Does anyone know the legal situation for Blackmoor?

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Does anyone know the legal situation for Blackmoor?

Postby Big Mac » Sat Nov 19, 2016 3:48 pm

Does anyone know who has the rights to Blackmoor?

I know that Dave Arneson published a Blackmoor book after leaving TSR and then TSR published the DA series after that.

I know that, during the 3rd Edition Era, Blackmoor was published by a 3rd Party Publisher (with Dragonlance and Ravenloft being published by different 3rd Party Publishers). I know that Blackmoor was a "d20 System" thing (while Dragonlance and Ravenloft both had the official Dungeons & Dragons logo on them).

I've heard that 4th Edition Blackmoor publication got shut down following the death of Dave Arneson. I've heard a rumor that was down to rights reverting to WotC or something of that ilk.

But if WotC own Blackmoor, why did the 3e stuff not have the official D&D logo on it? :?

It doesn't add up somehow.

Anyhoo, I'd love to see Blackmoor coming back as a Print on Demand thing, to make it possible of fans (either fans of the newer stuff or the older stuff) to be able to buy anything they want to get (without needing to pay eBay Bandits a ton of cash).

Are any of the Blackmoor products in legal limbo? Are any of the Blackmoor products in the clear to be published as PoD products? Does anyone need to do a deal with Dave Arneson's estate and/or WotC to get things back in print?
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Re: Does anyone know the legal situation for Blackmoor?

Postby Dread Delgath » Sat Nov 19, 2016 4:35 pm

From Wikipedia wrote:"After the Basic D&D game and its Mystara setting were discontinued, Zeitgeist Games, where Arneson worked prior to his death, produced an updated d20 System version of Blackmoor, Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign Setting, published by Goodman Games in 2004.[9] Goodman and Zeitgeist also produced Blackmoor adventure modules. In 2009 Zeitgeist released a Blackmoor campaign guide for the 4th edition of D&D.[10]"


...and then...

Dave Arneson's Blackmoor: The MMRPG wrote:There was also an ongoing massively multiplayer role playing game campaign organized by Zeitgeist games, which is similar in form to the Living Campaigns organized by the RPGA.[11] The version of the campaign for D&D 3.5 ended in February 2009 at Megacon.[citation needed]"


I have some of the free stuff released during this time period. Although I was too far away and too late to play in the MMRPG, I planned on mining it for useful info for my own Blackmoor homebrew campaign.

Rather than see the rights go to any company who may or may not write more official material for Blackmoor, like Greyhawk, I'd rather see more home campaign creativity, and at least release just enough of the Blackmoor rights to see material published on DM's Guild, or some other outlet for legal 'homebrews'.
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Re: Does anyone know the legal situation for Blackmoor?

Postby Big Mac » Sat Nov 19, 2016 9:18 pm

Dread Delgath wrote:
From Wikipedia wrote:"After the Basic D&D game and its Mystara setting were discontinued, Zeitgeist Games, where Arneson worked prior to his death, produced an updated d20 System version of Blackmoor, Dave Arneson's Blackmoor Campaign Setting, published by Goodman Games in 2004.[9] Goodman and Zeitgeist also produced Blackmoor adventure modules. In 2009 Zeitgeist released a Blackmoor campaign guide for the 4th edition of D&D.[10]"


...and then...

Dave Arneson's Blackmoor: The MMRPG wrote:There was also an ongoing massively multiplayer role playing game campaign organized by Zeitgeist games, which is similar in form to the Living Campaigns organized by the RPGA.[11] The version of the campaign for D&D 3.5 ended in February 2009 at Megacon.[citation needed]"


Yep. That's the people that made the d20 System stuff. :)

Dread Delgath wrote:I have some of the free stuff released during this time period. Although I was too far away and too late to play in the MMRPG, I planned on mining it for useful info for my own Blackmoor homebrew campaign.


Our friends over at The Comeback Inn have been authorised to allow Blackmoor fans to download any MMRPG episodes that they missed out on.

Dread Delgath wrote:Rather than see the rights go to any company who may or may not write more official material for Blackmoor, like Greyhawk, I'd rather see more home campaign creativity, and at least release just enough of the Blackmoor rights to see material published on DM's Guild, or some other outlet for legal 'homebrews'.


