Last week I was embroiled in a Copyright dispute. Well actually it was probably more like a libel case; let me explain.
In case you’ve not heard about it, there is a new Spectrum on the block. The Spectrum Next. It had a very successful Kickstarter and is due to be released in August.
Back in January I was contacted by someone, let’s call them BoB, who asked about licensing the engine for The Lords of Midnight. Now, obviously there is no ‘Engine’. I do have the original z80 code that I hand disassembled, the 80×86 code that I ported, and the various bits of code that I have developed of the years. The nearest thing to an engine is the ‘The Midnight Engine’ which is the underlying code used in my recent remakes. Now, that code is 90% mine, there is no code in it from the original spectrum versions of the Lords of Midnight or Doomdark’s Revenge. However, they wouldn’t exist without the original, and they obviously heavily interpret Mike’s original algorithms etc… because they were written to play, and expand upon The Lords of Midnight. The copyright to that code is mine. I have spoken previously about making it available to anyone who would like to do something non-commercial with it.
In June BoB contacted me again about developing a fan remake of The Lords of Midnight on the Spectrum Next, to which I answered in principal there is no problem doing so.
I possibly need to give that some context, to the whole. me giving permission.
After Mike died, his family asked me if I would be their first port of call representative for their father’s Intellectual Property. The idea being that I could quickly handle most IP requests without the need to bother them, and we would work together in more detail for the more complicated ones. The process was pretty simple and painless as both the family and I think it’s important that as many people experience their father’s work as possible.
There are just three simple conditions to adhere to, then I can say OK, and off you go.
- No monetary gain.
- Attribution of the licence usage.
- Keeping faithful to the original IP.
Item number one is just to make life easier. The rule is ‘if you make money, the family make money’. That seems fair an reasonable. And therefore if a commercial venture is happening, then a more detailed agreement is required.
It might be a little known fact, but Mike as VERY protective of his IP. The reality is that if you don’t protect your IP, you lose your IP.
Back in the early 90’s when I ported LoM and DDR to DOS, I spoke to Mike and obtained permission to make them available online. It was then him personally that asked Domark to contact me and ask permission to place my ports on the CD for Lords of Midnight:The Citadel. So you see, in this case, even though my ports were based on his games, and I had asked him permission to distribute them, he understood the importance, and the good nature, to obtain permission for him to distribute them further.
One of the reasons why The Citadel was not Eye of the Moon was because he decided that the Domark deal was a little too restrictive, and he didn’t think he could make the game he wanted, and therefore he didn’t want to risk EotM getting bogged down in IP disputes in the future.
Sometime after Midnight/MU was released, probably around 2006, I brokered the deal with Mike to allow the game to be available. At that time Mike’s concern was with mobile platforms. He didn’t want the game being available on Mobile, but apart from that, he gave it his blessing. So the M/MU team kept away from developing a dedicated client and stuck to web only.
Also around 2006 author Stuart Hill contacted me, he had written a novel ‘Cry of the Icemark’ and the publisher was concerned about any possible crossover with The Lords of Midnight series, and were holding off publishing until Stuart could get some clearance from Mike. There were a couple of things that were problematic, The Icemark itself, and there was a Luxor, and a Morkin. Stuart explained that he had never heard of The Lords of Midnight and that the coincidences were just that, coincidences. I put Stuart in contact with Mike and although I was not party to the agreement, I know that Mike wasn’t overly concerned and gave Stuart the ok. Now, I’ve read the book and I’m don’t recall a Luxor or a Morkin, so I wonder if that was an area that was changed just to make sure.
in 2012 Richard Quirk had already released ports of his GameBoy versions of LoM and DDR on Android. Mike contacted him asking him politely not to continue distributing the games. Mike was concerned that the games would confuse the issue when our later remake/reboot were released. At that time we didn’t actually know what or when we were going to release anything, just that we were going to. Richard immediately and without issue complied. After Mike’s death, and after the release of the remake that Mike and I had worked on, I contacted Richard with the new conditions that the family and I had put in place, and the games were released as ‘The Lords of Midnight: 8 Bit’
Now back to BoB.
Earlier last week BoB asked me about possibly changing the name of the game because he wondered if him altering the map and adding new characters would cause me a problem. I actually thought this was a positive step, because in all honesty, it does. So I replied that that might be a good idea, and having it as a ‘Midnight Inspired’ game might be easier all round. Straight after that, BoB started publicly stating that I had threatened him with legal action, and shut the project down. Something that I can categorically state that I hadn’t. Not only that, I hadn’t even suggested that I wouldn’t allow him to develop the game using Mike’s IP. BoB has repeated this accusations in multiple places, and his statements are probably libellous, and ironically, is the area that a Legal threat is most likely to come from! The whole thing has gotten very silly, and will probably continue to do so, but one of the comments that BoB made “Am confused as to how change the map(making it bigger) = interfereing [sic] with IP as chris has claimed it would be”, got me to thinking, and to try and find the best way to explain it.
