied from plaintiff's work, what was taken was at most uncopyrightable ideas; for example, defendant "had taken" its "notational system". In other words, the defendants practically stole the plaintiff's book, yet defendants did not violate plaintiff's copyright because they re-wrote the rules and strategies.

They argued it wasn't plagiarism because the code was completely
different. Once I explained to the discipline committee that the
logic of the software had not changed, and that the efforts of the
students were merely to mask the similarity, there was no doubt it
was plagiarism (i.e., not their own work). The students failed the
course as per the university rules of plagiarism.

And they should have been -- one commits an act of plagiarism when he steals another's ideas without attribution. That's what they did and despite their sophmoric arguments, they were guilty of academic plagiarism.

The rules of plagiarism tend to be explained in detail at each
university, and it is not the same thing as copyright. The two
principles are based on the same ethical issue of protecting the
rights of the original creator.

Different concepts, I think. The law allows me to use the writings of H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" as I see fit without his permission (or the permission of his heirs) and without attribution. Am I being "immoral" when I do so? It's perfectly legal, after all.

Depends on the specifics and on which objective moral code we agree to, it seems to me.

My gut feeling is that by re-doing the entire rule set of TFT with
most of the rules being identical, just paraphrased in the manner you
are suggesting, it would be hard to justify that there was anything
new or different and it wasn't a copyright violation.

Well, I appreciate your concern. But I believe that we can re-write TFT without violating copyright law. As for plagiarizing, well, I haven't advocated that we take credit for another's work. Re the moral issues, well, I have my hands full with pride, anger, lust, etc. I really don't think that rewriting TFT will be the one immoral act that pushes me over the limit and sends me to hell. :-)

Bottom line: seems a bit risky to me from this standpoint.

It is risky. Anyone can sue anyone in our legal system. This is why I want to rewrite *everything*. I personally doubt that this would really be necessary to avoid infringement, but better safe than sorry.

However, the other tack might be to say that if nobody is interested
in the IP, then what are the risks? Expending energy paraphrasing is
wasteful. You said that penalties are severe for copyright violation,
but I had always thought it would come down to suing for lost
revenues or in the best case, a cease-and-decist order. If we're
talking open-source rules, then there should be no $ involved. You
can't buy the product now, so nobody would be losing money if the
stuff was available (perhaps Ebay could argue about that).

Sadly, copyright law contains a number of medieval statutory penalties which are independant of any loss to the copyright holder or gain to the infringer. It is better to simply not infringe than to rely on the court to "do the right thing".

I'm reminded of the ogre computer game (unix) that was released on
Usenet in the 1980s. Apparently it was not legal - I remember reading
that the author "mistakenly" distributed it to the general public. It
may have even been distributed with some Sun OS distributions - I
know it was on our system when I was in college. Steve Jackson Games
still sells Ogre, so they have an interest in not having stuff
floating around that takes money potentially away from paying their
staff, etc.

Well, understand that the Ogre *trademark* was probably infringed when someone other than SJG created a wargame about a cybertank and called it an Ogre. This is usually how game companies try to protect themselves. I can probably re-write the rules to GURPs without infringing on SJ's copyright. But I cannot then call it "GURPS" (or "GERPS" or "GORPs" or "GRPS") without infringeing his trademark. We can ignore this problem because the Fantasy Trip trademark has been legally abandoned and cannot be reinstated. Even so, I wouldn't want to mislead anyone about what they were getting, so I think that the term Fantasy Trip should *not* be used.

Today, with Google, one can still get a copy of that ogre software
written in C. But that's technically illegal. If I were to decide to
take that source code and just modify it to a Java version and then
distribute it, it would surely be copyright infringement. Steve
Jackson would probably not be happy.

If you post it on a website or email it, you are technically in violation of his trademark. I doubt you would be in violation of his copyright, unless the game reprinted verbatim his rules.

--Ty =====
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