Copyright and Your Favorite Roleplaying Books

You’re probably like every other roleplayer in existence (myself included): you love to roleplay, you want to try out various roleplaying games, but you just don’t have the money to keep up with them all. So maybe you go looking for someone who offers your favorite RPG books for free download. Or maybe your favorite RPG book is out of print, and you think that’s a shame–after all, it would be doing the authors a favor if you put it on line and shared it with the world, right?

Common Misperception #1

Believe it or not, some of your favorite, long out-of-print books might not be totally down for the count. There are authors and companies that wait for years (sometimes even a decade or two) until they think the time is right for some reason, and then bring a book back into print.

Unfortunately, if you’ve scanned in and posted that out of print book for the world to download, they’ll probably change their minds. The property isn’t worth the money it takes to print, usually, if it’s available free to everyone already.

So rather than helping out your favorite game, you might have just killed its chances at coming back.

A Quick Lesson in The Rights of Copyright-Holders

Sometimes people want their old games out of print for a reason. Maybe they thought that old property sucked. Maybe it was co-authored by their now-dead sister, and they don’t want to be reminded of that. Regardless, it should be their decision to leave the property out of print. You might think that’s the wrong decision to make, but it’s their decision. That’s what it means to be the copyright-holder.

If you care about the rights of the copyright holders, then be careful where you look for free books. Check out the publishing company’s website. If they don’t have the book up for free download, or have a link to someone who does, then it probably isn’t legally available for free. If you download the book from someone else, you are breaking the law.

Common Misperception #2

Also believe it or not, most game companies are not large companies. Many of them can count their employees on the fingers of one hand. Even the “large” ones aren’t that big. The RPG market is tiny, and it runs on a frighteningly small margin. Companies go out of business all the time. Even the “giants” of the industry have to lay people off with disturbing regularity in order to stay in business.

So you’re sitting there downloading a pirated copy of the latest GURPS book (or whatever), and thinking to yourself, “it’s a big company. They can afford it. Besides, I didn’t have the money to buy it anyway, so they aren’t actually losing a sale.”

Wrong on both counts, unfortunately.

Some game lines run on so small a margin that even a handful of sales could be enough to push them over the line into folding over and dying. Ever wondered why it is that those books you like are out of print? Odds are it’s because their sales weren’t high enough. Every sale counts.

And although it may seem like your single download couldn’t possibly hurt, it does. The more support and publicity pirates get, the more they’ll pirate. The more hits their web sites get, the higher their search engine rankings get, and the more the books will get downloaded. The more widely such things are available, the more sales the company will lose. The more sales they lose, the more likely they are to have to kill your favorite game line or go out of business entirely.

Stopping Piracy?

Do I think I’m going to stop RPG piracy with this article? Of course not. The real heavy-duty pirates don’t care who they’re hurting. But I know there are quite a few enthusiastic roleplayers who put up games or download games because they mistakenly believe that they’re helping — or at least that they aren’t hurting anyone.

Keep in mind that the copyright notice in a book is there for a reason. If the authors didn’t think that unauthorized posting of a book were theft, they wouldn’t have copyrighted their work. A lot of people don’t realize that they might well be destroying the chances that a book will get re-published simply by putting it up for download.

If you really want that out-of-print book to be available, then go talk to the company that published it. Ask them if they’d be willing to post the work on their web site if you scanned it in for them, possibly with a link back to your web site in return for doing the scanning for them.

If they say no, then do as they say — they might be considering bringing that old book back for all you know! Take the opportunity to let them know that there is interest in re-printing. And remember: if you really enjoy a roleplaying game, then don’t help to put the company or person that developed it out of business. That’s pretty poor thanks for doing the work that you’re enjoying the results of.

Posted in Gaming

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