Monday, 8 May 2017

A Dose of the Blues

Bluestuff that is.   

Remember that cunning plan I had to overcome the missing weapons with the figures I purchased at Salute? Well it appears the plan has a significant flaw. Copying bits of a purchased miniature - even if it's only to replace a part that you believe should have come with the figure - isn't appreciated and may well land you in the same hot water that you use to melt your Bluestuff.

This has got me thinking. Where do we draw the line over what can and cannot be copied? Is there such a thing as fair use?   

Many rulebooks explicitly give permission to copy reference sheets, character cards and the like. Some can even be downloaded and printed from the manufacturers website and freely printed. SAGA uses special dice with unique symbols and these are sold by several companies. But the guys at Studio Tomohawk also give copies of the symbols away and suggest that folks can make their own dice. So far so good. What about the battleboards though? I usually colour photocopy my purchased battleboards and laminate them for playing games. The originals are tucked away safely. Nobody has ever suggested this is wrong and until recently I hadn't given it a second thought. But nowhere in the rulebooks does it explicitly state this is a permitted activity, so are you pirating somebody's i.p. by doing so? Or is it fair use?   

More recently I've been playing Congo. The rules come with cardboard tokens and measuring sticks that I'm afraid of losing or damaging. The cardboard sheets aren't available separately so I've copied and laminated the measuring sticks to protect the originals. Again, is this acceptable? Where do we draw the line over what is fair use and what is theft?   

I often try to think of ways of embellishing bits of terrain. A while back I searched the web for some Egyptian art to use with a Doctor Who figure. The image was printed and pasted onto a wall. 

I don't know who owns the copyright of the image so should I use it? If I'm only using it for myself in games that I play is it fair use? I'm not selling the model and not claiming that I have photographed or drawn the image.   

I've also found online maps of Africa etc and had planned to print these at a small size to use as part of an explorer's camp. I've also done the same with images of African rugs and animal pelts. I was especially pleased with the image of a zebra. Is using such an image to add a bit of atmosphere to a model of an African Trading Station fair use?


I've read many comments from dissatisfied customers (especially on Kickstarter) who seem to launch into tirades of quite unnecessary vitriol against companies that make mistakes. I remember the broken barrel episode when Plastic Soldier Company launched the Great War expansion of Tanks. My own copy arrived with a few broken barrels (the models hadn't really been packed properly). I fixed them with a bit of superglue and they are fine. But some people seemed to expect the company to replace all affected models. I guess the customers were right, but honestly, the problem was easily fixed with a spot of glue.

But is fixing a perceived problem by copying a physical part piracy? Or is it a pragmatic solution that saves everybody time and money? How about copying a shield to make a damaged version that can be used as a fatigue marker for your own use? Perhaps the problem isn't the act itself, but simply discussing it in public? I was planning on writing a blog post about creating simple loot tokens for Congo using copies of bits and pieces you already own. I probably won't be doing that now.

None of us want to damage the companies who supply us with the toys that we like to play with. Copying stuff (whether it's digital, paper or metal) for profit or to deceive somebody that the work is your own is morally wrong (and almost certainly illegal). But what constitutes fair personal use? Recently, I've been reading about some of the illicit copying of whole figures (armies even!) and clearly it's a sensitive issue.

I guess the moral is if you purchase something and it doesn't match your expectations, go back to the company and ask for either clarification, a replacement or a refund. No matter how trivial the request appears. If, like me, you buy quite a lot of stuff you may well find that many orders are incorrect. I've had missing figures, wrong items, packs of cards in Polish (!), items that never arrive and painted figures that do arrive - but in more pieces than the manufacturer intended. I am concerned that making a fuss over seemingly trivial problems will get me a reputation for being a bit of a pain. But as I've recently found out, trying to be pragmatic and finding your own solution may well get you into unexpected bother.          


  1. A thought provoking post Lee and I have often wrestled with my conscious with regards to intellectual property. For example, I am a sucker for a 'not' character, I know jolly well that the company concerned will not have sought permission for creating the piece, does this make it illegal? Now whilst we are on the subject of 'borrowing' I'm to copy that zebra pelt of yours - great idea. :)

    1. I guess as consumers we have a right to expect that commercially available products are 'legal'. I also have several 'not' characters but have noted that several companies have stopped selling them ever since the licence for a popular TV show went to a well known outfit. The pelts look good! I used pva to create a hide like feel and painted the back of the print out with a light tan wash.

  2. From my point of view (and German law as well) copying bits you have the originals of is legal as long as you only use it for yourself. So no selling on or giving away...
    Much the same thing with audio CD's. As long as you have the original at home it's fine to have a copy for the car too.. a mute point with all the fine MP3 players nowadays anyway.

    1. I certainly agree that copies shouldn't be sold - and probably not even given away for free. But what is fair? Making one copy from each purchased item or several (again strictly for personal use). I can imagine somebody buying a single figure and making enough copies for a whole unit (or even army). It would be a bit dull and I can't imagine the result would look good. Such copying is obviously not fair use in my mind.

  3. I would have thought that so long as you are doing something for personal use...not sharing whatever it is with others or selling it... then it'd be fine.

    I must admit I was a bit surprised at the reaction your post got on FB. What you were doing wasn't much different to converting a mini, in my opinion.

    1. FB is a funny thing. I often put quick photos on there, perhaps with a bit of text as a way of getting a quick reaction to something. Things I write on the blog tend to have a bit more effort put into them. My view is that a lot of Facebook stuff is rather ephemeral, whilst things I write for my blog will be around for much longer. Better to get a negative reaction in a relatively small FB group rather than inadvertently write something that doesn't go down well on my blog.

      I do agree with your opinion that a bit of copying to modify a mini is like converting the figure. I suspect that the problem isn't really the modification itself, it is more the publicising of what was done and how it was achieved.

  4. I've used home-made copies of small, missing stuff, for example grilles for an AFV. That I think is well within fair-use (and saves the company in question a fair amount of money as they don't have to sent the missing piece). Beyond that I'm reluctant to make copies, and certainly not of pieces available to buy (but I'm not beyond copying that zebra-hide :-) )
    Good post!

    1. Yes I agree making duplicates of items available to purchase is going too far. However, some companies don't always make it easy to check that an item can be purchased. Constantly nagging a business over small low value items that are not available through their online store is a concern to me. As you say, copying small items that you believe are missing, is a pragmatic solution that saves everyone involved a lot of fuss.

      The zebra hide seems to be pipular, I'll post another photo of the finished item.