Mercedes Lackey's Attitudes Toward Role-Playing Games Set in Her Own Universe

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See also: Mercedes Lackey

1992 Statement

Fanfic and permissions were heavy on many fans' and professional writers mind in late 1992 and early 1993. Something that had just blown up and was certainly relevant to this post by Misty was the 1992 Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy .

Excerpted from Queen's Own Newsletter; WebCite.

It becomes more confused because Prodigy is an electronic service and this laps over into the area of "electronic rights" about which there is a great deal of confusion. Because of the confusion, my agent prefers to err in the direction of being conservative and protectionist. This also goes for "MUCKS" or "MUSH's. He is flatly NOT PERMITTING any electronic role-playing of any kind, whether it is on a not-for-profit service or for-profit service. So there it is--NO VALDEMAR MUCKS ... If he finds out, and he will eventually, you will get first a "cease and desist" letter from the agency's legal department--and so will the net you are on. The Sysops will not be happy with you about this. If you continue, you will probably be slapped with a lawsuit. If you are a minor, you will probably see your college fund go down the drain. If you are not, paying the out-of-court legal costs alone will set you back several thousand dollars. This is something I have no power over; we are not only talking about MY income, we are talking about my AGENT's income, and he is not going to tolerate anyone cutting into it. With the advent of Electronic Arts books, e now have a real possibility of commercial computer games ... My agent cannot afford to let one person get in the way of that.


1994 Statement

5. Why won't she let us have a MUSH or write FanFic?

Russell Galen is Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixson's agent. He has made the following statements in a general post to alt.books.m-lackey, dated in October 1994.

"Any use of works by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixson in fan fiction or a role playing game is strictly prohibited. The reasons are as follows:

A. It is copyright infringement. Any unauthorized use of intellectual property, whether or not for profit, is copyright infringement.

B. The authors are against it. Knowing that strangers are making use of one's world, one's characters, one's creations, is usually a very unpleasant feeling, one of violation and intrusion.

C. There's been a great deal of discussion here as to whether a MUSH or MUD would help or hurt the salability of commercial game rights. The fact is, we don't know. It might have no effect, or a ruinous effect. There is ample evidence for both from other media, and I don't know the answer. Given that uncertainty, we have to err on the side of caution and protection.

D. All of us on this side have discussed this and are resolved to take no chances with these valuable copyrights, and will vigorously pursue all legal means at our disposal. Also, any action we might take would not be limited to individuals but to the universities and other organizations that permit their equipment and lines to be used for this illegal purpose.

E. Yes, we're greedy and narrow-minded in defense of our clients' ability to make a living. This is Mercedes Lackey's job. Anything that threatens her ability to make a living is no less an evil than any other situation in which an innocent party is forced, by the actions of strangers, to fight for her livelihood."

So, please, folks *Just Say No* to Lackey-MUDS. If you want to write Fanfic, please send mail to the Queen's Own or HighFlight addresses above, and request a release form. Don't go doing something that you're going to wind up regretting. [1]

1996 Statement

While not a role-playing game, Lackey did give permission for some fans to create a board game: "Misty has given permission for QOC to create a board game based on her Heralds of Valdemar books! (This game is exclusive to QOC and is NOT for sale.). [2]

1997 Discussion Amongst Fans

All comments in this section are from Roleplaying in the world of Valdemar, July 28, 1997.

[Chuck Stevens]:

I and those in my gaming group are fans of Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar series, and we've been bandying about the notion of starting a game set in that world. We'd likely use Rolemaster, since that's the "generic" RPG we're most familiar with, and on the surface seems well suited for the setting.

My question is: Has anyone out there tried this? What game system did you use? Are there any publised game sourcebooks for Valdemar anywhere (I

can't think of any)?

[Shay]:

IIRC, the reason there aren't any RPG's out there is because Mercedes (Misty) has expressly forbidden it. She's very protective of her characters and her world and does not like people making up stories on the net using her world so I highly doubt that there is any way you could get her to sanction an RPG. You may even find yourself with a lawsuit considering the fact that she has very good lawyers who work hard to protect her interests and have written some interesting notes to people who've just accidently screwed up... My recommendation? Give it up... now. Misty is no McCaffrey who loves to visit her MUDs... She will protect Valdemar strenuously.

[Pete B]:

If that's true, it strikes me as a ridiculous, unenforcable policy. (So does that means it falls within your realm, God of Chaos?  ;) ) I mean, the "Don't Publish" part I can understand perfectly well, but regualating what individual gaming groups are up to?

