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MUDs and Licenses

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What this article isEdit

This article is about helping to answer common questions (listed) about how MUDs and MUD licenses effect some people, or the MUD community.

This article is based on the opinions, experiences, and general consensus of individuals and does not represent any Law making, or deciding entity.

This article is meant to be easily understood by all who wish a starting point on this topic.

What this article is notEdit

This article is not legally binding in any way or anywhere.

This article is not legal advice.

What is "Intellectual Property"?Edit

Many countries feel it's important to let people profit from their ideas, art, and inventions. The reason is that if a country has a lot of creativity going on, that benefits everyone.

To encourage creativity, countries make laws that give the creative people (and ONLY them) the right to profit from their creation.

The important thing to remember is that "Intellectual Property" isn't like a cow in your barn or a shoe in your closet. It isn't about "owning a thing". It's about having the legal right to use an idea, art, or invention in a particular way.

It is further important to realize that the creator of said Intellectual Property has the sole discretion as to its use.

What is "copyright"?Edit

Copyright is one of the ways that creative works are protected. It is the type of IP (Intellectual Property) that most often applies to MUDs.

Copyright means that the author of a work has the right to copy, change, and share that work with other people...and *nobody* else has that right.

The basic principle is that they have free creative control over their work, and that they can allow, or disallow any person(s) they wish to use, alter, or view their work. This is often enforced in a form of License.

That doesn't make sense. People download stuff all the time.Edit

An author usually *wants* people to use her stuff. What copyright does is let her control *how* that happens.

The idea is this. I write a program and I want to share that program with other people. The minute I write it, it is copyrighted. If someone else uses it, that would be against the law.

So what I do is I create a "license". This is a set of rules. As long as people follow those rules, they can use the program in the way that the rules say they can.


If I download it, it's mine.Edit

The concept of "property" has been around for a long time. Only a few hundred years ago did people start figuring out that ideas, art, and inventions had special kinds of value that could be protected.

Our human common-sense idea of what property is, makes it hard for some people to accept the term "intellectual property".

The way people normally think of things, if it's in their control, it's their property. If I have a shoe, it's up to me what I do with it.

Often times people also view these situations as 'If I can't hold the property, visibly see it, or touch it, it can't be stealing!'

So why is a song or a program different?

The problem is the word "property". IP law is not about what you "own", really. It's about whether you have the right to modify, copy, use, or profit from a creative work.

Think about it the other way around. If you spend a year writing a book, then sell it, you would probably not want other people to copy the words, change the front cover and sell it as if they were the author, would you? Since you wrote it, it's only fair that you get credit, and that you get the money from the sales.

The other person might own the physical pages of the copied books, but they don't have the right to publish your book unless you give them that right. That's the difference.

For the person that downloads the work, this may seem like an insignificant difference. But to those who spend countless hours on creating the work, only to have someone use it against his wishes, it really is a big difference.

What if I change most of the program? It's mine then, right?Edit

No. The way copyright works is that it doesn't matter how much you change the original program. You might even change the program so much that experts cannot find any part of the original. But as long as your version started with someone else's, they still have copyright over it. You do have copyright to those changes that you have made.

You can't possibly be seriousEdit

This is how the system works. It's okay to be confused, angry or even incredulous. Sometimes laws can be hard to understand or agree with until you've been in the situation that called for them. The fact still remains, if your creative work started as someone else's work, it's called a derivative work, and the original author's copyright and copyright licenses apply to it.

Let's turn the situation around again. Suppose you wrote a book, and are selling it. You later find out that someone translated your book into Chinese and is selling it in China, without your permission.

If you get a copy of this counterfeit book, you can't see any of your original words. But that doesn't mean you've lost your rights.

So my Diku-based mud will always have to display the credits?Edit

Yes. You'll also have to follow all other stipulations in your license, such as not profiting from the work or taking donations.

Well, it's not Diku. It's Smaug, so nyah.Edit

Because of the "derivative works" principle, you are still bound by the Diku license if your mud is Smaug. Smaug is a derivative of Merc, which is a derivative of Copper, which is a derivative of Sequent, which is a derivative of Diku. Think of it as a family, with Diku as the father. The DNA is shared all the way down, from father to great great grandson. No matter what you do with your Smaug/Merc/Copper/Sequent/etc it'll still have the same father. The only way around this is to start completely fresh.

You don't understand! It's been completely rewritten!Edit

Whether you start with 100 lines, or you start with 100,000 lines, any work you add to that base code is considered a derivative. This current article you are viewing is a derivative of what's being overwritten. Even though most of the work is completely overwritten, it's still a derivative, and it still follows the license of the previous article which in this case is the GNU FDL.

To use the Chinese translation example, it doesn't matter if no part of the original English work exists, the Chinese version is still a derivative work based upon US and World copyright law. Completely rewriting something doesn't suddenly make it a new thing, it makes it a rewritten version of the old thing.

