PS3 line #4
Creative Commons License photo credit: dalvenjah

I am one of the co-hosts on the SitePoint Podcast and we’re preparing to host a live show at WordCamp Raleigh, a WordPress-focused conference that will run from May 21-22. I will be speaking at the event, as well, leading a session titled “Comment Moderation 201.” So, if you’re in the Raleigh, North Carolina area, please give it a look as I’d love to meet you.

Back on topic, I was looking for a guest or two to invite to our live show, outside of conference speakers and attendees. Basically, I was looking for some forward thinking individuals that have made a name for themselves thanks to their business and/or social media acumen. I noticed that Epic Games, the company behind the popular Gears of War series and Unreal game engine, was based in Cary, not too far from Raleigh. So, I was thinking, maybe someone from the company would be a good fit.

I took a look at their website and ended up on the about page. I then noticed a link for a “Fan Art Policy” and clicked it and found the “Fan Art and Fan Site Policy.” My first thought was “awesome, that sounds like a great idea.” But, then I started reading it.

Some of the document is reasonable enough, but there is plenty in it that makes me shake my head. Some of it is unnecessarily confrontational (if you accidentally violate any of these stipulations, they’ll “sic the lawyers” on you, instead of sending you a polite e-mail requesting you to look into the issue, as would be the case with a healthy fan/company relationship), oddly restrictive (you better spell the name of their products correctly – or else!) or simply unrealistic in an open environment like an online community (if you use one of their product names, you can’t do it in a way that would “damage the reputation” of the product, only “enhance” – I wonder how that affects the editorial voice of the publication).

But, I want to talk about a specific topic and the section below really stood out to me (the emphasis is mine).

Please Understand that Epic vigorously protects the Epic IP from damaging infringement. However, pursuant to the term of this Policy, Epic grants all of its fans (and even those who don’t consider themselves fans) the revocable permission to create Fan Art and Fan Sites based on Epic IP. All Fan Art and Fan Sites must be tasteful (in Epic’s sole discretion) and (this is critical) have no commercial (monetary) objective. Also, Epic, in its sole discretion, can terminate and revoke your permission to create Fan Art and Fan Sites at any time, for any or no reason whatsoever.

What a terrible, unreasonable, unenforceable, inappropriate, short sighted and selfish thing to require.

Yes, please do spend your money on your products and please do create responsibility run fan publications that you dedicate your lives to, that require the time that a full time job does, and do send us even more sales for our products, through said publications. But, do not ever try to make money for your time and work.

What a great honor it is for them to bestow upon paying customers the “revocable license to create Fan Art and Fan Sites.” Even better, “Epic, in its sole discretion, can terminate and revoke your permission to create Fan Art and Fan Sites at any time, for any or no reason whatsoever.”

Permission? No one needs approval from Epic to create a fan site for any Epic game. Yes, if any site (not a fan site, but any site) starts pirating Epic games, they can take legal action. Yes, if they are hypersensitive and a fan site uses a trademarked term in some odd way, they can be a bully, send boilerplate, compare fans to criminals and offendthem (instead of taking a little more enlightened approach). If that is who they want to be, cool, good luck. But, if someone creates a fan site and stays away from those sort of things, there is nothing that Epic can do to stop them, reasonably, without looking insane and hurting themselves.

That paragraph is simply bad thinking and the reasons are simple.

First, a fan publication is not all that different from a gaming magazine or industry publication. That line is long blurred and gone. The only difference is that a fan publication already likes you, is in your corner and wants you to do well. I don’t think you should view that as a bad thing and place added restrictions on them.

But, just like a gaming publication, to run a good fan site well can take an extraordinary amount of time. It can easily become a part time job and will often become a full time (or full time plus) job. It becomes a part of your life and becomes something that equals your day job or simply must replace it in order to continue. Even if you love it, it is hard work.

Pretty much no one’s goal in life is to slave over a website, dedicated to some corporation’s product, and then die penniless. Even if you love what you do, you still need to support yourself, your family and your personal dreams and the wealth required to accomplish them. That is life, the pursuit of dreams or your happiness.

Is Epic prepared to go after gaming publications who use logos, screenshots and more and are plainly for profit? Of course not. They wouldn’t even dream of it. Those publications generally use material made available for the press by Epic – and fan sites should be allowed to do the same.

If they truly love it, they’ll do it for free, some might suggest. Let’s kill this selfish cop out right now. If they want to make money, they aren’t real fans and it’s about the money, not the love. That is ridiculous. When something consumes your life, you need to be able to live. I’m sure the people at Epic love their jobs – but they also expect to be paid for them.

On that topic, I would be willing to bet that a well run fan site, run full time by someone, can generate as much or more revenue for the company than someone working full time at Epic, building fan relationships online, running the “official” community and what not. Simply, well run fan sites make you money, without costing you anything. You should be engaging with them, you should be offering them stuff (with no strings attached), but even if you don’t… they are still making you money! At zero cost!

I was shocked to read this. Gaming is one of the industries that is supposed to really get online community (and much of the industry does, no doubt), given the fact that gaming communities represent a large portion of the overall online community landscape. The controlling, unrealistic nature of this document really made me pause. Some might suggest that this is caused by those “evil lawyers” and that you have to do it this way: no, that is an excuse, and you don’t.

I’m not saying fan communities and publications have to make money. I’m just saying they should have the option, without threat or intimidation from the corporations they support. As long as they are not pirating products, selling t-shirts with the company’s characters on it or something similar and obviously wrong, there shouldn’t be a problem. They should be treated like any other independent publication.

A fan publication should never be treated worse than an industry publication would be. That is what this document does and that just doesn’t make sense.