I was just searching for my handle on google (looking for a webpage I made some time back) and I found this...
Basically Joe Kelly and Duncan Rouleau (two semi famous comic book guys)have created a character name and a story concept that I've been using for 12 or more years. The page was posted in august of 2001.
I started using the handle "Baron Calamity" in the late 80's. I ran a BBS called "Moon Base Tycho" from 1990 - 97 where I pretended to be the "evil overlord" and stuff. the early 90's I ran a game of Champions where I, "Baron Calamity" set a trap on the moon for the greatest Super Heroes and teleported them away. The players took the role of the weak side kicks and they had to over throw me and get the real heroes back. I had plan to use the idea again in a Freedom Force module.
I don't know what to do, what to think, or what is fair. Help?
By BobM on Tuesday, October 16, 2001 - 04:05 pm:
You know, if you have any proof of this, you could at the very least get a mention in the final product if it ever goes anywhere. I wouldn't sue. You should only sue people with money. Comic book writers are not people with money.
By Brian Rucker on Tuesday, October 16, 2001 - 08:09 pm:
A friend of mine submitted a roleplaying game to TSR many years ago and was turned down. Then something called Alternity showed up and seemed to borrow most of his concepts.
A lawsuit was ruled out by lawyers as proving intentional intellectual theft is tough even with copyrights on the material. If someone has enough money to be worth suing they also probably can afford more attorneys for longer than you can.
It's a tough call.
By Brad Grenz on Tuesday, October 16, 2001 - 10:13 pm:
Did you email these guys? Call them on it?
By Quo Vadis on Tuesday, October 16, 2001 - 11:36 pm:
Did these writers play in your Champions campaign? If not, how did they hear about it?
By Tim Elhajj on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 12:39 am:
Yep, I would at least e-mail them and see what they have to say. Most likely they won't even reply, but it's worth a shot. Dollars to dognuts one of those guys (or one of their affiliates) was on your BBS back in the day. Ain't that a kick in the head.
By aszurom on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 01:42 am:
Actually sounds like it might be borrowing the theme from "Mystery Men" too. Same subject matter, different villain name.
Then again, I wrote an RPG some years back called "Iron Stars", some parts of which oddly found their way into BattleLords of the 23rd Century. Nothing like seeing your own artwork profesionally redone. :-)
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 01:54 am:
Imitation is the greatest form of flattery...
If you're really convinced that they stole you're stuff, though, and you think you can prove it, it would be worth trying to get something done. Part of me thinks it unlikely that you and someone else would think up that exact same scenario, but I suppose stranger things have happened, too.
If you have a list of people that used to play, I'd dig it out and do a little snooping...
By Brad Grenz on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 01:56 am:
Some of those comic book types can be shameless. Have you guys seen that web page that shows pages of art that have been pilfered from previous works? Side by side some of the stuff looks traced.
By William Harms on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 04:17 am:
An idea or a name cannot be copyrighted; that's why established characters like Spider-Man are registered trademarks of their respective company.
Coincidences do happen, though, which is why all publishers of licensed material (and even some publishers of original content) refuse to review unsolicited materials.
By Wake Up, Baron ClamDip. on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 04:33 am:
"a story concept that I've been using for 12 or more years."
Er, exqueeze me, but are you seriously stating that you've been obsessing over the idea of being an "evil overlord" who "set a trap on the moon for the greatest Super Heroes and teleported them away" FOR TWELVE YEARS?!!!
GET A LIFE, YE ALL-POWERFUL "EVIL OVERLORD!" This valuable "idea" is cliche, thin, undeveloped, and similar to multiple other works from Jim Shooter's crappy "Secret Wars" to, as was mentioned above, Bob Burden's, "Mystery Men." (I guess those guys stole the idea from ya too; this amateur "Champions" campaign you ran sure got around in professional writing circles!) The idea as you describe it not really worth anything on its own. It's all about how the idea is developed, the characterizations, and more detailed plot developments than "kidnapping superheroes on the moon."
