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Subject: Statement from FFG regarding the "Merchant of Venus" situation rss

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Christian T. Petersen
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Dear "Merchant of Venus" fans,

Like yourselves, I am saddened by the confusion and issue that has arisen in the publishing-rights for "Merchant of Venus" (MoV) between Stronghold Games and ourselves, an issue that surely was uninvited by either side.

More than a year ago, FFG signed a deal with Hasbro for the right to re-publish MoV. Since then, we have been worked towards republishing the title with great excitement and dilligence. The artwork, graphic design, game and production development of our version of MoV is among the best FFG has done to-date, and we had been looking forward to making our official MoV announcement early next month. It was our intention to publish the new MoV in March 2012 (which remains our plan, discovery of this unfortunate issue notwithstanding).

As a significant part of our royalties to Hasbro for MoV sales were specifically stipulated as going to the designer (i.e. Mr. Richard Hamblen), we have no reason to believe that he was not fully aware of our MoV republishing project. We have nothing but the greatest respect for Mr. Hamblen and his creations ("Magic Realm" was my first personal Avalon Hill board game purchase) and I'm hopeful, despite these issues, that his work again will see the light of day and that he'll be rewarded for his innovation once more.

I also have the greatest respect for Stronghold Games, and I've seen no reason to believe they've been acting in bad faith in their endeavors. It is unfortunate such an issue should disrupt their publishing plans, as it is unfortunate it has disrupted ours.

That said, FFG has every reason to believe the MoV rights licensed to us by Hasbro are true and correctly given. I hope that you, the MoV fan, can understand and appreciate our desire to publish a game on which we have been working in good faith for a substantial period of time with great expense, and for which we have the rights.

We are in open communication with both Hasbro and Stronghold on this, and will be digging into more details next week to clarify the issue. I'm hopeful that all parties are reasonable and that a mutual desire to see MoV in print again will not cause the game to get stuck in long dispute.

Thank you for your patience in this delicate matter.

Best Wishes,

Christian T. Petersen
CEO
Fantasy Flight Games

Edit: Clarification
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Sean Franco
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Thank you for your clear and honest explanation. I look forward to this issue being sensibly resolved.
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Scott Everts
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Flightmaster wrote:
As a significant part of our royalties for MoV sales were specifically stipulated as going to the designer (i.e. Mr. Richard Hamblen), we have no reason to believe that he was not fully aware of our MoV republishing project.

But you don't know actually? From what Stronghold has said, they are working directly with Mr. Hamblen, but your statement implies you've never talked to him. Just allocated funds to pay him royalties eventually. Very confusing.
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Paul Nowak
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Flightmaster wrote:
... we have no reason to believe that he was not fully aware of our MoV republishing project ...


This part is very interesting.

I think both Stonghold and FFG have been very professional and respectful in communicating their case (vaguley, though, as they must) in this whole mess. Good to see.

Edit: ninja'd by Scott. The wording may mean that part of the cut that went to Hasbro was going to be paid by Hasbro to Richard, and FFG assumed Hasbro had their ducks in a row.
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Richard Morris
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Well, I am somewhat encouraged by the lack of sabre rattling by either side thus far.

I still have no idea what these rights are, however.

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AnnuverScotinExile wrote:
Well, I am somewhat encouraged by the lack of sabre rattling by either side thus far.

I still have no idea what these rights are, however.



I'm not surprised. What purpose would it serve.. sabre rattling is what lawyers are for.
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FFG is currently promoting it on their home page. They must feel pretty confident that they, when it's all said and done, will be the ones publishing this.
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Josh Morgan
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Glad to hear FFG, Stronghold and Hasbro are all talking. Would of course like to see Mr Hamblen be involved as well. Looking forward to more of this type of communication instead of the rampant speculation occurring in the other threads.
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Thanks to Christian for taking the time to let us geeks hear FFG's side of things. I'm so glad that FFG isn't another faceless corporation. Though, before this I have only spoken with Thaadd (tell her we miss her). I have nothing but respect for both parties and hope this will be resolved amicably.
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Rob Rob
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Maybe a joint venture by both companies?
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Flightmaster wrote:


As a significant part of our royalties to Hasbro for MoV sales were specifically stipulated as going to the designer (i.e. Mr. Richard Hamblen), we have no reason to believe that he was not fully aware of our MoV republishing project. We have nothing but the greatest respect for Mr. Hamblen and his creations ("Magic Realm" was my first personal Avalon Hill board game purchase) and I'm hopeful, despite these issues, that his work again will see the light of day and that he'll be rewarded for his innovation once more.


First off, it's nice to see that, so far, both companies seem to be taking a cool headed reasonable approach to the situation... hopefully, that'll continue.

Now, that said, everyone keeps dancing around this topic / issue, so I'm going to ask directly.

Why didn't Fantasy Flight Games contact Richard Hamblen himself to discuss the republication of the game HE designed?

Sorry, I'm really disappointed in FFG in this regard. I almost find this atypical behavior of FFG. You guys have a history and track record of working with designers of games that that you publish. Dune/Rex and Cosmic Encounter being a prime example. It just boggles my mind that Richard Hamblen has to find out HIS game/design is being republished with no input asked, notification or communication whatsoever from FFG - IN A YEAR? In a whole year not a single one of you thought to get into contact with Richard Hamblen? He obviously was not hard to find, as Stronghold has been talking with him.

I hope, at the very least, you realize that had you simply picked up a phone a/o had enough respect for the DESIGNER OF THE GAME in the first place to simply TALK TO HIM, this whole unfortunate situation could have been completely avoided.
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Dead Eye Dick
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If someone sells you the license to make or re-make something, it does not require you to be in touch with the original designer or anyone connected with the original work. Granted, you as a consumer may want that to happen, but it does not confer legal rights of any kind. Nor does it lend or diminish authority to produce a piece of work.

So why are so many people holding that up as some kind of critical argument against FFG's involvement?

It doesn't necessarily follow that it would impact quality or focus.


For myself, I'd rather the rule set and optional rules/enhancements and components offered by each before I could make a choice as a consumer. Having two options though ain't likely to happen though.
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Lee Fisher
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deadeyedick wrote:
If someone sells you the license to make or re-make something, it does not require you to be in touch with the original designer or anyone connected with the original work. Granted, you as a consumer may want that to happen, but it does not confer legal rights of any kind. Nor does it lend or diminish authority to produce a piece of work.

So why are so many people holding that up as some kind of critical argument against FFG's involvement?


For myself, I'd rather the rule set and optional rules/enhancements and components offered by each before I could make a choice as a consumer. Having two options though ain't likely to happen though.


Because it is the Right Thing to do.
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I thought Mr. Hamblen was one of those designers who "values his privacy" and didn't want to be contacted. And even so, I fail to see how talking to him would have resolved anything. He thinks he has the rights, Hasbro thinks they do. How is talking to them going to magically resolve this issue, and why do people insist the burden is on FFG to do so?
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Dead Eye Dick
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lfisher wrote:
deadeyedick wrote:
If someone sells you the license to make or re-make something, it does not require you to be in touch with the original designer or anyone connected with the original work. Granted, you as a consumer may want that to happen, but it does not confer legal rights of any kind. Nor does it lend or diminish authority to produce a piece of work.

So why are so many people holding that up as some kind of critical argument against FFG's involvement?


For myself, I'd rather the rule set and optional rules/enhancements and components offered by each before I could make a choice as a consumer. Having two options though ain't likely to happen though.


Because it is the Right Thing to do.


No, it isn't. It might be something WE want, and I would argue it would be a GOOD thing to do. But it is not necessary, doesn't change the arguments here, and is a rather stupid thing to hold against a company who felt and can probably demonstrate that they have legitimate claim to the remake.

It just doesn't enter into it. It MAY enter into your decision to buy the product, but arguments that suggest there is some legal component or moral obligation surrounding talking to the original designer aren't very effective.

