After a 20-month legal battle, the creators of the super-hero roleplaying game Villains & Vigilantes have prevailed in their court fight with the game's longtime publisher. Magistrate Judge Mark E. Aspey of the U.S. District Court for Arizona ruled on January 15 that Jeff Dee and Jack Herman own the rights to the game based on the 1979 contract they reached with publisher Scott Bizar of Fantasy Games Unlimited. The court also found that Bizar never had the right to sell derivative products or ebook PDF editions of the game, two things he has been actively doing in recent years.
Villains & Vigilantes, one of the first super-hero roleplaying games, was created by Dee and Herman when they were teens in 1979. Bizar published the game and a subsequent 1982 edition and it was commercially successful, selling thousands of copies during a tabletop gaming boom sparked by the popularity of Dungeons & Dragons. But in 1987, Fantasy Games Unlimited curtailed most of its business activities after encountering difficulties with distributors. Bizar became a high school teacher and ran a game store in Gilbert, Ariz., selling the games by mail order and online for part of the last two decades. The store closed in 2007. Bizar shut down Fantasy Games Unlimited as a New York corporation in 1991 and founded a sole proprietorship of the same name in Arizona that continues to market games he published in the '70s and '80s.
In 2010, Dee and Herman started Monkey House Games, LLC and published a new edition of the game. Dee told Ain't It Cool News that they had never been informed by Bizar that Fantasy Games Unlimited, Inc. was dissolved as a corporation, which under the terms of their publishing contract should give them all rights to the game. "[T]he contract clearly stated that if FGU, Inc., ever ceased to exist, then the publication rights reverted back to us," Dee told the site.
Judge Aspey did not rule on that argument, but instead found that the 1979 contract between Bizar, Dee and Herman only gave Bizar the right to publish the 1979 and 1982 editions of the game in printed form. "Because Defendants Dee and Herman hold the copyright to the characters and setting, Defendants presumably may create and market derivative works and obtain the financial benefits therefrom," the ruling states. "Additionally, because the marketing rights to the game do not appear to have been transferred, defendants hold the right to produce and sell or license such items as clothing, video games, card games, and movies or television programs."
Both parties in the lawsuit attempted to register Villains & Vigilantes as a trademark in 2010, prompting a Trademark Trial and Appeal Board case that was put on hold until the suit was decided. Judge Aspey ruled that because Bizar did not sell any copies of Villains & Vigilantes from 1990 to 1994 and 1999 to 2004, he lost any rights he might have had to the trademark. "The court therefore concludes that any right to the trademark 'Villains & Vigilantes' was abandoned by plaintiff at least when he ceased to use the mark from 1999 to 2004," he states.
The ruling calls Bizar the plaintiff and Dee and Herman the defendants because he sued them in Arizona and two other suits were consolidated with that one. Judge Aspey concludes, "[O]ther than possessing a license to produce and market the printed book forms of the 1979 and 1982 Works, Plaintiff has no right to the copyrighted works of Defendants. Specifically, Plaintiff was not licensed to produce or market a PDF form of the 1982 Work or to produce or market such items as comic books, apparel, or other merchandise utilizing copyrighted elements of the Villains and Vigilantes role-playing game created by Defendants."
Bizar is currently selling PDF editions of the game and over 40 supplements through the Fantasy Games Unlimited website and RPG ebook retailers. He's also selling some of those products in print editions on his site. Bizar's attorney Sterling R. Threet appealed the decision Feb. 19 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
With the judgment, Monkey House Games appears likely to be granted its registered trademark and can continue to sell printed and electronic editions of Villains & Vigilantes and related products. Unless he wins the appeal, Bizar cannot sell anything but printed copies of the original 1979 and 1982 editions of the game.
The case could have an impact on Bizar's other games. All of them originally were released in the late '70s and early '80s, long before electronic publishing rights were anticipated by most publishers. In the 2002 case Random House vs. Rosetta Books, the New York state court of appeals ruled that unless a publishing contract explicitly grants ebook rights to the publisher, those rights are retained by the author. Even a contract that gives a publisher rights "in book form" would not be interpreted to cover ebooks. The court ruled, "[T]he law of New York, which determines the scope of Random House's contracts, has arguably adopted a restrictive view of the kinds of 'new uses' to which an exclusive license may apply when the contracting parties do not expressly provide for coverage of such future forms."