If you had actually done something professional with this "idea," you might have grounds for complaint. However, "thinking about" turning it into an RPG module (sigh...) but never doing anything about it ain't worth jack. Nor is playing on your BBS in your pajamas and bedsheet, pretending to be an "evil overlord." Get serious!!! The guys you're libeling here developed countless comic book and film projects in those twelve years you "thought about" doing something with that penny-ante idea. If you wanted to be the famous creator of "Baron Calamity," maybe you should have gotten off yer ass and written something about him before now -- anything, really -- and gotten it published and copyrighted. It's a little late now to start whining about something you never actually created in a form that anyone other than a couple of pimply nerds in your high school homeroom ever saw.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 04:35 am:
You know, what I really like about this message board is how mature and respectful everyone is.
That is, until one idiot goes and screws it up.
Thank you, idiot.
By Uh-huh on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 04:39 am:
As if libeling the careers of two professional comic book writers through accusing them publicly of plagiarism is "respectful."
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 04:54 am:
As if libeling the careers of two professional comic book writers through accusing them publicly of plagiarism is "respectful."
I'm not a lawyer, but I beleive you own the trademark of something if you've promoted it across state lines. This might apply if Rob posted a link or phone number to his BBS on a website or BBS in another state? You think this might be the case? It doesn't have to be registered for someone to have a legal right to, say, the name "Baron Calamity"
Also, technically speaking you own the copyright of something as soon as you commit it to paper. More formal forms of copyright application just make it easier to prove the idea/script/whatever was created by you when you created it. But something as simple as mailing yourself a copy of something you've written and leaving the envelope sealed can help your case, because of the postmark which contains a date.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 05:58 am:
Yeah, I've heard about that "Poor man's copyright" before, now that you mention it. A lot of aspiring songwriters and band use that method.
Do you have anything concrete, Rob? Can you prove that it was your idea twelve years ago?
There are some lawyers on this board, as I'm sure you know. Hopefully some of them will chime in soon.
By Rob_Merritt on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 08:49 am:
The proof I have is:
1. A program from the demi con game convention that describes the game
2. Witnesses who played it
3. I very likely have access to 30 minutes of the game being recorded. (Its just a matter of the guy who recorded it finding the tape but he believes he never recorded over it)
4. You can search the net and see I've used the name "Baron Calamity" for years upon years.
At this point I'm willing to believe it is an amazing coincidences. I'm mostly interested in still being able to use my handle and story idea.
I've emailed them basically saying "gee what an amazing coincidences ." just to see what they'll say.
By Tim Elhajj on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 10:38 am:
"I've emailed them basically saying "gee what an amazing coincidences ."
Good work. We can escalate to "my lawyer will call your lawyer" in the next go round. Seriously, though, good luck!
By Tim on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 12:15 pm:
"Imitation is the greatest form of flattery..."
Matt Groening said something like:
"Unlicensed copyright infringement is the insincerest form of flattery"
By William Harms on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 12:44 pm:
>Also, technically speaking you own the copyright of something as soon as you commit it to paper.
Unless it's just an idea, which cannot be copyrighted. For example, you can't write down "A rogue shark menaces the waters of a small town and only a marine biologist with a shady past can save the day" and then send it off to the copyright office.
Here's the link to the official copyright site: http://www.loc.gov/copyright/circs/circ1.html
By Desslock on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 02:33 pm:
>There are some lawyers on this board, as I'm sure you know. Hopefully some of them will chime in soon
>It doesn't have to be registered for someone to have a legal right to, say, the name "Baron Calamity"
If you've used the name prior to anyone else, you'll have an unregistered trade-mark to the name. Since you didn't register it, you retain the right to use it in the context you were using it, even if there's a subsequent registration (a prior registration would prevent you from using it), but you have very limited rights to prevent someone else from using the name.
As Billy indicated, an idea cannot be copyrighted, and cannot be protected in any way. To the extent you've transformed that idea into a form of tangible "work", preferably in writing, you can protect that work by claiming copyright in it (which doesn't have to be registered).