No way. Saying what a group of people can and cannot do with their imaginations is just WAY too dang close to Thought Police for my tastes. Putting it up on the net for public consumption would be one thing; but if I decide I'm going to come up with rules for Valdemar for me and my friends, then that ain't nobody's business but me and my friends'.

Now I feel obligated to include Lacky characters in my current campaign just on principle.

[unknown poster, perhaps Steven Wright]:

>>I talked to abml's semi-resident lawyer (Dave) and put the question to him... he says that any use of Misty's characters, entire world, the specific schools of magic that she has created for her world (White Winds, etc...) and any conjunction of the Companion/Herald idea would be an infringement of her copyright. (companion/familiar may be used alone but not with a Herald and/or vice versa) Whether or not you do it in the privacy of your own home makes no difference... if she finds out, she can sue. She prolly won't for individuals because that's a bit extreme but nothing says that she can't. Also, if you create a group, and then one of them goes to a con and then speaks to her and mentions it, you can be darn sure that she will pursue that info. Once again, safe is better than sorry... I would step as far away from the RPG and/or MUD idea as possible.

[Pete B]:I find this terribly disturbing.

So does this mean that the occasional threads on this group speculating about what we'd be like if we lived in Valdemar are copyright infringements which leave all the participants vulnerable to lawsuit? Does this mean that speculating aloud what character X would do in situation Y violates the law?

I know it doesn't sound relevant, but it is. Role-playing (the kind I enjoy, anyway) is simply a framework with which to indulge precisely this sort of speculative imagination. If participating in group storytelling with your friends -- whatever the topic -- is against the law, then the law is wrong.

I'm sorry. I don't want to turn this into a big argument, and I think the time has come for me to follow Izzie's lead and abandon my soapbox. This is just something I happen to feel very strongly about.

[Bethany]:

I suspect dissucssion about who would beat whom in a battle, etc. constitute "reasonable use," and thus aren't contraact infringement, but I'm not a laywer, so what do I know? Why private, not-for-profit roleplaying doesn't constitute "reasonalbe use" is beyond me.

Also beyond me is why Misty hasn't published a role-playing game herself. Remember "The last straw?" Misty says in it essentially, that she's in this for the money, and, judging by the quantity of cash most of the role-players or my aquaintance sink into their hobby, role-playing is a good way to get it.

If Misty is upset by other people using her characters and worlds, why does she allow (with limitations) fanfic and _Sword of Ice_. I mean, could any roleplayer ever do one of her characters greater injustice than Mark Sheperd did in his atrocious "Chance?"

[Moondance]:

If Misty which I like her books very much will start sueing people just for designing something that is based on her world and play it only at there homes for the fun of I will have to stop reading her books because I find it against my basic principles "Live and let live". So if we just talk about how we think the character did something or even talk here about things she wrote is against the Law ( well that may be correct in America but it is certainly not the case in Israel so if someone needs help in designing for his Own use an RPG set in Valdamar I'll be glad to help.

[Tal Greywolf, Lackey's "unofficial presence" on UseNet]:

Now, certainly, you're free to roleplay all you want. Misty has made that clear time and again that folks are free to play all they want. PROVIDED YOU ARE NOT TRYING TO MAKE MONEY OFF HER WORK. (Auto-LART disengaging) If you want to publish something, you have to do so through her agent, Russ Galen. His information is available in the FAQ.

Apparently you're misinterpreting and misunderstanding the intent here. We are free to talk all we want about Misty's works here, in fact Misty has occasionally agreed to answering questions from time to time from folks here. BUT... and this is a very loud BUT... you are NOT free to post stories here (copyright violation), nor are you free to do any sort of RPG design or MU* (also copyright violation). Russ will prosecute these violations, even internationally. So as a simple word of advice, DON'T.... And he's a worse watchdog when it comes to Misty's rights than I am.

*Gryns at Russ*

End Voice of God mode

Begin normal user mode

-Tal Greywolf

[Tal Greywolf]: You CAN roleplay in any game system you want... what you can't do is design your own. Already there have been plans from several game companies about doing a Valdemar RPG, just nothing has ever come of it. All I'm trying to emphasize here

is that you have to get approval from Misty's Agent, not from Misty.

[Tal Greywolf]: First off, it's not Ms. Lackey who'll come after you, it's her agents both in the States and her International agent. And they WILL burn the money [to do this]. But secondly, trying to throw around legal grey areas won't work here. The position of Mercedes Lackey is clear on this. You can role-play her works in the privacy of your own home, but you can't create anything that would be posted, passed around, sold, bartered or given away for free. Meaning if you came up with rules, they'd have to stay with you and your friends couldn't have copies.

