With D. Bethel suddenly on a Spring Break excursion, Andrew recruits friend of the show, Taylor Katcher to fill in the blanks.
THE ONLY WIZARD IN THE PHONE BOOK: Andrew and Taylor talk about the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game, the upcoming card game release from Evil Hat Games. Taylor expresses his fondness for Harry Dresden while Andrew admits his fondness for Paul Blackthorne.
TAYLOR BREATHES IN THE WILD: After last week’s discussion of The Legend of Zelda series, Taylor shares his experiences with the newest title in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“The Final Teen Spirt'” by Wax Audio
-“Maul, Savage and Viszla” by Kevin Kiner & Takeshi Furukawa (from Star Wars: The Clone Wars)
-“Can You Dig It (Iron Man 3 Main Titles)” by Bryan Tyler (from Iron Man 3)
It is hard to talk about “the law” and the importance it has in all things geeky and nerdy because “the law” is a vast collection of rules with a lot of interpretations and intricacies that vary from state to state and country to country. However, when considering the different areas of law and how they apply to nerd and geek issues, one practice area stands out as most applicable to your average nerd or geek: intellectual property.
Intellectual property usually refers to non-physical things like inventions or identities or stories that the government has determined important enough to recognize as a specific type of property. Typically, intellectual property is divided into four separate categories that cover different types of things: copyright, patent, trademark, and trade secret. Because three of these things (copyright, patent, and trademark) come up with some regularity in nerdy and geeky endeavors, they’re worth discussing in a bit more detail.
It should go without saying that the contents of this article are meant as a general overview. This isn’t legal advice. Do not base any legal arguments on what you read in this or any further Nerd Law articles. Their purpose is to provide a basic understanding of how intellectual property law is relevant to nerdy and geeky stuff so you don’t end up saying something silly like “I’m going to patent my comic book” or “I own the copyright to this rule system.” One more time, just to make it clear: the contents of this article do not constitute legal advice.
From Plows to Portraits
When you look at the whole of intellectual property, it’s important to recognize that there are different kinds of things being protected. A new, unique farm tool is a very different thing from a painting of a farm, and both are different from the recognized trade name of a farming conglomerate. Because the sort of things being protected have different purposes, the rules associated with them are different and they have different names. Knowing the difference is important, because it’s common for people (even lawyers) to get the rules mixed up.
Copyright is probably the most famous (or infamous) type of intellectual property because it protects so many things that people interact with. Copyright protects creative works and expressions. This includes stories and paintings but also includes film, sculpture, dance, and songs. If it’s something you’d describe as “art,” it probably falls under copyright.
Patents, on the other hand, protect “inventions” like new machines, tools, chemical concoctions, and medicines. Specific processes also falls under patents: a software algorithm and a method for exercising your cat with a laser would also be a patentable invention. Usually, something falls under the protection of copyright or of patent, but rarely both.
Trademark, in contrast, is used to protect names, symbols, and other identifying marks associated with business. These are the marks and styling that let consumers know they’re buying items from a known business. Think of logos and brand names: “DC Comics” and the DC logo let you know that what you’re looking at is made by the company that makes all the Wonder Woman and Batman comics. This is a main reason why most superheroes have big logos on their chests.
Knowing the difference can be important, especially if you find yourself doing something that involves intellectual property. In the future, we will take time to focus on each individual type of intellectual property. For now, it’s good to start simple. Think of copyright as the law that protects creative things that artists do, patent as the law that protects inventive stuff that engineers and scientists do, and trademark as the law that protects identifying stuff that marketing people do. That’s a generalization, but it’s a good place to start thinking about it.
Knowing What They Don’t Do
Keeping in mind the basics of each type of intellectual property, it’s also important to recognize what they do not protect. Although there are interesting exceptions, most things fall into one of the three categories of intellectual property. Yet, I mentioned earlier that a lot of people tend to mix them up. Even lawyers, although one could argue that it’s less a mistake and more of a bold attempt at “shotgunning” a solution. Let’s take a somewhat recent example: the lawsuit that Wizards of the Coast brought against Cryptozoic over their online trading card game, HEX. This lawsuit claimed that Cryptozoic infringed on Wizards of the Coast’s copyright, patent, and trademark property. Consider this excerpt from the copyright section of the complaint:
37. Cyptozoic copied the cards, plot, elements, circumstances, play sequence, and flow of Magic. Players in both games are confined to the same parameters based on an initial dealing of seven cards and play progresses in a substantially identical manner. Players must efficiently use their skill and calculation to assemble their initial decks and then in suitable selection and play of the various cards.