In short: No matter how many lines you change, it's still a derivative and you're still in violation.

If you don't like the restrictions that a given mud asks, then there are plenty of other muds under different license, and even public domain bases out there you can work with which won't cause such problems.

Obviously another way to avoid license problems is to write a mud yourself. See Writing a Mud

Is it legal to make a MUD from my favorite movie/show/book ? Edit

If there is no IP holder, or if you have permission from the IP holder, then yes. An example of a situation with no IP holder might be a mud based on Don Quixote, or The Iliad, or Huckleberry Finn. Those works are now considered "Public Domain" in many countries because the authors died over 80 years ago. However, most works of fiction created in the past 100 years still have an IP holder, and you should assume your favorite movie/show/book has an IP holder until you know for sure.

An example of permission granted by an IP holder is Discworld MUD, based on the books by Terry Pratchett. Because that mud has specific permission to use elements from his books, it is legal for them to run their mud with that theme.

An example of a violation would be if you decide to run a mud based on World of Warcraft without getting permission. The fact that you paid for the right to play the game on your computer does not give you the license to make a MUD based on their game. That would be a derivative work that falls under the rights of Blizzard, the company that publishes WoW.

To legally run a WoW mud, you would need to be licensed to do it. You would need to have permission.

There are some IP holders that are ok with people using their material in derivative works for free. Some insist that it must be under specific rules, such as "no getting money". It really depends on the IP holder, and you really do have to get permission, otherwise it's against the law.

What if it's just characters? I want to use Zerg and Protoss!Edit

Even if you don't call yourself, say, a StarCraft mud, having elements of someone else's IP in your mud *can* be a violation of IP law. If you're in doubt, the right thing to do is get permission first.


Fine. Maybe I'm a violator, maybe I'm not. You can't prove it.Edit

This is where you get to decide just how far you want to take it. As a license violator, it is the right of the intellectual property owner to seek legal recourse against you, and possibly sue. You must ask yourself if it is worth the time, trouble and great expense of a possible lawsuit simply to steal someone else's work. Special note should be made to the recent actions of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America)** in prosecuting illegal song downloaders. Stealing MUD code, or any other code in any fashion and abusing, ignoring or thinking you can "get away" with license violation is a crime and there are victims.

A lot of people have put hard work into their areas, code, and designs and stealing these from them can cause them to leave or stop contributing to the community. To those who dedicate their time (and for some or even many this can be thousands of combined hours) it can be felt like a loved child has been defiled. Don't think you're being smart by changing a few commands and the credits file. There's plenty of ways for detecting a MUD, many of them that would take months or even years to completely change. And when you get to that point, why not just write your own in the first place?

Your ISP or Mudhost can also be sent a DMCA takedown to remove your hard earned work if you're in violation of copyright law. This means you could lose all the work YOU put in, just for not recognizing the work others have.

It is also important to note that people who are reported to be code thieves, or willfully neglect a License, are often prosecuted vehemently within the MUD community. This can often quickly lead to 'black balling'.


**See these MSNBC articles concerning the recent action of the RIAA:
   Article 1[1]
   Article 2[2]

Why do these jerks care what I do with my mud?Edit

It has to do with a sense of community, and sense of civic duty. Mud Developers spend a lot of time working on code, and releasing it to people absolutely free. All they ask of you is that you follow the license which they attach to their code. Please understand, the license is the only thing that gives you permission to use, alter ir distribute the code in the first place. Failing to follow it means you inherently lose the rights which were granted to you by the author.

Some people do decide to ignore licenses, whether for profit or vanity. The reason we it is important to enforce license usage is that stealing someone's work and profiting off of it, or wrongly claiming it as your own, just leads to people feeling like their work was wasted and stolen. You reduce the likelihood that these developers will share their work in the future and you hurt the community as a whole. Think it can't happen? Check out the Curious Area Workshop webpage.

Here's a short, point listed reason as to why you shouldn't violate licenses:

  1. You're disrespecting the original creator's wishes.
  2. You're showing developers that their work can be stolen and abused.
  3. You're teaching new developers that it's best to keep their work to themselves.
  4. The MUD Community suffers stagnation, and there's fewer innovations in MUDs.
  5. You show new members of the community that it is okay to steal, and in so doing could become a victim yourself.

Removing credits and profiting from work unduly hurts the entire community. Don't do it.

This is stupid. It's just a game, people.Edit

It may be just a game to you, but many people have spent thousands and thousands of hours of hard work on their code. They've released it free to the public because they want to share their hard work with the world. When you remove their credits, or fail to follow their license, you essentially spit in their face.

The only thing that grants you the right to edit the code is the license itself, so by not following it you're already a copyright infringer. But beyond legalities, misusing someone's work is hurtful, and can cause them to not want to share their games at all. This is why you should follow the license, and why developers get after you for violations. Put yourself in their shoes.

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