Another thing working in Dee and Herman's favor is a provision of copyright law that enables authors to cancel publishing contracts they entered into 35 years earlier. In 2014, authors can employ these termination rights for works published in 1979.
There's an amusingly awkward exchange between Mad Men actor Elisabeth Moss and New York Times interviewer Andrew Goldman in a new Q&A:
Q: You were brought up as, and continue to be, a Scientologist. I feel as if everyone who's not a Scientologist sees it as a cult. Does this bother you?
Moss: It doesn't bother me, but I don't want to talk about it. For me, you gotta make up your own mind about anything in your life, whether it's a relationship or a job or religion -- or Pilates.
Q: You said of your very short marriage to Fred Armisen, "He's so great at doing impersonations, but the greatest impersonation he does is that of a normal person." I read that and thought, Wow, that's rough.
Eight years ago, I registered Pope Benedict XVI's domain name three weeks before he was selected pope. Because of this achievement in pontification, I was invited to be on the Today Show, where Katie Couric called me the popesquatter in front of millions of people.
This made me as big a celebrity as the Virgin Mary viaduct stain -- but it only lasted 36 hours. Just when I started getting used to all the attention and began making plans to hire a publicist and have my teeth capped, a woman fell on the ice singing the National Anthem and sucked up all my fame.
Today at 11:30 a.m. Eastern, 115 Cardinals will lock themselves in the Sistine Chapel and won't come out until they've chosen a new pope. Any male Catholic is eligible -- I'm hoping to get one or two votes in the first round -- and when they have reached a two-thirds majority to select someone, he is asked whether he'll take the job. If he says "accepto," he immediately announces his new name.
In the hopes of continuing my reign as popesquatter, I have the following names as dot-com domains:
John Paul III
Five of these are because I couldn't bring myself to drop them after the last pope-a-palooza. I acquired the sixth, John Paul III, for $75 in 2009.
The Irish betting site Paddy Power has Leo as the favorite at 3-to-1, followed by Peter at 2-to-1, Gregory at 6-to-1 and Pius at 8-to-1.
Don't pray for me to win, because it could be considered tampering.
I wish I had Joseph I, but some other popesquatter wants $1,695 for it. I'm tempted to buy it, but that's too expensive when you factor in the cost of a divorce once my wife finds out.
I like Joseph as a longshot, even though it has never been used before. Because Jesus' dad was a carpenter, Pope Joseph I would have instant working-class cred.
I acquired John Paul III because the Vatican has a tradition of picking a pope who differs from the last one, a sentiment they express with the saying "always follow a fat pope with a skinny pope." Pope John Paul II was charismatic, talented and universally popular -- choosing his name is like picking Justin Timberlake to host Saturday Night Live.
A reporter for the French edition of Slate asked me how much it cost to own these domains. At $13 a year apiece over eight years for six pontiffs, I've paid $624. I never did the math before. Good lord that's a waste of money.
In keeping with tradition, if I win I will issue a list of demands.
I completed my first novel and entered it in the Amazon Breakthrough contest last month. A few days ago I learned that it advanced to the second round along with 399 other thrillers based on this pitch:
No marriage is without its secrets, but Clemson University professor Jessup Clark accidentally uncovers one that threatens more than his happiness.
A discovered airplane ticket stub reveals that his wife Shani lied to him and took a flight to Chicago when she claimed to be in Atlanta for business. When he confronts his wife about what looks like an affair, she undertakes a ruthless campaign to destroy his life, take away his job and rob him of his freedom. A happy marriage shatters as she concocts a domestic violence charge and has a mysterious associate punch her brutally in the face, telling the police she was hit by Jessup. A loaded gun is planted in his car, scaring his workplace after a tip is called in to security before he arrives one morning. A story is planted in the newspaper, sharing Jessup's darkest family secret to make him look even more guilty.
It makes no sense that Shani, a loving spouse and the dignified daughter of academics, would engage in an extramarital affair -- much less go to such extreme lengths to destroy Jessup after getting caught.
While his life is being taken apart piece by piece and the police begin pursuing him over the crimes for which she has framed him, Jessup must uncover the real reason she is doing this -- an event that occurred 10 years earlier at an Afghanistan tribal leader's compound in the Shah-i-Kot Valley.
