Legalism and Contracts: The Ties That Bind

This imagery needs no explanation.

This imagery needs no explanation.

When I received my written contract from Frontier on Friday last week, I was extremely excited. Signing something makes it feel so official, so real. Then I read the contract. Frontier, like all companies, have to protect their interests—especially when those interests are vested in intellectual property, trademarks, and copyrights for virtual created items. I’m sorry to break it to everyone, but the Elite: Universe doesn’t exist as a physical entity, but only as a virtual and legal one. To say that intellectual property law is complex would be an understatement. Who owns what, and who has the right to use it and under what circumstances becomes a convoluted maze of legalistic verbage that will twist even the most stable individual in on themselves until they are wibbling and drooling like a wet sponge. I have been floating, mired, in the sucking mental mud that is a legal contract since Friday. My creativity has been sapped, as has much of my will to live.
Then a debate started on the forum about the legalities of submissions to Frontier’s writer’s forum. I won’t repeat it here—it’s probably illegal to do so and a hanging offense, but for the masochistic this is the link. Reading this sparked an idea—a blueprint of freedom if you will—to subdue David Braben and take over Frontier using the power of their terms and conditions against them. If I took over Frontier then any contract would be with myself, and so not needed. I could be free of this legalistic headache and get on with the story. Below is my attempt. Far from bringing freedom, it is a morality tale and line of reasoning that does not end well….
The Plan:
So, if I submit something to this forum asking if it’s okay for a submission on the forum to be used elsewhere, it can be used by Frontier when they quote it on the forum to say that it’s okay for them to use it elsewhere and okay for me to use it elsewhere. But, can I quote Frontier’s quote of my submission, or does that mean that I have plagiarised Frontier when I quote their quote of my submission? Or, does the fact that I have quoted Frontier’s quote of my submission mean that, because my submission is my own work and that I still have ownership, that I have ownership of Frontier’s quote? Is the act of quoting, as it is an act that can only be done once by any individual at a specific place and time therefore the production of a unique work? And if this is the case, is Frontier’s quotation of my submission therefore a unique work so that ownership of my submission passes to Frontier in the process of creating the unique work that is their quotation? And if that is the case, can I, by quoting Frontier’s quotation of my submission create another unique work thereby gaining not only the rights of ownership to my original submission, but also the rights to Frontier’s quotation of my submission? Can I also, by quoting David Braben or Michael Brookes on this forum, gain ownership of them using the maxim that an author always puts part of themselves in to any words they produce. Or, are DB and MB counted as unique works in their own right? But, if I quote my own quote of DB or MB’s writing on this forum, does that not mean I gain ownership, having created another unique work of my own which is the new quote, of a little bit more of them, and as I have now nested quotes each containing elements of their inner essence, that nesting quotes within quotes of their writing will exponentially increase the amount of both Michael and David that I own? Eventually I will own them in totality, and by extension both Frontier Developments and Elite: Dangerous. But as David will have signed some forms to establish his ownership of Frontier, that means that part of his soul is Frontier Developments and thus I cannot possess him in totality. And that seed, that is the David-within-Frontier, means that David-is-Frontier. And according to the terms of use on this forum Frontier can reuse anything that I post, so if David-Frontier were to quote my quote of all my quotes quoting Frontier quoting my submission, then he would be generating a unique work that contained my writing. And, as I am what I write, David-that-is-Frontier would now possess a multitude of me-quotes, and so possess me. And, as according to the terms of use of this forum I am not allowed to break the terms of use and David-that-is-Frontier will have used those terms of use against me I would have no recourse. I would be David-that-is-Frontiers’ thrall, minion and belonging, forever and in perpetuity. Amen.
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Let that be a lesson to all. Legal agreements (the word binding is unnecessary as all legal agreements are binding) are the exact opposite of Occam’s razor, and cut much more deeply. They always subdue and always stifle, but there is no shortcut, no easy way around. Until I have negotiated the minefield of legalism that has twisted my brain, twined my creativity, and will probably turn my manhood, work on the story is on hold. I, a writer and so someone who is supposed to have enough power over words to free imagination, is tied by them until further notice.
(No lawyers or solicitors were harmed in the writing of this blog post. I only wish they had been.)
Image credit: Businesswoman Wrapped In Red Tape: © Scott Griessel – Fotolia.com. Usage rights purchased.
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8 Responses to Legalism and Contracts: The Ties That Bind

  1. Jammy Dodger says:

    With the greatest respect, this blog smacks of procrastination. I’m sure the legal concern is valid, but if it impacts the creative process maybe another option is to simply ignore it for now? But if you are already of the opinion that David Braben and Frontier intend to do bad, then I guess we shouldn’t expect too much from you?