Although this paragraph comes from the copyright infringement of their complaint, most of what they’re describing is the process or procedure of the game. But, it’s worth pointing out that they never say process, procedure, or method of operation, because “[i]n no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.” 17 USC 102(b) (emphasis added). The attorneys here are carefully trying to sneak patent concepts into the copyright section of the complaint.
Of course, it doesn’t stop there. If you go down to the patent section of the complaint, they make the following claim:
55. Cryptozoic deliberately and intentionally copied the game play, rules, player interaction with the game, layout and arrangement, visual presentation, sequence and flow, scoring system, and Magic’s overall look. By duplicating the rules, scoring, and cards, Cryptozoic has copied Magic’s then-inventive game.
Most of that sounds like a patent issue (rules, processes, and procedures). But, then something else sneaks in: “layout and arrangement, visual presentation, […] and Magic‘s overall look.” That’s strange, when you consider that patents are obtained by “[w]hoever intents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new, and useful improvement thereof[.]” 35 USC 101. Nothing in that says anything about “visual presentation” or “overall look.” As before, the attorneys for Wizards of the Coast were packing extra claims, in this case, likely a variety of trademark claim, into the incorrect section of the complaint.
When Even the Lawyers Are Not Sure
This just goes to show that intellectual property law can be a difficult subject. And I haven’t even gotten to things like fair use, derivative works, trade dress, non-obviousness, functional aspects of aesthetic components, or any of the other wild and crazy elements of intellectual property. From Rocky IV to Monopoly to Games Workshop, there are plenty of interesting issues to explore in the world of intellectual property.
This is just intended to be a quick introduction to the three major types of intellectual property that affect the nerdy/geeky community. Consider this the first step of a much larger exploration of how intellectual property manifests in the world of all things nerdy and geeky.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew does his best to navigate menus and complex relationships playing Crusader Kings II while D. Bethel gets horribly disappointed while playing Samurai Shodown VI.
A TWISTED LEGEND:The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been released to universal acclaim as a launch title for Nintendo’s new console (and as a tombstone for their previous console) but how much is pure nostalgia, how much is hype, and how much is it actually a good game. Well, neither Dan nor Andrew have played it, but with the conversation surrounding the game they do ask a pertinent question, “What is as Zelda game and does this new game meet it?”
With Iron Fist set to come out on Friday of this week, it seemed appropriate to do a quick round up of all the news and reviews that have been circulating in the previous week. For those who have been distracted by other news, Netflix has released the first six episodes of Iron Fist to a number of reviewers and critics. The response has been … less than was perhaps expected.
Iron Fist’s problems with its portrayal of Asian cultures and Asian-Americans are embedded throughout every episode. It’s just that its problems with delivering exposition, crafting consistent characters, and even basic dialogue writing run right alongside.
Had Netflix rolled out Iron Fist first, its unsteadiness would be forgivable; this is a process, after all. But it’s actually the final step before a huge showdown, so it can’t afford to buckle under the pressure. And yet, with all that riding on it, the first half of the season is just a checked box. Filler episodes are one thing, but right now Iron Fist looks like a filler season.
Iron Fist feels like a step backward on every level, a major disappointment that already suffers from storytelling issues through the first six episodes made available to critics and would probably be mercifully skippable in its entirety if it weren’t the bridge into the long-awaited Defenders crossover series.
First, it doesn’t live up to the quality of storytelling found in “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” and “Luke Cage.” Plainly stated, “Iron Fist” is boring.
Of course, it is worth remembering that this is based entirely on the first six episodes. Rumors abound that the seventh episode of the series will be extremely violent. The episode has been rated 18 for “Strong Bloody Violence.” Given the stagnant impressions of the first six episodes, it remains to be seen if episode 7 (titled “Felling With Tree Routes”) is as much a dramatic turn as the portended graphically violent turn.
Given that the Defenders mini-series is already slated for a 2017 release, it’s clear that Iron Fist‘s poor initial reception will not stop the Marvel/Netflix hybrid from moving forward. That being said, it’s unfortunate that the same studio partnership that produced Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Daredevil has hit a slump with their most recent offering; whether this should be viewed as a bump in the road or an image of what’s to come is uncertain.
