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Sunday, 28 April 2013

Eternal intellectual property is NOT a good thing


Bruce Heard former staff writer and editor for TSR's Dungeons & Dragons game, based now in France recently approached the current owners (Hasbro Inc, through their wholly owned subsidiary Wizards of the Coast, the company that bought us Magic the Gathering) recently approached the owners of the D&D world of Mystara with a view to additional creativity but the response was not favourable

"Some of you have known that for some time I've queried Wizards of the Coast for options to get some life back into the World of Mystara and the Princess Ark. Unfortunately, Wizards isn't interested in cooperating. This became clear when I began talking to their IP manager, who informed me that any arrangement regarding Mystara was out of the question at this time. There was no interest in anything involving a transfer of rights, a sale, a license agreement, a permission to publish, or any other option--as a matter of policy. From what I'd heard of WotC, I knew this going in.

What I really was interested in was writing new stories specifically for the Princess Ark, originally published in Dragon Magazine some twenty years ago. For a time, it sounded like an arrangement might be possible. Since Mystara wasn't available, it still would have involved stripping all related D&D- and Mystara-specific details. It would have left the ship and her crew completely bare of any background. However, WotC's IP manager decided that even this constituted an IP, and therefore wasn't available. I offered cash, free ads, efforts to coordinate and support the release of D&D Next (etc.), to no avail. That so many of you would be overjoyed to see any RPG release linked to Mystara or the Princess Ark didn't appear to be relevant in the least.

Although this development may appear heart-breaking, there is a silver lining. As the discussion developed, I became convinced that any involvement with WotC was a waste of my time and a future liability. Writing Princess Ark stories without her original background seemed bad enough, but in the event of a licensing agreement or a simple permission to publish, I would have been obligated to regularly submit any development for approval. This would have made the experience infinitely worse, provided anyone at WotC were available for the approval process--which apparently isn't the case. I was given to understand that WotC doesn't want to spare staff for this sort of work, even if they had anyone knowledgeable enough to do these old IPs justice. This seems to be the situation for most of the old TSR game settings--not just Mystara or the Princess Ark. The end result would have been a creative straightjacket at best, or more likely a nightmare."

As much of my teenage years was spent in the world of Mystara and I remember reading the original voyages of the Princess Ark in the pages of Dragon magazine I am somewhat disappointed but eagerly look forward to the future writings of Bruce albeit in a new world without any of the intellectual property of Hasbro. Still that is many years of creativity which has not seen the light of day (except for the numerous fan sites which transgress the internet) for over 15 years now. The publications of my youth which I steadfastly saved my £5 to purchase are now selling for £30 to £50 and those books which predate me are in the $1000's.

The success of Dungeons and Dragons (the top selling toy of all time) is that onto the framework provided every player can add their own level of creativity indeed it is necessary to play the game. Imagine if the IP had expired and everyone could now publish their own works based on the older works.

But there are other developments which have been withheld from humanity; the everlasting light bulb being an example of one which was never sold because too much money was made from selling replacement bulbs.

Intellectual property prevents anyone making further advancements on the back of developed ideas or products; recent developments in the US with Monsanto effectively owning the patent on natural reproduction of their genetically modified crops is a worrying development too, imagine if someone were to copyright the word.

The question then becomes how long should someone be allowed to have intellectual property on something that they no longer put to a commercial use? How long should these ideas be allowed to languish on dusty bookshelves and how much have we lost by not having these things in the public domain?