Besides, we have no idea what the surrounding pieces of information on this are. Maybe FFG tried to contact him. Maybe they actually talked but there was miscommunication/misunderstanding. We don't know yet.
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Paul Nowak
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Unfortunately for FFG, the inconsistencies seem to be Hasbro's.

In 2001, 22 years after Richard's game Magic Realm was published by Avalon Hill, Hasbro stated they did not have the rights, and furthermore they did not even know who the inventor of the game was because they had not been involved in the orginal publishing agreement.

2012 will be 24 years after the publication of Merchant of Venus. Hasbro apparently claims the rights to this game. Since Richard left AH 4 years before MoV was published, he was not an employee. Were the licensing terms that different between the two games? Maybe, but then Hasbro couldn't even identify who made Magic Realm.

Richard is the only party to the original agreement that is involved in this fiasco, and he says Stronghold has the rights. It sounds like FFG was relying on Hasbro's word - or more specifically, Wizards of the Coast, a subsidiary of the company that purchased the other party in the licensing of Merchant of Venus.

EDIT: Richard was a member of AH's editorial staff prior to 1984. I would suspect that since he was an editor AND an inventor who had published several games through them he is somewhat versed in AH's licensing agreements.
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Matt Shinners
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overtheboard wrote:

In 2001, 22 years after Richard's game Magic Realm was published by Avalon Hill, Hasbro stated they did not have the rights, and furthermore they did not even know who the inventor of the game was because they had not been involved in the orginal publishing agreement.


Helen Van Tassel, the author of that e-mail, appears to be in their public relations department. I'm sure she checked with someone in legal affairs, but her saying that they reverted to the publisher doesn't mean that the rights did, in fact, revert to the publisher.

I find it highly unlikely that a company as large as Hasbro, who definitely has a stable of in house counsel that consists of several attorneys specializing in IP law, would offer a license that they weren't 100% sure they owned. I find it much more likely that an individual game designer is mistaken as to what he owns.

However, that is 100% speculation on my part. Just as almost everyone else is speculating here. It's just as likely that AH's freelance designer contract is MORE onerous than their in house development contracts as it is that the opposite is true.
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At the extreme risk of looking like a copyright/I.P. noob - could the solution of having one Company produce "Merchant of Venus" and the other "Richard Hamblain's Merchant of Venus" be a possibility?
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Slev Sleddeddan
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deadeyedick wrote:
Because it is the Right Thing to do.


No, it isn't. It might be something WE want, and I would argue it would be a GOOD thing to do. But it is not necessary[/q]

I've heard many similar customer complaints at work, that in order to show due diligence we should have done X, Y or Z. This despite the fact that we have shown due diligence by the legal and regulatory standards of our industry. In addition, X, Y and Z are often impracticable if not impossible.
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Paul Nowak
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MattShinners wrote:
overtheboard wrote:

In 2001, 22 years after Richard's game Magic Realm was published by Avalon Hill, Hasbro stated they did not have the rights, and furthermore they did not even know who the inventor of the game was because they had not been involved in the orginal publishing agreement.


Helen Van Tassel, the author of that e-mail, appears to be in their public relations department. I'm sure she checked with someone in legal affairs, but her saying that they reverted to the publisher doesn't mean that the rights did, in fact, revert to the publisher.

I find it highly unlikely that a company as large as Hasbro, who definitely has a stable of in house counsel that consists of several attorneys specializing in IP law, would offer a license that they weren't 100% sure they owned. I find it much more likely that an individual game designer is mistaken as to what he owns.

However, that is 100% speculation on my part. Just as almost everyone else is speculating here. It's just as likely that AH's freelance designer contract is MORE onerous than their in house development contracts as it is that the opposite is true.


We can't be sure that Helen was right, but it casts doubt on whether a Wizards of the Coast employee gave FFG the right answer either.