The copyright of a document and the IP rights of a product line always belongs to someone. And they are the person who decides if it can be sold. Nothing will go up on DMs Guild, without an owner to authorise that.

There will come a time in the future, when Blackmoor becomes public domain. Things will change then. But I'm not sure I'll still be alive then.

In the meantime, people can continue to publish non-profit fan material for Blackmoor.
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Re: Does anyone know the legal situation for Blackmoor?

Postby Le Noir Faineant » Sun Nov 20, 2016 12:11 am

Basically, Blackmoor is as deep as you can get into copyright hell. Not kidding, probably one of the most convoluted cases world-wide, at least in print publishing.

From 1971 to, essentially, 2009, or even later, material with the World of Blackmoor (the IP) was released in six or seven different instances, under a number of partly contradicting license agreements. - Or, rather, what Dave Arneson, or his representants, did, was, on multiple occasions, to sell full property ownership of documents that all shared vaguely the same intellectual content, about the world of Blackmoor (the setting, in this instance). Now, the crunch question, if you will, is how full property ownership of documents describing content dealing with the setting also implies an ownership of the brand.

And that, first and foremost, makes this nearly impossible to solve for us, as fans, because we don't have the corresponding paperwork. But also for somebody with access to most, if not all of the legal documents, this is a tricky question, because Dave Arneson's OWN use of the IP varied throughout his life: So, he did let TSR use part of the Blackmoor IP, including the name; then, a few years later, he published the setting, as a whole, through another company (Judges Guild), only to use material related to both the IP and the setting in later collaborations during the 80s, from Adventures in Fantasy, to the DA series, and to the articles that were published in DW Magazine.

Now, what Mr Arneson himself thought about the copyright status of his setting is pretty clear: Because he refrained from using any of the IPs (careful, now) related to the Blackmoor setting 1987 to 2002, when he re-licensed the IP from WotC. So, one might argue that it was Mr Arneson's legal intention to have all the Blackmoor-related IP with WotC, through the sale of his manuscripts to TSR, if not as early as 1973, then as of 1984. There are even rumors that Mr Arneson that the re-licensing agreement of 2002 involved a purchase of more setting-related content by WotC, to sort of round up the IP-related content.



- Still following? Okay.



Because now it gets tricky: Nearly everyone who ever had ever published anything related to the Blackmoor IP has claimed that all the property items that were exclusive to their respective publications, or were their own creation, formed part of the the respective intellectual property of the respective publishers. - And while that would be technically correct, it's practically very, very hard to work with those property items outside of the established content in relation to the licensed IP: Because you have to prove that you're not marketing your items via the other party's IP.

So, a statement like the one which Code Monkey Publishing gave in 2009, in which the company stated that they would essentially port all the elements they had added the world of Blackmoor (the setting, again), to a new gaming world, is already borderline unlawful, because that way, one may argue that they're, in such a case, de-facto still using the license, albeit in an indirect way.
The same goes for any declarations concerning older Blackmoor-related IP: Yes, you can theoretically publish specific property items outside of a general ownership of the related bigger IP, but you would have to make very clear that you're not selling the same actual content (the setting) as any competing IP holder, or you're making yourself susceptible to accusations of copyright theft.
- And since none of the other Blackmoor (setting)-related copyright holders has come forward and published anything related to their IPs since the mid-80s, and one might argue that the setting is still an item of public interest mainly because of the work done by WotC: Good luck to any of those small, one- or two-man publishing companies defending that they're really selling an autonomous product, in court against the legal apparatus that Hasbro can bring to the game. (So, this is why we'll likely never see a re-edition of the FFC without the prior consent by Hasbro, and why DWP will likely never reissue "The Garbage Pits of Despair", even though it would theoretically within their legal means: Nobody wants to risk a lawsuit.)

As to ZGG, they have made many claims, and many pretty shaky ones. For example, it's very questionable if they, and not the respective writers, hold the copyright to the old MMRPG episodes, because the paperwork they sent their contributors was pretty messy. (I wrote an adventure for the MMRPG, too, so I know first-hand.) The same goes for other, unpublished parts of the setting, like the intended Blackmoor sequel "The Age of the Wolf". So, why they might think that they own that material, their claim mainly stands because nobody has yet cared to contest it. Which, then, would open another, wholly different kind of Pandora's Box.


