Other Hands - Letter to Subscribers
Those of you who are on the MERP mailing list will already know about this.
For those of you who haven't heard, here's the situation:
On December 17th, I returned home from the New York premiere of LotR to some grim news.
Tolkien Enterprises' legal representative sent me a letter demanding that I cease and
desist publishing and distributing certain categories of game-related materials which
have appeared in Other Hands and its website. I quote the pertinent section of the letter:
"Other Hands, both the biannual periodical and the website reprinting many of
the pieces therefrom, constitutes an unauthorized derivative work of the Tolkien works
under the Copyright Act. Other Hands is not limited to commentary on the Tolkien works
nor on authorized derivatives thereof.
Instead, Other Hands publishes maps and stories that are themselves modules for role-playing
games based on the Tolkien works. These modules are unauthorized derivative works. By
publishing and distributing these modules, Other Hands is directly supplanting the market
for licensed derivative works.
And, by publishing certain of these modules on the Internet, you are magnifying the
potential harm to the sales of licensed works. Indeed, you boldly advertise the superiority
of the modules published in your magazine to those licensed by Tolkien Enterprises on
the ground that your magazine purportedly is not bound by licensing constraints and
instead may freely sequelize all of Tolkien's works. This is not fair use, it is an infringement."
I think most of you will agree with me that the charge that OH threatens the Middle-earth RPG
market is flimsy, as is the insinuation that I "boldly advertise" the magazine's
superiority to products licensed by TE (i.e., MERP and Decipher's forthcoming LotR RPG). Be
that as it may, TE's copyright claim - particularly in view of their control over the intellectual property
rights to the MERP series - cannot be denied. Accordingly, I have agreed to comply with their strictures in order to avoid legal action.
The consequences of this development for the future of the magazine are as yet unclear.
I have sent a request to TE's lawyer for a more elaborate definition of what, in their eyes,
constitutes a "module," as distinct from "commentary" on Tolkien's works
or on licensed derivatives thereof. I have also inquired whether these strictures would
override any permission I might obtain from Decipher to publish support material for LotR RPG (who,
after all, are the current licensees). It is my hope that these new rules will not
reduce the scope of OH to the vanishing point. Even if we can no longer publish "modules" and
"maps," the ability to treat some aspects of game mechanics, world background, etc.
would still leave us with a viable publication. If, on the other hand, all we can do is
review products and "comment" on MERP and LotR RPG, the usefulness of OH may be at an end - at
least the magazine itself; the website will remain regardless (minus any content that is forbidden to us).
I dispatched my response to TE's lawyer on December 18th and have not yet received a reply (no doubt in part due to the holidays). If I have not heard back from them by Friday, January 4th, I will give them a phone call to get an ETA. Once I have all the facts in hand, I will e-mail you.
Publisher, Other Hands