TSR vs The Internet (ver 0.3)

Being a compilation of the debate concerning the rights of fans of the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Roleplaying Game System to distribute fan-authored, AD&D-related works free of charge vs. TSR's rights to safeguard its trademarks and copyrights by controlling all such distribution.

Original Foreword

March 1995 To whom it may concern, This is an unfinished summary of the debate concerning TSR's policy toward the Internet and toward the electronic fan-authored publications which are for use with its Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game System. Despite personal biases, I have attempted to present both sides as fairly as I am able. If you take exception to any statements or would like to add your own, please write me. Your comments may be included in the next version of this work, which will hopefully be released toward the end of March. Jim Vassilakos jimv@cs.ucr.edu Highland, California


Ever since the days of the first roleplaying game, RPGers have delighted in sharing their creativity. Whether through swapping rules or sharing modules or even creating entire supplements for their favorite game systems, these gamers have nurtured the hobby at the grassroots level. In recent years, the Internet, a vast world-spanning network of computers, has become an increasingly productive hive of activity. Gamers from across the globe have worked together to create all sorts of online publications, and these publications have been distributed free of charge.

However, times are changing. In late July of 1994, TSR, the makers of the AD&D Roleplaying Game System, got Internet access, and along with it, access to hundreds of articles, optional rules, and supplements for the AD&D game, works which were written, compiled, and edited by their most loyal customers. TSR responded in four ways:

  1. By asserting that these publications infringe on TSR trademarks and copyrights.
  2. By forming a license-arrangement with Multi-Player Games Network (MPGN), granting MPGN explicit permission to make net- authored TSR-related material available via anonymous ftp.
  3. By strongly urging all other anonymous ftp sites carrying AD&D related material to stop doing so.
  4. By advising all individuals wishing to make their AD&D- related works available to the general public via ftp, to upload said materials to MPGN and attach a statement in which the author asserts that only TSR or MPGN may distribute the submitted work.
Many roleplayers on the net were incensed by this policy, and a debate ensued in which some argued that TSR is attempting to unfairly undermine the legal and free distribution of creative works pertaining to AD&D because they see their own fans as a competing enterprise. Others have argued that TSR is within its rights, however.

Furthermore, prior to the date of these announcements, MPGN had already copied a good quantity of AD&D-related material from the now-defunct "Greyhawk" ftp site. This "Greyhawk" material had been put up for ftp under the condition that it be freely distributed. MPGN attached statements to the directories of the material it took from Greyhawk, asserting that only it and TSR has the right to distribute this material. This action caused some roleplayers on the net to conclude that TSR & MPGN are attempting to steal the distribution rights of these works which previously were, in effect, in the public domain. Again, many have argued that this isn't the case, and that authors may request that their material be removed from MPGN if they don't like TSR's and MPGN's assertions regarding the distribution rights, however, since much of this material has been written by people who are no longer on the Internet, MPGN continues to hold a good quantity of material which it took from Greyhawk.

The Debate

  1. Shorts Heard Around the World
    1. TSR's Letters to an FTP Site
    2. TSR's Initial Post to the Internet
    3. TSR Details its Policy
    4. MPGN Announces Exclusive License
    5. MPGN: About the Connect Limits
  2. Initial Response from the Internet
    1. First Inklings of the Debate
    2. The Big Fear about the "Disclaimer"
    3. Speculations as to a Hidden Agenda
    4. Are they trying to steal our work?
    5. The Curious Origin of the Drow
    6. So Much For Freedom
    7. Policies of Other RPG Publishers
    8. TSR Employees 'fess-up
    9. Forever Lost
  3. Legal Arguments
    1. Key Questions of the Debate
    2. First Inklings of Legal Research
    3. Tennis Balls & "They Told Us To"
    4. Apology for TSR
    5. TSR Legal's Response to the Debate
    6. Actual Correspondence w/ TSR Legal
    7. Joel's Treatise
    8. Jeff's Book Report
    9. Arguments on Fair Use
    10. On the Nature of Trademarks
    11. Jeff's Treatise
    12. Nolo Attorney Stephen Fishman
  4. Looking to the Future
    1. Jeff's Letter to the EFF
    2. A Long Talk with Rob Miracle
    3. A Survey Regarding MPGN
    4. Trying to Get Rob to Respond