So, several months ago I wrote up my experiences with TSR in the early days of the internet. A few days ago, I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Plot Points, interviewing Shannon Appelcline, and was surprised to hear someone else involved in those long ago events.
While I had some bits of history he did not (e.g. the email TSR sent to me and related names and dates) I realize I left out some details. Also, in my searching, I found another account of these events, and a detailed web site and I found Rob Repp, himself.
One difference between our cases is that his site was devoted entirely to non D&D games. Which means he could laugh off the threatening letters. My site, on the other hand, covered many systems and there was a lot of D&D content, mainly because that was what I played. When I saw something on USENET of interest, I would archive it on the FTP site. As such, the D&D parts of my site were probably the only materials which I personally read. None of it was directly copied from any TSR materials. None of it, in my opinion, violated any copyrights.
But what was on there? Those files are likely long gone. I think I have a DAT tape containing those files, but finding someone with such a tape drive is unlikely, and I doubt the tape would be readable after all these years. The things I do remember where things like new magic items and spells, alternate critical hits tables, alternate rules, new character sheets, new classes, etc. A big section of the site was campaign write ups, basically transcripts of sessions. Now that I think about it, the modern day equivalent would be all the live-play podcasts which are quite common nowadays (my current favorite is The Titans of All’Terra) But at that time, my favorite was Navero which, coincidentally, I finally found on rpg.net, which is the site Shannon runs.
For reasons I explained in my last post on this subject, I had entirely checked out of the discussions following the lobotomizing of my FTP site. I was angry and demoralized that something I had worked for years on could be destroyed so easily, so I walked away. That was probably also contributed to my giving up role-playing games entirely a few years later.
But after hearing the podcast with Shannon, my curiosity compelled me to go look at the messages on rec.games.frp.dnd, see what I had missed, and piece together a larger timeline. What follows is quite lengthy and probably of little interest to most people, but it interested me, so here it is.
12-May-94: This post from Rob Repp shows the first rumblings of trouble:
Please be advised that every element of our gaming system must be licensed before you can incorporate it into a piece of software. This includes game tables, item descriptions, and any copyrighted monster/character names. Feel free to contact me by email regarding licensing. Most of the authors that have written AD&D(R) software in the past neglected this step, and we're most interested in preventing that from happening in the future. Thanks! Rob Repp Manager, Digital Projects Group TSR, Inc. AOL: TSR Inc InterNet: email@example.com InterNet: firstname.lastname@example.org CompuServe: 76217,761 GEnie: TSR.Online
15-Jun-94: Apparently, the anti-TSR sentiments predated all this, and the T$R epithet was already in use as shown by this collection of rants which included Rob Repp’s name in an attempt to get TSR’s attention.
28-Jun-94: Someone made an ill-advised post.
In article <email@example.com> John Scott, j...@thepoint.com writes: >Anyone know of an ftp site that has a monstrous compendium availible for >download? Thanks in advance. (Please email to j...@thepoint.com). I'd be interested in knowing about this one myself. :) Rob Repp | InterNet: firstname.lastname@example.org Manager, Digital Projects Group | InterNet: email@example.com TSR, Inc. | CompuServe: 76217,761 __________________________________ | GEnie: TSR.Online AOL: TSR Inc All opinions are my own, not TSR's | 414-248-3625 Fax 414-248-0389
So basically the original poster was asking “could a blatant copyright infringer please stand up?”, followed by the copyright owner expressing an interest in such a person, and surprisingly, someone did so a few weeks later (14-Jul-94):
It is available at ftp/mpgn.com, version II should be out soon.
Also, I should note that USENET custom at the time was to keep ‘signatures’ to less than four lines, so Rob Repp did trim his down since his first post, but I did find the last line to be most amusing. Though some people tried to argue that they could ignore everything he said since he wasn’t speaking for TSR. Nice try.
18-Jul-94: Then Rob Repp posts a message about copyright violation including this bit:
We ARE aware of the fact that people want to be able to share their creative efforts with others, and we're trying to find a way to manage licenses to allow this without giving it all away.. In the meantime, any software, netbook, etc. which uses TSR copyrighted names, material, etc. is unlawful.
A lengthy discussion ensues, more heat than light, as is often the case.
