Freedom Force, Will Eisner, and Intellectual Property

There is a fascinating thread over at the official Freedom Force discussion board about intellectual property and computer game mods.

Freedom Force is the first real superhero game for the PC (and, soon, Macintosh), and one of the best games I have ever played. It is also very moddable, and there are thousands of skins available for pretty much any comic book superhero as well as some completely new missions and campaigns. One of my favorites, for example, is an ongoing mod that pits the Fantastic Four in various missions.

But, of course, none of the people making these skins or mods has any right to do so. The Fantastic Four are the property of Marvel and creating a mod involving them violates copyright and trademark laws. So far the companies aren’t complaining — but Will Eisner did.

One user made a skin of The Spirit and Eisner was apparently not happy about it because the version of The Spirit posted online carried a gun and Eisner has some problem with guns. So Eisner sent contacted the creator of the skin and asked him to take it down, which the author did.

Immediately, of course, some people started complaining about the evils of intellectual property, to which one observant person noted there was a whiff of hypocrisy in the air,

I’m broadly speaking against “intellectual property”, but I notice that this community has one set of morals regarding “warez scum” and another when it comes to copyright breach of comic characters.You can’t have it both ways, so either we start handing out cd keys ands iso files to all comers or we have to shut up about “bad form” and corporate greed when someone says “don’t skin my creation”.

The general response seems to be “modding is different than making warez” but most of the responses seem like they are rationalizing: What they do is warez, what we do is fair use.

I doubt Marvel, DC or other comic book companies will complain or send cease and desist order so long as their characters are not portrayed in ways inconsistent with their vision of said characters. Marvel, after all, tolerated and then licensed an X-Men Quake mod so it could be commercially released. But it would be nice if there were a way for companies to formally make such not-for-profit activities legal without diminishing their trademarks so that fans and modders could have clear cut guidelines of what they can and cannot do with stuff like this or fan fiction/films.

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