On Remakes and Reboots.
Remakes are nothing new. Since games have been in development there have been official and unofficial remakes of old games across different platforms. Some of them have been faithful to the original and have just updated graphics, sound, etc. and some have been much more like a reboot with say, the move from 2d to 3d. Some have been done by the original author some have been by fan developers. Some have been commercial in nature.
In the case of my remakes of The Lords of Midnight. When Mike and I originally started on them, we set out to have the game running on the new mobile platforms, and then to explore just what a remake meant to us both. We talked a lot about some of the things we wanted to do with the games to update them. How to address some of the issues that the new platforms presented. Toward the end we realised that addressing these issues with LoM and DDR was actually about having a experimental springboard for developing The Eye of the Moon.
After Mike died, I decided not to follow that route, and to just have the games released as a tribute to him.
In films, remakes tend to be full on reboots or reimagining. Someone goes back to the original material and decides what they would do with it now. Possibly because more technology is available to them to help them realise the full potential of the story, or because the audience is now different. The concept of just updating the graphics or the sound, isn’t something that tends to happen, although obviously scene-by-scene, or shot-by-shot makes have happened. Psycho and Rocky Horror being the best examples I know of. Some remakes are better than others, some people will prefer the originals, some who have never seen the originals might prefer the remakes.
Songs get covered or remade. Some covers are pretty much the artists performing the song maybe in a slightly different style, some radically different. Personally I think that Johnny Cash’s version of ‘Hurt’ is much much better than the original NiN’s version, at Madness’s “it must be love’ is better than Labi Siffre’s, Sinéad O’Connor’s version of ‘Nothing Compares to you’ is better than Prince’s.
In books I’m not really sure. It’s not something I am aware of. Books tend to be adapted to a new medium, film for example. The story may be revisited and revised as part of the adaptation, but I’m not aware of someone releasing a new version of a book, with the same title, and the same characters, but just updating it in someway, maybe setting it in a new era.
Now back to The Lords of Midnight in particular. There are a number of things that remaking this game makes if different than others.
Firstly, the original author is no longer with is. If you consider that games being remade were obviously originally developed during the last 30 to 40 years, and that most of the developers were young at the time, the vast majority of developers are still with us.
Secondly, the IP was owned by one person. Over time games became more and more developed by teams and the ownership of the IP becomes more contentious: company or team? Now many of the companies who may have originally owned the IP have been bought by other companies, who in turn have been bought by other companies. It’s very difficult to work out just does own the rights any more. Even some of the original team don’t know if they can proceed with a remake of the product they helped develop.
Thirdly, The Lords of Midnight is not just about its graphics or design, it’s also about its story. Now, it’s fair to say that LoM itself is a derivative of Lord of the Rings, but it does have its own story. For people like myself, that story is important. Not just The Lords of Midnight, but all four parts of the story. LoM, DDR, Citadel, and EotM. Mike obviously revised what he needed as he wrote the novellas, he also created new stories and plots as he needed them. There was no master plan, there was no real thinking ahead. Even when he thought he would be developing seven titles in the chronicles, there was no overarching story. Before his death I would ask him questions about LoM and often he would reply, “You know Chris, I don’t know, I just made up what I needed at the time.”
But now we have that work, the ‘canon’ as these things get called, that stuff that Mike just made up, it is important to protect them. And indeed, just before his death Mike thought it important enough to start writing EotM, Although he never finished it, we have enough material to understand where he was taking it from a story point of view, if not from a game design.
Under the ‘Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988’, The Lords of Midnight is protected by copyright for 70 years from the death of the author.
Under the same Act, Copyright includes the concept of ‘Moral Rights’. Moral rights are defined as ‘the right of an author or other creative artist to protect the integrity and ownership of their work.’ The right of integrity protects authors from having their copyrighted works altered in such a fashion as to constitute a “distortion” or “mutilation” of the original work, or in a way that harms the author’s reputation or honour.
Exactly what constitutes distortion or mutilation is going to be a contentious issue, and is very much going to be in the eye of the author or copyright holder. Actually interpreting the ‘right of integrity’ would be complicated, likely require a lawyer, and probably involve a court case and or president. Most legal things do. However, the easiest way to deal with the ‘right of integrity’ is to deal with the copyright holder.
While working on the upcoming novel, Drew Wagar talked with me about the story. I, as custodian of the IP need to consider any changes that he is making in order to think about how it fits into the world of Midnight. As someone who is very familiar with all parts of the series, it is easier for me to see the context of a change within the series itself. So if Drew wants to kill a character for example, I can make sure that that character was not important later in the series. So for example, SPOLER ALERT – Lord Blood must survive. Why? Because he’s involved in The Citadel.