21-Jul-94: Someone involved in the previous discussion asked Rob Repp for clarifications, and shared the email thread, which ended with this:
Let me include a copy of a policy letter we just drafted recently. Here goes: As we have begun to explore the online community in depth, we've found many avid gamers and fans. We're interested in providing you with the best in gaming products that meet our own standards of quality, as well as suiting your needs and interests. We know that many gamers develop campaigns and other materials entirely for their own use. We think this is great! However, when gamers begin sharing their creations with the public, whether for profit or not, they are infringing our rights. If we don't make an earnest attempt to prevent this infringement of our trademarks and copyrights, our ownership of these extremely valuable assets may be jeopardized. A gamer in this situation has a few options. He can strip every TSR trademark and all copyright from his creations before putting them in public (i.e. "genericize" the adventure). Or he can share his creations with the public in a way that is licensed and approved by TSR. This is the more desirable solution, as it protects our rights, and still leaves room for gamers to share their creative expressions. Sometime very soon, we're going to create a place where gamers can legally upload and share their creations, including modules, stories and software. At that time, I'd be happy to work with you to give your product a base to work from. We are definitely interested in fostering goodwill among customers, and we'd like to see our upcoming effort as a pilot project. Eventually, we want gamers to be able to turn to TSR in cyberspace as easily as they do in a hobby store.
28-Jul-94:This is when emails were sent the the sysadmins at PSU, as I related in my previous post. It appears Shannon got the same email the same day, forwarded it to a mailing list which then found its way to rec.games.frp.dnd the next day. As can be expected there was a firestorm of discussion after this. I doubt I read any of it, as final exams were a few weeks away (writing and grading final exams is more work than taking one).
1-Aug-94: Amid the firestorm, people were trying to understand the fine line between fair use and copyright infringement, and Rob replied as follows
> Again, this is all missing the point. TSR can't sue me if I publish a > 'generic' adventure with the monster 'goblin' in it. But if I list that > goblin as having AC 7, 1-4 hp, THAC0 20, Intelligence Low, etc, then I'm > using TSR's copyrighted monster. If I needed the Monstrous Manual or > other TSR product to get the information for 'goblins', then I've > probably violated copyright. Note, I am NOT saying TSR can copyright > terms like Armor Class, Intelligence, etc. But, if I get the information > for goblins from a TSR product, and republish it in another form, I've > created a derivative work, and am thus liable. This interpreatation is correct. I checked with legal, and you've got it.
But clearly, Rob was getting overwhelmed by the response:
Due to the large volume of mail we're receiving, we're not replying to most of it personally. Copyright comments and legal questions will be archived for later examination. Policy statements will be posted to rec.games.frp.dnd. Customer service and gaming questions will be routed internally and answered as quickly as possible.
I can understand this, I could not read all the messages in the firestorm that was going on, then or now. I am just cherry picking the interesting bits.
4-Aug-94: Rob posted that he would be at Gen Con
For those of you who aren't entirely certain I exist, I'll be on a panel discussion regarding online services at GEN CON. David Goss, Bruce Nesmith and I will discuss proposed projects, future plans, and take questions from the audience. See you there! :)
I really wonder what happened there. Was anybody there?
8-Aug-94: Some posts started speculating that Rob Repp may not exist or may not be a TSR employee and this whole thing was a prank to which Rob responded:
For the curious: Yes, I did PlaneScape's border art. I do exist, and I am your internet contact. Snail mail can be directed to: TSR, Inc. POB 756 201 Sheridan Springs Rd. Lake Geneva, WI 53147 ATTN: Rob Repp, Digital Projects I did, in a fit of pique at being repeatedly misquoted, deny someone's recent request to quote me wholesale. Please feel free to paraphrase the gist of that response. Actual verbose policy statements and clarifications will be forthcoming, complete with a request to repost them where-ever you like. Any opinions on the border art?
30-Aug-94: By now, it seems Rob Repp was keeping his head down amidst the flamewars, but when someone tried to get him to respond, he did so:
Maybe I'm just ignoring you... :) Nope, I'm pretty sure that's not it. I must be busy, or maybe I just have nothing to contribute. Hmmmm, maybe I was in an accident. Nope. Ummm... "When I have nothing to say, my lips are sealed." David Byrne Official releases forthcoming. Meanwhile, I'm quietly watching the commentary go by. That's all, nothing too sinister. Generally, when addressing a crowd, you should say only what needs saying, lest you draw fire. In fact, this comment is probably a mistake, but I couldn't resist. Have a nice day!