WEEK IN GEEK: In what should be a Shortcast ended up being an entire episode, this week Dan and Andrew have a lot to say about their respective Weeks in Geek. Andrew attended Emerald City Comic Con and attended some panels and people-watched while also playing a bit of the officially licensed sequel to the NES cult hit, River City Ransom, Conatus Creative Inc.’s River City Ransom Undergroundwhile Dan saw Logan and has a lot to say about it (spoiler-free), nerd tribalism, and superhero movies.
D. Bethel has been hit with a bad case of the sicks, so a Shortcast is in order. It’s a busy week! Emerald City Comic Con is happening this weekend and Andrew will be there, no doubt wandering around. If you see him, say hello [ , ] for all intents and purposes. If you attend, let us know what you thought of the event in the comments!
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew attended an event celebrating the launch of the Kickstarter for the first tabletop game by friends of the site, Luke and Nicole (from AcrossTheBoardGames.net), Food Truck Championwhile D. Bethel decided to deepen his knowledge of Wolverine lore by reading the first fifteen-or-so issues of the long-running Wolverine comic book series by Chris Claremont and John Buscema.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew plays Project Highrise after receiving it as part of this month’s Humble Bundle subscription service, while Dan reads a book about the history of the Japanese game industry in Chris Kohler’s Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life.
THINK INSIDE THE BOX: With Andrew’s sojourn into the world of subscription grab-bag services, he and Dan discuss the growing phenomenon and where they think the trajectory may end up.
ACCELERATED EVOLUTION: When a YouTube star gets the spotlight from a major industry publication, his world starts to crumble a little bit despite his denial of it. Swedish YouTube sensation, PewDiePie, encountered some issues after an exposé by the Wall Street Journal causes him to lose valuable contracts and allies and seemingly sends him into a strange spiral of denial and self-pity––without losing any subscribers. Andrew and Dan look at this very strange situation and how it connects to the larger cultural issues the news media and celebrity are dealing with while trying to figure out a solution.
WEEK IN GEEK: As promised, Andrew watches (and loves) The LEGO Batman Movie while Dan can’t stop playing Righteous Hammer Games.
EPISODIC SERIALIZATION: With Channel Zero: Candle Cove last week and both Dan and Andrew engrossed in The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story, Andrew and Dan look at what seems to be a rising tide of season-long anthology television shows. Moving away from episodic anthology shows to a single story told across an entire season and changing stories and cast in the following season, shows like American Horror Story and True Detective brought this format to the forefront of popular culture.
AMERICAN CRIME STORY AND THE FICTIONALIZATION OF LIVING MEMORY: As mentioned above both Dan and Andrew are oddly obsessed with The People vs. OJ Simpson and, frankly, they take some time to wonder why.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Far From Any Road (Main Title Theme from True Detective)” by The Handsome Family
-“Time” by Titiyo
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew messes with controller schematics for X-Com 2 while Dan freaks himself out as he delves into Syfy’s Channel Zero and the HBO documentary, Beware the Slenderman.
THE DOCTOR NO MORE: As Peter Capaldi announces his departure from the role of The Doctor in Doctor Who, speculation begins as to who will take his place in Series 11 which brings with it a new showrunner, Chris Chibnall.
EVEN STRANGER: With the only time we’ll mention the Super Bowl on the podcast, Netflix’s Stranger Things debuted its second season teaser trailer during the big game and Andrew and Dan dive into their expectations.
Batman: The Animated Series has become a show whose perennial place in nerd culture is all but assumed and revered. Andrew and I discussed the show, albeit briefly, back in Episode 59 – BTAS, as a segue to talk about dreams and dreaming in fiction, but the show, obviously, has done a lot more than that throughout its 110 episodes across seven years of airing (I’m including The New Batman Adventures in the tally). When talking about the show, one conversation that must surface is its diversity of storytelling and the risks it took. What set the show apart from not only every other animated series on American television may also have set it apart from nearly any other television that aired at the time of its release. Namely, it’s willingness to have strange, experimental episodes that challenged the expectations of superhero fans and television viewers.