Myself, I'm not to hopeful to that we will ever see something related to BM, again - not so much because of the copyright hell that I just described, but because you can still purchase most of the literal texts in PDF format, at least those by TSR, and by ZGG - which already amounts to about 20 books that are legally available via PDF sales, and will remain to be so.
So, if there should be an increase in demand, there would already be an existing market that, together with the about 100 free documents that also float around the web, and could also keep people engaged for a long time. Like, new, ambitious material is always welcome - but, especially with BM - like with Greyhawk, by the way - we have almost content overflow, at the moment.


So, the content is already out there, folks - what we now need is a general interest an appreciation within the overall RPG community, if Blackmoor is ever to come back. Actual play, and new energy - like I myself wrote when I declared my own, decade-long Blackmoor project as finally closed:

http://blackmoor.mystara.net/forums/vie ... =22&t=8458

For the future of our community, of which I obviously still remain a member, and for the future of Blackmoor, as a brand, I, as a fan, remain to wish for two things:

First, that the setting doesn't become a museum; rerunning classic scenarios over and over can be great sport, for sure. But it gets boring with time. For a campaign world, or, rather, a community, to be truly alive, it needs an occasional dose of innovation. So, don't be afraid to change things, to make them work for your game. I never met Mr Arneson, but from what I heard about him, I don't think he'd be afraid, either.

And second, I'd wish - and this was kind of previsible, wasn't it?- that whenever, if ever, Blackmoor gets picked up again as a brand, whoever becomes its manager, will do it justice. For me, and for most that were with me during these last ten years, gaming, online, like offline, is a labor of love. So, please, let's keep it like that, so one day, in the future, looking back, I don't have to think of mine and my friends' efforts as a mistake.
Last edited by Le Noir Faineant on Sun Nov 20, 2016 12:18 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Does anyone know the legal situation for Blackmoor?

Postby Le Noir Faineant » Sun Nov 20, 2016 12:13 am

Woof, I got a bit carried away there, sorry. :D
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Re: Does anyone know the legal situation for Blackmoor?

Postby Havard » Sun Nov 20, 2016 8:17 pm

A very good and detailed rundown by Le Noir Faineant.

However, I think we could boil it down to a much more simple situation:

WotC owns Blackmoor.





Now, as Faineant mentions, there could be some modificiations to this statements. Depending on the specifics in unknnown contracts, WotC may or may not have the rights to making use of the specific contents of the d20 Blackmoor Books and, Garbage Pits of Despair and the First Fantasy Campaign. However, I would suggest that even if WotC is not able to use those specifics, it would not matter too much. The main reason for this being that such a great part of the d20 Blackmoor Books were drawn from the DA modules (still owned by WotC). So there is nothing preventing WotC from publishing new Blackmoor material should they wish to do so. All the characters, name, history and background of the setting belongs to WotC.

I don't really see this as a particularly dramatic or complicated situation.

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Re: Does anyone know the legal situation for Blackmoor?

Postby Havard » Sun Nov 20, 2016 8:53 pm

Big Mac wrote:Are any of the Blackmoor products in legal limbo? Are any of the Blackmoor products in the clear to be published as PoD products? Does anyone need to do a deal with Dave Arneson's estate and/or WotC to get things back in print?


The fact that we don't know their status does not mean they are in legal limbo. But it is possible that WotC cannnot at this time make use of the d20 Blackmoor Books. If so, it would be because ZGG has some claim to that specific content. I doubt it would cost WotC the world to buy out any claims ZGG would have to those books, but it boils down to whether WotC will be bothered to do so or not.

The other two products Faineant mentions that WotC probably cannot put up for publication at this time are the First Fantasy Campaign and the Garbage Pits of Despair. Although they are some of my most treasured items, I am not sure they would be considered vital for the more casual fan. I'd guess that WotC would have to make a deal with the Arneson Estate for those items.

The Blackmoor items that are cleared for publication are the DA modules and Supplement II. Speaking of PoD, I think we may see these items up for PoD pretty soon, assuming this venture is proving to be viable for WotC.