6-Sep-94: The compiler of the Net.Monstrous.Compendium apparently had worked to get explicit permission from TSR and apparently got it.
The flamewars are still ongoing, though tapering off a bit. One person questioned how much this is hurting TSR, to which someone said “I’m sure they’ll survive”. Little did they know what would happen in the next few years. Someone else called for a boycott.
Later that same day, Rob posted TSR’s official corporate statement:
REGARDING TRADEMARKED AND COPYRIGHTED MATERIAL USED ON-LINE: TSR is now an active member of the on-line gaming community. Since Day-One, TSR products and artwork have been developed by creative people employed or hired by TSR. This has resulted in the creation of an extensive line of products, identities, names, rules, game mechanics, logos, and standards of quality, to name a few. The gaming products, novels, and publications are designed to encourage resourcefulness and creativity in play. All of these created properties are owned by TSR through national trademarks and copyrights which protect their publication electronically or published on paper. When they are published by anyone other than TSR, Inc. or their licensees, this publication becomes an infringement to TSR trademarks and copyrights. However, the gamers, designers, writers, artists, and editors who work for TSR, do not wish to inhibit role playing game play. SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR CONTINUED PLAY: WHEN USING TSR PROPERTIES: You can create material using the AD&D game mechanics, etc. and place that material on MPGNet, a licensee of TSR, or place it on AOL on TSR's new Bulletin Board. You can download anything -- graphics, games, etc. appearing on TSR AOL for your personal use. Currently, any other distribution to the general public in paper form or on the net of AD&D adventures, other TSR materials and game mechanics, or copyrighted materials is considered unauthorized. However, you CAN freely distribute or publish "generic" novels, stories, game mechanics, etc. Read on. HOW TO CREATE GENERIC MATERIAL SOME TIPS: Don't specifically use AD&D statistics. Be creative. If you want a PC to encounter a stupid but strong NPC, let the GM determine the NPC's actual stats for the game system used by that GM. If the party encounters a hydra, let the GM look up the stats for the hydra in the game system he is using. Don't set the adventures in a TSR world. Create your own or use one from history or legend. For example, you could set your adventure in Atlantis, but not in the FORGOTTEN REALMS Adventure World. Don't use monsters, spells, etc. that were created by TSR. Create and name your own. Draw on history, legend or reality even spell their actual names backward for uniqueness. Or, if a monster or spell is used in several different game systems, this is a good indication that it is not owned by TSR. For example, Drow were created by TSR, but a hydra is a known legendary monster and is public domain. You really can get going creatively when you invent your own, unique, game mechanics . . . worlds, monsters, etc. And you are free to publish anywhere when you specifically do not rely on AD&D game mechanics or other material from TSR. With our new on-line forum on AOL, we'd like to hear from you about games, graphics, audio, and other material you'd like to download for your own gaming. Please let us know. We plan to be electronically publishing a lot of great things in the future for your gaming use. (R) and TM designate trademarks owned by TSR, Inc. (c) 1994 TSR, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
4-Oct-94: More speculation that Rob Repp doesn’t work for TSR made the rounds, with Sean Reynolds (remember that name) reporting to have phoned up TSR and was transferred to him.
18-Oct-94: Someone noticed my site was butchered and reposted the entire email thread between TSR and the admins (which I stuck on the site so people would know what happened).
Now that I look at this message, I see a list of the offending files, and it is pretty much what I said above, though I see a copy of the Net.Monster book which was given an official stamp of approval several weeks earlier.
26-Oct-94: I must have seen some of this as I responded to clarify why my site was butchered. I am pretty sure James Vassilakos, who I had been emailing about this privately, suggested I clarify things.
An interesting side-note is found a few posts later in that same thread, when someone got Steve Jackson himself to weigh in on this:
] The answer is simple: If you're selling a separate product based on our ] material, or free-distributing something that competes with things we ] license (e.g, software), then we would keep a level of control and ask for ] a piece of the action. On free-distribution GURPS software, we go through ] a quality-control and licensing procedure but no money changes hands. ] ] If you're creating a fanzine, or sharing your own original stories or ] online, then more power to you. We think it's great. We make no attempt ] to license or control fanzine writers, whether their medium is print or ] electrons. The two are indistinguishable these days, really. ] ] If you do create something neat, it would be a courtesy to send our ] webmaster a copy and give YOUR permission for us to archive it on our own ] system for our users to enjoy.