    • TJames says:

      Your judgement of me, my working relationship with Frontier, and my commitment to this project and my backers based on one blog post is… interesting.

      If I may paraphase, apparently I:
      a) look for the slightest excuse to down tools and slack off.
      b) think that David Braben, Michael Brookes, and Frontier are: the Devil incarnate, his arch-lieutenant, and The Evil Dominion respectively.
      c) am a) lazy, and b) dislike and distrust Frontier with every fibre of my being, and so I intend to let down all my backers who have been generous enough to donate their money and time to support me in writing Out of the Darkness by bashing out a pile of excrement because I can’t be bothered anymore.

      May I, respectfully, offer another perspective, and one that is closer to the truth?

      a) I have spent all of the time I had free for writing over the last few days researching, querying, untangling, and clarifying the legalese of the contract. Out of the Darkness is a book I want to complete, but all the time I spend sifting through the small print of the contract is writing time lost. So, no, I’m not spending my time sitting on the couch with a mug of hot chocolate watching Pokemon. I’m frustrated I’m having to spend time mired in legalese.
      b) I think David, Michael and the staff of Frontier have proven themselves nothing but helpful, dedicated, open, honest, and trustworthy. From what I know of them from my interactions online, I find them likable and approachable, which is amazing considering the amount of pressure they are under developing the game. It would probably turn me into a frothing-at-the-mouth axe-wielding lunatic. There seems to be some confusion as to the target of my attempted satire. In my sights were legalism, legalese, and the time lost to these fruitless endeavours. I could let the process get me down, or I can release my pent-up emotions in a short burst of humour and hopefully lighten the dark pall that has settled over the writing community in the last few days. But, apparently, this is bad form, and not the British way, wot!?
      c) Let’s try some elementary psychology and logic. I state openly I am frustrated. Frustration results from a blocked goal or desire. As I am frustrated about not being able to make progress writing the book, then completion of the book must be a goal of mine that I desire to complete. If I have a desire to complete the book then I must be motivated. If I am motivated I am going to pour all the time and energy I can wrestle away from obstructions into completing the book. If I am motivated, and I am spending hundreds of hours writing a book, then it would be stupid not to want to complete it to as high a standard as I can manage.

      May I suggest, respectfully, that the last three points are better informed and more soundly reasoned.

  2. Andy says:

    I won’t swear, that’s just provocative and not productive. I won’t say I’m astonished, but I think think Frontier and their lawyers need to consider reading this if they’re offering book rights to buy:
    http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/
    It’s used by the UK government to ensure that the NHS (amongst others) can make it clear what the outcomes of a particular course of action are. Lawyers thrive on establishing opportunity for court action in legal documents, and it’s long past the time that they were given a dressing down. I hope David Braben would appreciate that sentiment, otherwise playing his game will be a let-down.

    • TJames says:

      I understand your frustration completely, Andy. The supposed aim of a legal document is to clarify everyone’s position, and set the limitations and rewards of any agreement out so that there will be no misunderstandings and the interests of all parties are protected. The use of legalese by lawyers and solicitors achieves the exact opposite: misunderstandings lead to uncertainty which, if not addressed, leads to distrust. Then the only option is for everyone involved to hire another lawyer or solicitor to see if the piece of paper they are about to sign means what they think it means. The only winners are the legal eagles.

      I think we can reach a place of understanding, it’s just going to take more time than if things had been clearly spelt out from the outset.

  3. CrispyLeper says:

    Just wanted to say that I got it!
    Great writing TJames, damn those lawyers and their mystery language!!!

  4. deusx_ophc says:

    and i laughed out load on this sunny saturday morning. you made a funny tj ^^

    ps. don’t let the legal issues hold you back too much. i tend to mostly ignore it, and despite well paid advice to do so at my peril, such ignorance has never done me harm =)

    • TJames says:

      Glad it made you smile. I’m not letting the contract hold back the writing (other than the necessary time out to consider the contents). Progress over the last week has been good – I’m just waiting for my subconscious to give me the next bit of the plot.

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