Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Update On In.Fuzion (And How Not To Respond To Reports Of Infringement)

First, an update. Nathan M. Robertson's efforts to sell Fuzion-based products without a license, and with large portions of other people's works included, have ceased. DriveThruRPG, Lulu and Scribd have all removed Cerberus Gaming Combine's offerings - only Amazon remains, and Mike Pondsmith will need to deal with that. Additionally, their website has also been taken offline and apparently a Twitter account has been removed. Some actions are obviously the work of copyright holders notifying the hosting services, while others (such as the website and Twitter) may be memory holing at its finest.

Nathan, who has gone by the username tectuctitlay on a few forums, looks like what I would like to dub a serial compiler. He collects up bits and pieces of things posted around the Internet (it looks like, in this case, GURPS in particular) and reassembles them into a coherent document. This is a pretty common pastime for gamers that were heavily involved in early Internet roleplaying communities like UseNet. Heck, I did much the same thing years ago with Mekton material (and some Fuzion as well). The tidbits that people posted to different groups were scattered, and it made it easy to find for myself (with the added benefit of making it available for others). I always referenced where I found a rule or mechanic from, when and where I could - and I always respected the creator's wishes when they didn't want it mashed together with somebody else's stuff.

Where Mr. Robertson appears to have gone wrong is assuming that he had some ownership in the Fuzion materials because he put work into it. You can see the mindset at work in the screenshot from DTRPG that I thankfully grabbed before they pulled the plug on his products (click to embiggen).

Hey, I changed the engine in your car without asking, so I'm just going to take it, mkay?

He took it upon himself, without asking any kind of permission, to rewrite someone else's work. By his logic, since only "20-25%" is left over (the old 30% myth rearing it's head again?) it somehow changes the fact that it wasn't his place to do it in the first place. On top of that, he throws up a defense of, "It was shit to begin with, I just fixed it". Because that totally makes it all right.

This is followed up by claims (which I unfortunately didn't get) that because the cover to his Fists of Fuzion was just the first image that he grabbed when searching that it was somehow okay that it was an image copyrighted by Midway. A fact that he dismissed as "nitpicky".

No Sparky, it's not a lot of effort to figure this stuff out

Finally, we get the "Mine's totally different, even though it looks the same argument." As well as a wrong assumption about the licensing status of Fuzion in general.

Apparently, he go this information from the same cereal box Mykal Lakim's lawyer did.
Setting aside copyright and legalities here, it's not rocket science to figure out that if someone else created something or owns something, it's not yours regardless of how much work you put into it. It's certainly not yours to try to charge people money for. Obviously there's a gray area between where something becomes truly your work and stops being somebody else's - but slapping some new art and paraphrasing some rules is definitely not in that gray area at all. Especially if you're going to use the same names (or similar) as extant products.

For the time being, it looks like this was a pretty quick flashfire. No threats of lawsuits, no cray-cray Twitter exchanges, just the torpedoed hulk of Cerberus Gaming Combine sinking beneath the waves. But the word I used above was serial. Remember that novel that the Eldritch Dark Forum talked about? Same guy, same MO. Take a bunch of posts and other material, edit it together, and try to publish it as their own. That means that there's a chance he'll be back.

EDIT: I want to make something clear. There is nothing inherently wrong with gathering up hacks or creating derivative works or creating conversions or adaptations of other systems or properties. I do this myself. It's the putting it up for sale to profit off of it, without asking for permission or getting a license, that is the issue. Getting snippy about it and calling people "Hoss" and "Chief" is just the douche in the canoe.