So, if I had a GURPS web site, none of this would have happened…
31-Oct-94: And the arguments continue, with another call for boycott. I chimed in about FUDGE, which I had switched to. But Rob Repp chimed in again
> Does TSR regard it as illegal to play AD&D with a dozen or so people over the > Net, as opposed to playing it with a dozen or so people in my living room? We certainly do not. Saving up all the moves, however, and republishing them as a separate work would probably be an infringement. Playing by any means is fine.
So this would mean live play podcasts, which are so common these days, would not have been permitted with this interpretation!
20-Jun-94: A press release about TSR Online
15-Mar-95: A hint from Rob Repp:
> Could anyone tell me what the WWW Home page is for TSR? Not yet, but soon. :)
8-Apr-95: James Vassilakos reposts his email thread with Rob Repp. He wrote a lengthy article about this in his magazine “The Guildsman”.
30-May-95: Someone reposted this job notice from the ADND-L mailing list:
Date: Tue, 30 May 1995 14:43:29 -0400 From: "TSR, Inc." <TSR...@AOL.COM> To: Multiple recipients of list ADND-L <ADN...@UTARLVM1.UTA.EDU> Subject: Help Wanted I realize that this is an ad, but I couldn't think of a more likely bunch of people to be interested in it, so here it is. :) Rob Repp Manager, Digital Projects Group TSR, Inc. ONLINE COORDINATOR TSR, Inc., the international leader in fantasy game, book, and magazine publishing, has an immediate opening for a motivated, organized individual with excellent communications and technical skills to assist in development of content for commercial online services and the Internet. Qualified applicants to be familiar with current online material. Ability to contribute to development of imaginative new content. Preferred skills include: HTML and/or RMPlus scripting; Adobe Photoshop; TCP/IP software tools; experience using WWW, FTP and Usenet; and interactive multimedia development. Online event planning, forum coordinator experience a plus. Send resume and salary history to: TSR, Inc. 201 Sheridan Springs Rd. Lake Geneva, WI 53147 ATTN: Human Resources or TSR...@AOL.COM
21-Jun-95: And the hiring process is done
Actually, I just hired a new online coordinator. I remain the "online rep." More and more TSR people will be out on the net in the future, though. We're getting more wired all the time. Rob Repp Manager, Digital Projects Group TSR, Inc.
A few days later Sean Reynolds reposted the TSR online policy and identified himself as “TSR Online Coordinator”.
12-Jul-95: A somewhat different post showed up on rec.games.frp.dnd:
I'm Sean Reynolds, TSR's new Online Coordinator. Rob Repp has taken a job with another company, and so he is no longer here at TSR. I'll be in charge of our online contacts, including the internet, AOL, etc.
Many years later, Sean wrote about being hired by TSR.
16-Aug-95: Sean answers a question about TSR trademarks, and basically says that TSR does not have a list of their trademarks and would not compile one.
21-Aug-95: Sean answered a question about a TSR web site and said things are looking up.
I forgot to mention it yesterday, but yesterday was my first anniversary of working for TSR. This means that _today_ is the first anniversary of the day Rob Repp _left_ TSR.
Later in the same thread:
>Tell us, Sean, what have you learned in all that time about being >an online rep? Take several slow, deep breaths before saying anything.
20-Dec-96: The tsrinc.com web site delayed due to InterNic, so I guess the long-promised web site was just now appearing.
10-Mar-97: Sean is separating his personal and professional personas on the net, a wise move since Sean had been posting to this newsgroup for several years before joining TSR.
3-Jun-97: WotC completes acquisition of TSR, later in the thread Sean says he got an offer.
16-Jan-98: Sean announced that he is going to leave his role as Online Coordinator and either to creative services or a different company. It appears he did get the job and worked on a number of products until WotC laid him off in 2002, read more on his Wikipedia page.
After looking at all this, it appears that if I had just blocked off access to the D&D related directories, within a year the whole thing would have blown over, and, two years later TSR would have been taken over by WotC and the landscape changed entirely. Though, on the other hand, FTP sites were on their way out, and, my site would have been rapidly become a historical footnote if I didn’t transition to the web. I may have been considering such a transition around the time of these events, but I honestly don’t remember.