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Re: Does anyone know the legal situation for Blackmoor?

Postby Le Noir Faineant » Mon Nov 21, 2016 6:39 pm

Havard wrote:I don't really see this as a particularly dramatic or complicated situation.



To be clear, of course there is nothing "dramatic" about the situation. It's just super-convoluted, because it's all based . It would become an issue if WotC ownership of the brand was contested; as it is, it just means that Blackmoor is on indefinite WotC lockdown; unless someone, like, say, Mark Rein-Hagen, who has the financial muscle to stand through a full lawsuit, decided to contest the claim.

That said, I don't think that Blackmoor will stay unused, forever. If D&D, as a running brand, still has a meaning in the 2020s, I'm pretty sure we'll see some reeditions around D&D's 50th birthday. As an evolving setting, outside of a soft reboot for new books, I think Blackmoor will be done for the time being, though, unless, whatever, the license is released into a de-facto public domain status. - Which is not completely out of the impossible, given the direction the D&D brand has taken, lately. I won't hold my breath, though.
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Re: Does anyone know the legal situation for Blackmoor?

Postby Havard » Mon Nov 21, 2016 8:22 pm

Le Noir Faineant wrote:
Havard wrote:I don't really see this as a particularly dramatic or complicated situation.



To be clear, of course there is nothing "dramatic" about the situation. It's just super-convoluted, because it's all based . It would become an issue if WotC ownership of the brand was contested; as it is, it just means that Blackmoor is on indefinite WotC lockdown; unless someone, like, say, Mark Rein-Hagen, who has the financial muscle to stand through a full lawsuit, decided to contest the claim.

That said, I don't think that Blackmoor will stay unused, forever. If D&D, as a running brand, still has a meaning in the 2020s, I'm pretty sure we'll see some reeditions around D&D's 50th birthday. As an evolving setting, outside of a soft reboot for new books, I think Blackmoor will be done for the time being, though, unless, whatever, the license is released into a de-facto public domain status. - Which is not completely out of the impossible, given the direction the D&D brand has taken, lately. I won't hold my breath, though.


Well, given the fact that WotC is now changing to PoD, I expect us to see the DA modules effectively back in print fairly soon. This may also create some motivation for WotC to reassert control over the D20 Blackmoor Books, although it is unlikely it will be a high priority for them of course.

As to new books, that possibility might not be as remote as it once seemed if the speculation in the D&D Novel line thread about WotC's shifting policies is to be believed. If WotC evolves into becoming 100% a brand manager company, it is possible that all the settings will once again be lisenced out. This seems to be like a more likely scenario than WotC sitting on the lisences untill they have been completely devalued and become public domain.

The idea of anyone gathering the funds to wrest a any rights away from Hasbro seems even more remote to me.

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Re: Does anyone know the legal situation for Blackmoor?

Postby Le Noir Faineant » Tue Nov 22, 2016 12:56 am

In terms of probability, I'm not banking on that, either - it's one of the reasons why I decided to move on.

I also don't think WotC will become what people call a "brand management company" - at least not as I understand the term; only by releasing books on their own, they can control part of the market. Their problem is that the market is shifting, after 50 years, to a different kind of organized play (one of their business model's corner stones), and, more importantly, to a different kind of fantasy. Since pretty much the Blume Brothers Era, D&D's business model has always been the same - and when branching out to new media failed (the movie, the MMO), the brand was still strong enough to resist that downward pull, mainly because the RPGA was so strong, and because the novel lines were still popular. - But ever since 4e, each segmentation of the market has taken away from WotC's customer base; that, and the overall aging of their brand finally force them to adapt. - And mind you, they've done quite well, so far, with the D&D audiobooks, for example.

The overall question for WotC will be, rather than if their turn from a developer into a pure seller of media, whether they want to develop the existing material further, or not. From what I gather, they're opting for not advancing any timelines, for the moment, and doing a soft reboot for the Realms... And possibly one or two other settings. Not a bad strategy, especially if there will a new movie version, for cinema or TV, any time soon. - Imagine what a Drizz't series, or even something based on Greyhawk could do! :shock:
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