Thursday, August 6, 2015

Paternity Leave Brain Space & #JoeskyTax

In my last post, I mentioned that during my paternity leave, I didn't do as much writing as I'd liked to have, if only because typing with one hand isn't exactly a forte of mine. Instead, I got a lot of thinking done and some planning and other shizz. Here's a short list of some of the stuff I actually worked out.

Black Sun Deathcrawl

Get used to this image
At GenCon, the excellent Mr. +James MacGeorge released his nightmare-inducing setting for DCC, Black Sun Deathcrawl. I'd like to gush about how awesome James is and how he's one of the Metal Gods players and one of the coolest people I've ever met on teh interwebz, but then you might think that I'm only interested in pimping Black Sun Deathcrawl because I like the dude who wrote it. Well, I do like the dude who wrote it, but BSDC is goddamn amazing. It's based on a post James wrote on his blog like a year ago, and back then I was super excited about it, wanting him to develop it further; thankfully, he did. And published it. And now he needs someone to handle online sales of the book, something that I readily volunteered for. If you're looking for a gaming experience that will make you question your own existence (and really, if you're not, we're in this hobby for vastly different reasons), stay tuned to Dispatches From Kickassistan for details.

"The Gahsman Project"

Some readers of the blog may be familiar with +Cory Gahsman, aka "DM Cojo," if only from all the damn letters the dude writes to pretty much every gaming podcast out there. I knew him by name from Spellburn, and when +Kathryn Muszkiewicz and I met him at GaryCon 2014, it was kind of like meeting a family member, especially for Katie. No, seriously, Cojo really looks like he could be a member of Katie's family; it's kind of eerie. All of that aside, Cojo and his son, Chase, have been cooking up a monster book based on Chase's illustrations, which Cojo then gives descriptive text and stats. The gents were thinking about publishing this one themselves and even talked to the Dark Master himself about it, but weren't exactly sure how to get the project off the ground. This is where I came it. So, I'll be managing this project, handling layout, production and fulfillment while Chase & Cojo get to do the fun part. There should be more details about this sooner rather than later, but I have to meet with Cojo to hammer out a production schedule.

Why Aren't We Licensing More Work?

This revelation hit me the other day as I was thinking about the Gahsman Project (no, that's not going to be its final name, just a placeholder for now). I had initially planned to pay Cojo and Chase for their work on the Project, but I also want them to retain their rights to their own work. If I simply paid them for work done, it could be said that I had purchased their work from them and thus I myself own the copyright to the work. This is something I want to avoid. Creator-owned content was a strong part of what made Image Comics such a huge deal from its inception and, to me, it seems like RPGs are just as viable a field for creator-owned content. Sure, your "campaign supplement splatbook expansions" for major games, but I'm never going to have to worry about paying freelancers for their work on a megasetting or whatever. That's not who I am, that's not what I'm interested in publishing, that's not what I do.

The plan is, for things that I publish that are created by people who aren't me, like the Gahsman Project, I'm going to pay them a licensing fee for the license to publish their material for a period of time. After that licensing agreement ends, we can renew it (and renegotiate terms; something that makes more sense if it's been particularly successful) or we can terminate the license and go our separate ways, whatever. The rights are retained by the person who made the stuff, not by the guy who just published it. Things are as they should be.

To some of my readers, this may seem like a "so what?" issue, and I get that. It's not like I'm trying to be some bigwig publisher dude living off of other people's work, and that's kind of the point. In this industry, it's not even possible to live off of other people's work, is it? Eh, maybe, but that's not the point. The point is to make sure that everything I publish, I publish in an ethical manner and that everybody knows it from moment one and there's no confusion about who owns what, who can do what with it and how folks are getting paid for it.

Case in point, I have this friend who shall remain nameless and he's a small press publisher like me. He publishes entirely in pdf and contracts writers on a "pay for work" basis. This means that if you work for him, you're getting paid per word. On the surface, we're okay so far. The problem comes when this guy hires folks to do work for pay, but doesn't have a contract of any kind. Everything is a verbal agreement, a wink, a nod and a handshake. Honestly, I'm cool with that until something happens down the line and there's a dispute between my friend and someone he's hired to do work. Maybe that person wants out of the deal, maybe the publisher is using his work in a way he didn't intend, who knows. The point is, there's now a disagreement between my friend and his writers & artists, and to smooth it all over, he asks them all to sign a contract stating that the work they do for pay for him gives him the rights to that work, including the copyright and any applicable trademarks. Hmm. Suddenly, this does not seem like such a good idea anymore.

One of my other friends (to whom I am much closer) is one of guys currently being asked to sign his work away. Friend B (the writer) did work for pay for friend A (the publisher) and received compensation for it. As B understood the arrangement with A, B was paying A for the right to publish the thing, but wasn't making any claim to copyright or trademarks. Then, B receives this contract from A that gives A the right to the copyright of the material as well as trademark over its title. Since B had been looking at the title of the work as his own signature (in fact, it's a product line he's looking at extending in the future, with or without A), he's not too keen on this. For B, this had not been a one-off product like an adventure or something similar, something that -- at least from my perspective on the outside of the situation -- B views as part of his unique gamer thumbprint: this is what his games are like, damnit! B really wants to control his own property and this contract takes that property away from him.

So, don't sign the contract, right? The thing is, if he wanted to, A could probably force the issue. After all, he did pay for work done and, if we view B as a freelancer, common work for pay practices with a freelancer give the rights of the produced material to the person who paid to have it created. By default, is A an employer, paying to have work done, or a patron, paying to support the endeavors of a creator?

Sure, the easy way out of this mess is to have had a contract in the first place, but that's clearly not what happened here. I'm not using this case to illustrate why people should have contracts; that part is pretty clear. Instead, I'm using it to demonstrate why, if I'm the publisher of a thing, I want to have the contract that I want to have and why. Frankly, however much I'd love to hope that A views his relationship with B as a patron to an artist, I'm pretty sure that's not how he sees it. But that's how I'd like to see myself. It's how I'd want to be treated as an author, as a creator.

Joesky Tax: The Tongue of Lies and Conviction

After all that rant, I feel I owe some Joesky Tax. Here goes.

This mummified tongue is similar to other "liar's tongue" talismans, worn under the tongue to make its bearer's lies more believable. Unlike other similar tongues, the Tongue of Lies and Conviction may only be used against one target at a time and it exacts a strange toll upon the bearer: any lie he tells will be unquestionably believed by both the target and the bearer himself. The target's belief in the lie is fairly superficial despite being magically compelled, and he can be convinced of its falsehood if a compelling argument is presented. The bearer, however, cannot be so easily convinced; rather, his conviction in the lie strengthens if it is confronted. If the bearer tries to controvert the lie, even if he merely tells himself that he's only pretending the lie is false, he will find himself unable to speak; his faculty of speech will return when the moment has passed or when the bearer no longer persists in acting contrary to the lie.