Personally (and this is not a legal opinion), I don't think you have any meaningful rights. The idea you have isn't original or unique (as others have stated, it's pretty similar to Jim Shooter's Secret Wars), and you didn't produce a tangible work that you could argue was significantly reproduced, in whole or part, in any way that could give you a meaningful cause of action.
It's extremely difficult to protect a basic plot -- that's why hollywood studios so often replicate each other's movies, without being sued:
-- was Deep Impact copied by Armageddan?
-- Bug's Life by Antz?
-- Volcano by Dante's Inferno?
-- Red Planet by Mission to Mars?
-- Tombstone by Wyatt Earp?
Each of those movie pairs came out within 6 months of the other in the pair, and featured a number of extremely similar elements. As the list above indicates, it's an extremely common practice with far more developed (and public) ideas, or "works", than the one you described, and yet it almost never gives rise to a cause of action.
p.s. Joe Kelly's X-men rocked.
By Rob_Merritt on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 04:02 pm:
"If you've used the name prior to anyone else, you'll have an unregistered trade-mark to the name. Since you didn't register it, you retain the right to use it in the context you were using it, even if there's a subsequent registration "
Well thats all I really want. I don't want Joe Kelly to sell the idea, say to Fox, and then Fox turn around and sue me. Ofcourse anyone can sue for any reason but still...
By Borg on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 04:13 pm:
Kolchak The Night Stalker/X-Files/Dark Skies/Special Unit 2/The Chronicle
Babylon 5/Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Seinfeld/Friends/etc., etc., etc.
Star Wars/Battlestar Galactica
City on Fire/Reservoir Dogs
The Matrix/Harsh Realm
48 Hrs./Red Heat/Lethal Weapon/Rush Hour/etc., etc., etc.
Saturday Night Live/SCTV/Mad TV (sketch comedy shows with special musical guests)
The Tonight Show/Merv Griffin/Late Night with David Letterman/The Arsenio Hall Show/The Chevy Chase Show/Alan Thicke's horrible talk show/The Jon Stewart Show/Late Night with Conan O'Brien/The Late, Late Show with Craig Kilborn
The Today Show/Good Morning America/The Early Show with Bryant Gumbel
Mad Magazine/Cracked Magazine/Crazy Magazine/etc., etc., etc.
The Far Side/Bizarro/etc., etc.
Doonesbury/Bloom County/Liberty Meadows
Entertainment Tonight/Extra/Inside Hollywood
Doctor Doom/Baron Karza/Baron Calamity
It's all good.
By Jason Levine on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 04:40 pm:
"It's extremely difficult to protect a basic plot -- that's why hollywood studios so often replicate each other's movies, without being sued:"
Unless you happen to be Harlan Ellison. But I guess he's the exception that proves the rule.
By Roger Wong on Wednesday, October 17, 2001 - 07:08 pm:
"Well thats all I really want. I don't want Joe Kelly to sell the idea, say to Fox, and then Fox turn around and sue me. Ofcourse anyone can sue for any reason but still..."
Get a Federal Trademark on the name right away, and start working on a product.
See, it works like this:
The first person to use a name in a geographic location has the right to continue using that name in that same location.
The first person to federally trademark a name has the right to use that name anywhere in the United States, regardless of who used it first.
If you are first to use a name, but someone else gets the federal trademark, then you may continue using your name, but only within your geographic location of business.
In the fictitious case of Fox vs. Merritt, you would probably be prevented from doing any Internet distribution of your module as that would exceed the geographic boundaries of your place of business. (you could argue that your place of business is the internet, and hence, the whole united states... i don't know how that would go..)
However, there are also a bunch of laws concerning the duration after which trademarks are considered abandoned. A judge could decide that not doing anything with the Baron Calamity name for 12 years constituted abandonment, allowing anyone to use the name.
Finally, if you DO obtain the federal trademark, but don't attempt to stop trademark violators, or you purposefully wait an unreasonable amount of time before notifying the trademark violators, you again place your trademark in jeopardy.