Sure, it will be remembered for its strong, more traditional, Batman stories like “Heart of Ice”, “The Demon’s Quest”, and “Robin’s Reckoning (Parts 1 and 2)”––the last of which won an Emmy––but it will also be remembered for its non-traditional, esoteric stories like “Perchance to Dream”, “Legends of the Dark Knight”, “Over the Edge”, and “Almost Got ‘Im.” It was a show that learned to take risks, and what’s fascinating is that, apparently, a lot of that ethos was there from the start.
One of my prized possessions, creatively, is a book written by Paul Dini and Chip Kidd called Batman: Animated which covers the history of the show and is filled with amazing photos of everything from concept art to marketing photos for Batman-branded soap. But a bit of space is devoted to the development of the idea of what Batman: The Animated Series would be, hinting at the thorough show bible that Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and Mitch Brian put together. Basically, a show bible is a treatise on the characters, stories, tone, and plan for a tv show used to keep the studio on track as well as acting as a set of guidelines for artists and writers hired to work for the show. Somehow––and thankfully so––the show bible has gotten out there in pdf form and it is as glorious as I was hoping it would be.
Whitbrook points out in his article (which also has a link to the pdf) that the show bible takes firm stances in how the creators saw the show. Even if the show wiggled its way out of those chains a bit as it went on (you can’t not have a bat signal), its overall view of the character himself was carved from stone and rooted in change from the status quo:
One big emphasis throughout the bible is an ardent desire to tell darker Batman stories; after all, the last solo Batman TV series before this one was Batman ‘66. Like Tim Burton’s 1989 movie, The Animated Series sought to distance itself from that interpretation. Sometimes it did so subtly, with mentions like “no Bat Signal or hotline” to keep him separate from the Gotham police, or by making Robin an occasional partner rather than a full-time companion.
While the show worked its hardest to separate Batman from his previous televised iterations to make him into the brooding loner we all know and love, what Whitbrook’s article and its attached copy of the Batman: The Animated Series show bible illustrate (pardon the pun) is how something as important and groundbreaking as this show actually came together through an almost supernatural synchronicity of passionate, creative people who were willing to break the rules every now and then and try something new with, at the time, a forty year-old medium and a sixty year-old character.
Although I court a lot of pushback as soon as I say it, I feel pretty lucky to have grown up reading comic books when I did, in the early 1990s. For those with vehement dissenting positions to this opinion, I offer a truce by completely agreeing with you when you say the content of this point in comics history was rather lacking as creators felt the need to push good taste to its limits in many different ways. However, these comics were connecting with kids––with me––and while I can’t say their influence was all beneficial, they certainly stirred the imagination. With that in mind, a lot of choices made both narratively and, especially, artistically at the time are nigh inexcusable when held up against modern criteria.
In light of the speculator market and the inflated sense of worth the industry had of itself at the time, for a fan the early ’90s were quite exciting in spite of all of that. It was this excitement for not only the characters, stories (what there were of those, at least), and creators that drove us back to the shops every week, but it was also the industry as a whole during this time, especially during the flashpoint formation of Image Comics. I remember the creation of Image Comics happening. I remember thinking it was really weird. I remember being really excited for it, as well. (A good documentary about the formation of Image Comics exists, called Image Revolution, that is well worth the viewing.)
As the ’90s faded away and the market crashed and Marvel went bankrupt and the industry and its fans actually had some time for critical self-reflection, Image Comics, as it had started out, became the pennant we could all point to and say, “That, right there, is what was wrong with comics in the ’90s.” In some ways, such assertions are very true. Fast-forward twenty years, though, and the “worst” in industry has become the outstanding front runner for thoughtful, challenging, and earnest comics above almost all other publishers. The about-face is astounding and couldn’t have been written better for fear of being too cliché and feel-good. But it all comes down to the principles that formed the bedrock (or badrock, harhar) of the company, as iterated by Jensen in his article:
Image had two rules: all comics were owned by their creators, and no Image creator would interfere with another’s business.
As it stands today, Image Comics is a beacon in the industry and is at the top of its game. I’m sure many people lament the 180-degree turn from its superheroic start––I experience light pangs as I think about it but shrug them off––but there’s no doubt that what Image is doing today aligns (at least in theory) with the concept that founded the company: complete independence. Because of that, Image books are bringing more attention to creators, more good to the industry, and better comics for readers, and I wouldn’t trade that for the gun-toting, veiny-muscled, blood-soaked comics of yore any day of the week.