Other things are more subjective, i.e.: ‘I’m not sure that would have happened.’ Some things are more straight forward tying up the Lore. For example, Tarithel the Fey is not part of The Lords of Midnight, she turns up at the start of Doomdark’s Revenge where she meets Morkin wandering in the Forest of Dreams. Now Drew wanted to to use her in the novel, so we talked about it. And the decision was that if you are going to tell part of the story from The Lords of Dreams point of view, and include the Citadel of Dreams and The Forest of Dreams, it is entirely factual that Tarithel would have been there. Therefore, the only issues to including her in the story is, a) don’t kill her, b) don’t have her and Morkin meet, and c) don’t turn her into some sword wielding heroine, because that’s not how Mike wrote her..
As consultant on the novel, I also suggest things to Drew. I’m not telling the story, so it’s not about that, but it’s about pointing him at information contained within the four novellas, or information that Mike and I talked about, and seeing if it helps with the background of his story. With that he is able to foreshadow things, or pick up on pieces of history. History that from a game point of view wasn’t revealed until the later games, but that makes complete sense within the novel. By weaving this information through the novel, we gain a better, and more robust, sense of the world of Midnight.
The Map in Midnight is very recognisable, and indeed it is an important part of the story. It was actually printed on the back of the novella, games generally don’t come with a novella, let alone a printed map. Not only that, but it was an important thing for Mike. Mike was never happy with Doomdark’s Revenge map. Although at the time, the technical solution employed to create a map and its names in order to reduce memory and development time, was an important part of the game, but with hindsight Mike was unhappy that it meant the game lacked the soul of the original.
The day after Mike’s funeral, the same day that I was handed Mike’s own copy of Doomdark’s Revenge, and the handwritten notes for Eye of the Moon, Mike’s family told me about the nights he spent working at the kitchen table creating the map, and later transferring it to graph paper ready to be encoded into the game. One of his sons also shared with me a personal story relating to him, his father, and the map.
To those who played the game, many have their own memories of mapping the game onto graph paper as they played. For those who still play the game, particularly in games like Midnight/MU, many of them can navigate the land of Midnight without the need for a map. Many can recognise were they are by just looking at the landscape view that the game shows them. So, changing the map isn’t just a simple case of knocking down some keeps, or removing some forests, drastic changes have drastic affects on the game, and peoples memory of it.
Now, I don’t profess that Mike was a Tolkien, or even a JK Rowling, nor was he a Gene Roddenberry, or George Lucas, but imagine obtaining the rights to one of those IP and then deciding you are going to, remove Mount Doom, or move Hogwarts, or rename Captain Kirk, or maybe set Luke’s story somewhere other than Tatooine.
In Midnight/MU there are parts of the map that needed to change. Why? because M/MU has a mode where you can’t travel through mountains, and there are a couple of places that would be mountain locked, so adding some passes made sense, changing the map a little, helped with the gameplay and had no real overall detrimental affect on the IP. Also, in order to have a compelling multi-player experience the game needed some new lords. Most of them have been in-keeping with the story. They are one of the right races that belong in the series, they have a name that doesn’t sit out of place. So again, on balance there decisions to add the new lords is ok and works within the context of the game. There is actually one lord, who is a werewolf called Rrrr, who by rights shouldn’t really be there, there is no real context for him to be in the Midnight universe, but he is. So why is he there? Because it’s a bit of fun!
As part of the research for the novel, Drew and I discussed the concept of the House of Moon. This is an area that has actually been discussed between fans of Midnight over the years. Luxor is a Moonprince, but he doesn’t know it before the start of the game. He comes from the lost, House of Moon. So, what does that mean? How was it ‘Lost’? Where was the original capital of Midnight? In order to come up with some answer, there needed to be some map changes. Not current changes, but past. How did parts of Midnight look, when the House of Moon was in full swing? Now these are things that Mike didn’t actually think about. It wasn’t important to him, he just needed a throwaway phrase that made Luxor’s past sound ok. Now for us, it is important. Drew’s novels might actually become ‘canon’ in the same way that Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now canon.
So, making changes in the Midnight universe is problematic, but not impossible. Making changes within the Midnight universe requires cooperation and understanding on both sides.
Now, I don’t actually know how BoB wanted to change the map, he talked about changing it into zones, and he created a rough drawn map which I couldn’t work out how it related to LoM. But we never discussed an actual change to the map, the reasons for the change, and how it would affect the game, let alone the story.
I hope the above goes some way to explaining the potential complications of IP with regards to remakes.