Now, I've talked with Misty earlier this week, and the position is quite clear. Argue all you want, but the request is there, the position is plain as day, and if you want to go ahead and ignore her position, then you should brace yourself for the results. Misty is quite aggressive on protecting her works, but not as aggressive as Russ and David, her agents. Besides, it's all in the FAQ, if you want to read it in black and white.

-Tal 'Killing the semi-annual thread' Greywolf

[Morgan]: And, actually, it's TRADEMARKS that need to be defended, not copyrights. Something is copyrighted the moment it's created, and copyrighted to the individual/original creator.

MUCKs and MUSHs are another thing. These CAN mess up copyrights, and since the electronic medium is still quite a new area, the rules have not been completely defined here. If a MUCK/MUSH is permitted to run online, then if and when someday some company wants a license to create an electronic game of Valdemar, THEN there are problems. I'm not an expert on this, but I have heard Misty speak about it many times. If anyone wants an actual statement from Misty about this, I'm sure, between Tal and I, we can get one for anyone interested.

The problem is so many things are yet to be defined, limits to be set, etc. Once these things are done, there will be actual guidelines by which people can govern themselves. I'd hate to see Misty embroiled in a fight to protect what's hers, as Marion Zimmer Bradley had to do with an over-sealous fan in the past few years. It's a nasty thing, litigation, and no one wants that. So, Misty's not really given her permission for gamers to use Valdemar, but she has been lenient enough to ask them to please contain their RPGing to their own homes, and not on the 'Net someplace.

[J. Clarke]:

If you like Valdemar so much, why do you want to put Ms. Lackey in the position of having to either (a) spend money she doesn't have protecting her copyright or (b) give up her copyright by failing to defend it and thereby lose a significant portion of her livelihood? Because with your closing sentence it would appear that that is exactly what you want to do.

[Susan]: Well, honestly, I've always thought of Misty as remarkably intelligent and gifted but this is just plain stupid, in my own humble opinion. If I'm reading you right this isnt protection of her works, this is just rabid silliness. If i got the meaning from what you said, you mean that Misty HERSELF has requested that if a person designs a RPG based on Valdemar, however loosely, or not so loosely as the case may be-strictly for his or her own use and that of his or her friends and one of those friends wants to share it with another group of friends, that group cannot? Why? One presumes that the second group of friends must read and buy Misty books in order ot even be interested. So there is no copyright infringement there.

There are no Misty RPG for Valdemar as someone else pointed out, so again no copyright infringement. No money is being made from the sharing of an idea between one person and another, so again no copyright infringement.

It seems to me that by trying to stop creative RPG based on Valdemar without providing an alternative of her own Misty is biting off her nose to spite her face.

Also a respectable argument could be made that a particular Valdemar RPG concept complete with rules, etc, could be itself copyrightable. The CONCEPT, I mean. There are RPG being published right now written by different people set up in different worlds. The orginal world is copyrighted by the original author and the new RPG are created by arrangement by said creator. Yet the author of the new game copyrights that new game. So therefore if you created a game concept in Misty's world, she owns the world but you own the concept. Perhaps this is the point of contention?

Hmm, If I'm understanding what you are saying, sir, I am very disappointed in Misty....

If I were Misty I would be looking into RPG for Valdemar NOW. And FANS would be the first people I would ask about what those RPG should include. Furthermore, my brother plays STAR WARs RPG and a couple of others and many times he designs his own stuff for the enjoyment of his friends <ONLY> I find nothing wrong with that and I challenge any one else to make such a accusation of infringement of copyright stick.

[Morgan]:

I know of a few cases where authors have shut down fanzines for printing fan-fic without permission. Chelsea Quinn Yarborough is one which comes to mine, George Lucas is another. This isn't quite the same, but similar. And there's always the case of Marion Zimmer Bradley and "The Fan", which caused quite a stir amongst Fantasy authors a few years ago, and resulted in Misty asking people who were writing fan-fic in her worlds to sign a Release Form. I have, mind you, second and third hand knowledge of the first two incidents, but slightly MORE knowledge about the latter. (In fact, I was the one to adapt Misty's Release Form for online fan-fiction use when she permitted it on GEnie --- which she does not anymore, but has not raised an issue with it since GEnie's membership is negligible these days.) I know that doesn't adequately answer your question, but at least I tried. <G>

Further Reading/Meta

References

  1. alt.books.m-lackey FAQ; WebCite, 1994, updated in 1998
  2. Queen's Own Newsletter--March 1996, Archived version