THE ENGINEER is a thriller about marriage and other disasters.
On March 12, I find out if it's one of the 100 thrillers to reach the next round based on what judges thought of the first 5,000 words. The first prize is a $50,000 publishing contract.
This paragraph in a Wall Street Journal story on Lance Armstrong does a nice job of demonstrating why I hate the use of honorifics such as "Mr." on second reference in news stories:
Mr. Armstrong's Austin lawyer, Mr. Herman, called Mr. Tygart and offered to dispatch Mr. Armstrong's legal team to Colorado to meet with him. Mr. Tygart said he wanted Mr. Armstrong to come. When Mr. Herman pushed back, Mr. Tygart called the meeting off.
This practice has been dying out in American newspapers, but the New York Times is keeping it alive, though with some weird rules. Osama Bin Laden was Mr. Bin Laden in the paper for a while, but now like Hitler and Stalin he gets to be more readable in news stories than the average mister or missus.
Christopher Tolkien, the son of J.R.R. Tolkien, gave his first interview to the media last year after being his father's literary executor for four decades. Speaking to the French newspaper Le Monde, the 87-year-old expressed great unhappiness with the Peter Jackson movies even though they helped sell 25 million copies of the books in three years, a 1,000 percent increase:
Invited to meet Peter Jackson, the Tolkien family preferred not to. Why? "They eviscerated the book by making it an action movie for young people aged 15 to 25," Christopher says regretfully. "And it seems that The Hobbit will be the same kind of film."
This divorce has been systematically driven by the logic of Hollywood. "Tolkien has become a monster, devoured by his own popularity and absorbed into the absurdity of our time," Christopher Tolkien observes sadly. "The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has overwhelmed me. The commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of the creation to nothing. There is only one solution for me: to turn my head away."
I grew up reading Tolkien and eagerly attended the first Lord of the Rings movie. I haven't seen the rest yet, but the original film did not cheapen the books, which were full of action that appealed to young readers. When I was a teen, I did not devour The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings because of their "seriousness," though I suspect I would value that upon a rereading. I don't see how any movie or TV adaptation could damage the experience of reading the book on which it's based, particularly an enduring classic like the novels of Tolkien. The words are still there in the proper order.
Amazingly, the studio that made Jackson's films told Tolkien's estate they didn't make any money -- so it wasn't entitled to a cut of profits. "We were receiving statements saying that the producers did not owe the Tolkien Estate a dime," said Cathleen Blackburn, an attorney for the estate.
I hope the accountants were mumbling "my precioussssss" to themselves as they cooked the books.
Associated Press has quietly launched a beta of the AP News Archive, a free searchable database of AP news stories that goes back as far as 1974. The archive comprises at least 1.5 million articles at present, based on the approximate number of results returned in a Google search of the domain apnewsarchive.com.
The AP touts the archive as being more accurate than that dodgy, not-to-be-trusted Internet:
If you've tried to do historical research online, you know that there's a lot of misinformation floating around the Internet. It can be time-consuming, to say the least, to comb through dozens of sites and search results to find the information you're looking for.
Imagine that instead, you could find accurate, reliable historical information quickly and easily, all on one site, and all up to the highest standards of journalism.
Though the archive stretches back decades, I had trouble finding subjects I'd expect to be there -- such as the Drudge Retort's fair use copyright dispute with AP five years ago. I'm not in the database at all, which hurts.
I did find a few stories that my wife Mary Moewe or I covered while we were Fort Worth Star-Telegram stringers going to the University of North Texas in Denton from 1988 to 1991:
A story I was hoping to find was one that Mary broke about a youth soccer player from Lewisville, Texas. The girl was so good in a playoff game that two dads from the opposing team demanded that referees conduct a "panty check" to confirm that she wasn't a boy. (Thankfully, this did not happen.)
The story, which went all over the planet, turns up on the Baltimore Sun. Mary got great quotes from the 10-year-old girl:
Natasha Dennis, a 4-foot-5-inch fourth-grader with short brown hair, admits to being boyish. "I hate dresses," she said.
Still, Natasha, who has changed her hairstyle, said she did not appreciate the men's accusations.
"I think they should go somewhere and check and see if they have anything between their ears," she said.