Ownership of Manuscripts
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Grandstanding Collector
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Post Posted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 11:44 am 
 

I am looking for opinions on the legal ownership of manuscripts and materials from game company employees.

   Example:  

    Let's say I am an employee of a game company who has edited game publications over a few years.  I very prudently saved all of the documents that go with the editing process, such as drafts of the maps, storyboard, pages to be edited, computer disks, etc.

    Years go by with these things in my file cabinet.  I am no longer employed by the company.  More years go by.

    Now, I open my file cabinet and I pull out a stiff file folder of pre-publication materials.  No one aside from myself even remembers that these papers exist, and possibly even the game company itself is gone. It is also possible that no policies about the return or disposal of these materials was ever articulated.  

    The papers are now of collecting interest only.  No one wants to reprint the materials, for instance.  

1)    If I want to sell these materials on Ebay...do I have the legal right to do so?  Am I the owner?

2)  Does the dissolution of the game company change my legal rights?

3)  If I salvaged these items on my own...maybe I just kept them for personal records in case I ever needed to refer back to my old work...or, let's say I saved them from a trash can...does that affect the ownership?  

4)  What are the author's rights, if any?

5)  Once the items are sold, could someone try to recover them from the new owner?

6)  Is anyone likely to care anyway?

Mark   8)


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Post Posted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 12:16 pm 
 

That is not an easy set of questions to answer. A lot of it has to do with the contract of wmployment between the author and the company publishing, and the relative weights of each parties reputations.

Also, if that 'company' happened to be TSR the author would have less chance of successfully claiming 'ownership' or copyright, than say the same author working for a third party publishing house, because it could be argued that the author was employed to contribute to TSR's existing product line, ergo copyright and ownership of the material is the property of TSR.

Regardless of any of these issues, if you buy a manuscript, you have no claim or right to publish or profit from the sale of the product without permission from the copyright holder (not the author unless the author retained copyright).

So if John Doe produced Manuscript One for TSR Inc., and following a clear out at the office 20 years later it finds its way onto eBay, the only person who can dispute the sale of Manuscript One is WoTC. John Doe was just an employee.

Maybe Frank can help here. How would you deal with a manuscript you haven't seen in 20 years cropping up on eBay?


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Post Posted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 3:37 pm 
 

Hm. You might say I'm a special case, because I have an explicit letter of permission (in a bank vault), signed by the TSR Vice President & Publisher of Record, formally allowing me to recover items from the trash and resell them, as long as they don't go to shelves in game stores.

(I thus have a substantial library of manuscripts used in product preparation.)

That said, hm, general employee snarfing... okay, imnsho only (remember, legal advice is worth what you pay for it):

First and foremost would be any actual or implied conditions of employment. Read the fine print. Second and close runner-up would be the company's Employee Manual and/or written policies regarding such interim materials.

That said, next up is whether the company still exists, and if not, whether its assets were sold or assigned to any third parties or other company.

If after those 3 stiff hurdles everything still seems okay, then:

1. It would appear so.
2. See above, but no, given clear skies in the above historical documentation.
3. Only if you have something in writing giving you explicit rights.  :wink:
4. The author/submitter has no claim on any production materials.
5. Doubtful, unless they're of notable value AND something in the research (above) indicates a dispute in ownership.
6. Depends on who and what, but not, in most cases.

One notable landmark affects this class of items. The best such, Category A, applies to manuscripts prepared and/or published before the spread of computerized word processing are rarer than file printouts, and will see a corresponding rise in value in the future. Such hand-made manuscripts by notable authors in ANY field will skyrocket. Category B is thus printouts with extensive hand-writing and such, usually editorial. Cat C would be simple printouts of various pre-publication stages, and Cat D would be the files themselves.

That help?

Frank M (apparently one of multiple Franks hereabouts)

  
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