On Friday, a fellow builder brought this thread on the Bioware custom content forum to my attention:
Participating in that thread until it was (in my opinion, unfortunately) locked by a Bioware moderator was an eye-opening experience. I think that much of the thread is worth reading, but here’s the background, and a quick summary. A number of serious and talented NWN1 custom content developers have been becoming increasingly frustrated with having their work taken, modified, and redistributed without their consent. Sometimes this has involved unauthorized and sometimes uncredited copying and/or alteration of their work into “compilation packs,” over which the author has no quality control, or any way to maintain or update. For many developers — who are motivated by an artist’s seriousness about the quality and integrity of their work — this is an unacceptable situation.
This problem has been festering in the NWN developer community for a while, and it has even been driving some to consider giving up building for it altogether in disgust. As a modest but long overdue way of trying to address it, some individuals proposed a voluntary but standardized “template” for the posting of NWN1 custom content. The template consisted of several choices about what restrictions the author wished users of his work to respect.
For the record, I completely support the moral right of these builders to control the use and distrbution of their work. Ours is a community of individuals who build under a EULA that prevents us from charging for our efforts. The only price we are allowed to ask in exchange for the thousands of hours that we spend creating content for others to use for free is respect: respect for us as the creators of that work, and for our wishes about how it should be used and distributed. Apparently, though, to some this is just too high a price.
What surprised me (and perhaps it should not, and I was just being naive) was the sometimes ugly hostility to the rights of these content creators that I saw expressed on the thread. Many stood up for them and forthrightly defended the proposal, and I honor and respect those who did. Others, however, bristled at the very idea that these creators’ work was morally theirs, and should not be considered public property, free for the taking and arbitrary use by anyone who wanted it. Those readers who remember the archetype gallery in Sanctum 1 and the statues of “The Giver” and “The Taker” may understand why I found this to be quite ironic. I guess that sometimes, life does imitate art.
Although there were a number of examples of this sentiment expressed, I want to focus on one extremely presumptuous comment in particular, which I did not have a chance to respond to while the thread was still open:
“I respect the creators of custom content. I admire them, and their gifts to the community. But, aren’t they gifts?”
No, sir, they are not. My work is not a gift. When I post it for you to use and to (hopefully) enjoy, I am not “giving it away” to you to do whatever you damned well please with it. I am the one who spent thousands of hours painstakingly building that work, not you, and you have no moral right to take it without respecting my wishes in the matter. My work is mine, and I am sharing with you, not giving it to you. I am sharing it on mutually beneficial terms, as a trade, and one from which we both (hopefully) gain something of value. The only payment that I ask for in exchange for sharing the results of those thousands of hours of effort is the simple human decency of respect for my work, and for my dignity and rights to it as its creator. If that is too much to ask from you, then you cannot afford my price and are not welcome to download and use it. It’s that simple.
Some ethically challenged people seem to think that they have the right to presume upon — and to take advantage of — others’ generosity. Well, that’s exactly what the Demons thought in Sanctum of the Archmage. And it was the naive altruism of the Provans — who never stood up for themselves, and never set moral limits on their “giving” — that made it possible. The same is true of all creators — and indeed, all men of good will and self-respect. If we don’t stand up for ourselves, our dignity, and our rights, then we will not hold onto them for long.
Regrettably, Bioware doesn’t seem to be willing to allow this issue to be aired, no matter how constructively approached. In response to my protest to the moderator for locking the thread, I was told that this topic is no longer welcome on Bioware’s forums. While I would encourage anyone who agrees with me to also PM Chris Priestly to reconsider his decision, I doubt that it will make a difference. If we don’t want the NWN1 CC community to implode, it will be up to us, as individual authors and concerned community members, to find a way to deal with it on our own.
Consequently, I will be looking into finding (or if necessary, creating) a forum on which discussion of this issue (which I obviously consider important to the future of the NWN modding community) can proceed without being silenced. When I do, I will post a link here on my blog. Until then, anyone who wants to discuss this issue is welcome to do so (civilly, please) in the comments on this blog post.
I don’t mind saying that this entire experience has left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. I wouldn’t build under a no-payment EULA if I weren’t personally motivated to create something that people will enjoy — but nothing turns me off from that attitude faster than being taken for granted for it. If this kind of treatment is what builders in this community can expect for our efforts, then many of us may very well simply decide to walk away and shrug.