Since the question posed in 2001 was in regards to a fan-created publishing (w/ Ricahrd's blessing) of a third edition of Magic Realm, there are similarities in the issue. I doubt the PR person would have answered a rights question without being 100% sure of the answer. And since she's still with Hasbro she wasn't fired for telling the internet Hasbro didn't have rights they in fact had.

All my point was is that there are inconsistencies, but only in Hasbro's case. FFG did what they thought was right, based on what they were told.
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Paul Nowak
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Tegre wrote:
At the extreme risk of looking like a copyright/I.P. noob - could the solution of having one Company produce "Merchant of Venus" and the other "Richard Hamblain's Merchant of Venus" be a possibility?


Yes, and my guess is that both editions may get to shelves.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office:
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Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

Material prepared in connection with a game may be subject to copyright if it contains a sufficient amount of literary or pictorial expression. For example, the text matter describing the rules of the game or the pictorial matter appearing on the gameboard or container may be registrable.

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overtheboard wrote:
Tegre wrote:
At the extreme risk of looking like a copyright/I.P. noob - could the solution of having one Company produce "Merchant of Venus" and the other "Richard Hamblain's Merchant of Venus" be a possibility?


Yes, and my guess is that both editions may get to shelves.

According to the U.S. Copyright Office:
Quote:
Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

Material prepared in connection with a game may be subject to copyright if it contains a sufficient amount of literary or pictorial expression. For example, the text matter describing the rules of the game or the pictorial matter appearing on the gameboard or container may be registrable.

Cool!

Cool in the sense that if MoV by Stronghold games is an exact duplicate of the original game, I'd want to play that. Where as FFG will probably do a more stremlined chromed out version, I'd want to play that also. Yes, I'd be THAT customer that buys a copy of both because I'd want to experience it the original way, but also see what they cook up at the FFG labs.

Just please please please don't muck it up like you did the Dungeonquest combat rules. That's been my only disappointment from FFG in recent years.
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Matt Shinners
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overtheboard wrote:

We can't be sure that Helen was right, but it casts doubt on whether a Wizards of the Coast employee gave FFG the right answer either.


But, again, one person firing off an e-mail about a property that it seems no one was particularly interested in publishing at the time is worlds apart from a company entering into a legally binding licensing agreement with another company. In the former case, I'd be surprised if there was a significant review into the issue, as it seems even now Hasbro has no particular interest in that property (it seems to be more of the 'I guess someone might license it from us at some point' variety).

In the latter case, Hasbro entered into a licensing contract with FFG, which I'm 100% certain entailed a long review into the ownership rights of the property in question, any relevant contracts signed by the parties (AH and Hamblen), done by lawyers who know how to evaluate IP rights and contracts. No company that's been in business as long as Hasbro just signs a contract without researching the issue. It's not like FFG called up Hasbro, talked to one guy who said, "Yea, I think we have the rights to that. Want to buy it?", and then went ahead (sorry if I'm mischaracterizing your argument, but that's the impression I got from saying that "a" WotC employee gave them an answer re: ownership).

In short, though, I think we basically agree on everything except the relative certainty of some of the speculation. Which is kind of the point of speculation!
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that may be an interesting option; have fantasy flight games publish their version; which would be the updated re-release they are famous for, and have stronghold publish a new release, that will be the original game, with only updated components, with the same rules.

However, I find this unlikely to actually happen. What is most likely to happen is that both companies will need to figure out who actually has the publishing rights (a subset of the rights granted by copyright) and who does not. Since both companies negotiated with different parties, it is logical to assume that one in fact has rights, and the other does not. If fantasy flight games has the rights, then it is likely that stronghold will back down, and then pursue the designer for release from their contract. If stronghold holds the rights, however, then the suituation will most lkely be different; I imagine that fantasy flight games will attempt to secure some sort of license from stronghold, and will then pursue Hasbro for their money (whatever they paid for the rights) back.Fantasy flight has invested too much time and money to just walk away at this point. Stronghold has not invested as much time and money (although they have certainly invested some).
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