Mailbag - What are you gonna' do? Sue me?

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Mailbag - What are you gonna' do? Sue me?
There Will Be Games

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Today we have a boring, serious question from Jeb.

Dear Fortress Ameritrash:

I think someone should discuss the legal aspects of online and PnP games--some site are legit, obviously, like GameTableOnline, but others of dubious legality, like VASSAL. Or PnP kits for things like WIZWAR. Who wants to wade into this morass?



Dear Jeb,

What are we, a law firm? The closest I have ever been to an attorney is sitting next to one at my bail hearing.

Actually, that's not entirely true. I do sit across from one at nearly every holiday meal. And before I began building fan sites, like Fortress; Ameritrash, I consulted a copyright attorney. Well, okay, I spoke to my cousin over Thanksgiving dinner. He's a hot shot NY copyright attorney, with a big name law firm whose offices over look the Macy's Parade route. Every year I hint for an invite to watch the parade from his offices, but his wife always makes some lame excuse about why they can't invite us because she doesn't like me on account of I'm way more awesome than she, and my Spawn makes her kids look autistic. So you can keep your fancy, shmancy Macy's Parade Party with heated window seats.  You're going to regret all that time you spent vacationing in the islands every year when your face wrinkles up like an old prune. So bite me!

My cousin likes to say "There is the law, and then there is reality."  According to the law, people can take you to court for any hair brained reason they want just to make your life miserable whether or not they have grounds. In reality that doesn't happen over copyright, because it's expensive and there isn't much to gain.

Essentially, copyright law says that you can't use people's stuff. If you do, and they don't like it, the first step is they contact you and say "Stop using my stuff!" You stop using their stuff, that's it. End of story. You would be pretty stupid to not stop using their stuff. But if you were stupid, and didn't stop, then they have to get an attorney to send you a special fancy, schmancy letter that says "Stop using my client's stuff."  If you were really stupid and still didn't stop, they could take you to court and a judge could make you stop. But that doesn't happen often, because most people aren't that stupid.

Many people are under the impression that if you use copyrighted stuff, you can be sued for big bucks. In reality this doesn't usually happen, because you can only be sued for lost revenue. The person doing the suing has to prove they actually lost a specific dollar amount of revenue. That's the amount that they could potentially recoup. However, legal fees in most cases will out weigh the award amount. In the case of online games or a PnP of an out of print game, it would be difficult to prove that any revenue was lost at all. So spending a bunch of money on legal fees, to get nothing is stupid. Plus, it is just plain old bad business and bad publicity. Fans of the people getting sued get their panties in a wad and start boycotting your products and other people boycott you just because every one else is and you lose more money in sales than you gain in court.

So that's why you hear things like GameTableOnline removed a game, or some website removed a bunch a pictures, but you almost never hear about any big bucks court case. What happened was the site got the "Stop using our stuff" letter, and they weren't stupid, and the person or company that wanted the stuff removed wasn't stupid. So the stuff got removed. End of story.

The above answer is for entertainment purposes only, and is not actual legal advice. And I didn't really mean any of that stuff about my cousin's wife. It was a joke. Actually, my cousin isn't even married. I made it all up. I don't even have any cousins. Okay. So don't sue me.

Don't forget today is the last day of our Spring Fling Game Give Away Contest .  Send in your mail bag questions to be entered into a drawing for a copy of Red November.

There Will Be Games
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Plays boardgames. Drinks bourbon. Writes code.

Articles by Shellie

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