Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. Do not take any statement I make herein as legal advice. Do your research, just as I have, and make up your own mind. Then decide to take action if you will.
As can be seen by performing a web search for the terms “Outlaw Press James Shipman,” much has been said online about the once-great publisher of Tunnels and Trolls gaming fare, who has fallen out of grace with the Tunnels and Trolls community for the alleged theft of intellectual property, publishing said items without permission of the copyright holders. Other Tunnels and Trolls blogs have urged their readers not to buy from Outlaw Press / James Shipman. I now join the call to boycott his site and ask my readers not to buy or download any products from him.
James Shipman not only has taken a very liberal view of his rights to materials I submitted to Outlaw Press in the past, but now is redistributing some materials I never submitted to him, and never gave him permission to redistribute. My solitaire adventure game, Down Time, now appears for download from the “Free” section of the Outlaw Press web site, without my permission. Down Time appears in TrollsZine 4, a digital-only ezine available for free from DriveThruRPG; James Shipman has clearly downloaded a copy of TrollsZine 4 and extracted Down Time from it, formatted the game in Microsoft Word, and uploaded the Word file to the Outlaw Press site, from where anyone can download it. Some might say I should not mind that he redistributes Down Time, since I have agreed to make it available for free anyway as part of TrollsZine 4, but as the copyright holder of Down Time, how I choose to distribute my material is my decision to make, not his. One might say that James Shipman is helping to spread my name and I should be grateful at least for that, but even that is not true; in the MS Word version of Down Time distributed by Outlaw Press, my name has been removed as author of the product. I don’t even get credit for my work.
I have emailed James Shipman at Jimship2@midwest.net, the email address posted on his web site, and demanded that he cease and desist redistribution of my copyrighted material immediately. As of this writing, he has not yet complied.
Outlaw Press is also offering printed copies of TrollsZine 4 for sale. This too is illegal, since there are no legal printed copies of TrollsZine 4. I have not transferred print rights to any publisher, not even to the authorized publisher of TrollsZine 4, and certainly not to Outlaw Press / James Shipman, who has taken it upon himself to print copies of the magazine to sell for his own profit. James Shipman makes this statement on his web site about the printed copies he is selling:
Note to Readers: We do not endorse this magazine as many items published within it have obviously been lifted from The Hobbit Hole and Dungeonier Digest (such as artwork) and used in it without permission of Outlaw Press Inc. Each copy is brand new and still shrink wrapped. This magazine was purchased from the publisher and is resold here, just like items on Ebay and other sites.
Since TrollsZine 4 is a digital-only zine, the claim by James Shipman that print copies of the magazine were bought and are being resold is blatantly false.
The claim that any items were “lifted” from magazines published by Outlaw Press / James Shipman is unfounded and somewhat ironic in light of the claims made against James Shipman that he published stolen artwork, as reported on RPG.net in 2009. In the early days, Outlaw Press / James Shipman had no submission guidelines, yet he operated back then as though any material submitted to him was his to do with as he pleased. The submissions guidelines currently on his site attempt to give him such rights, but they cannot be retroactively applied to submissions made to him before he posted those guidelines (which are lacking in themselves, as I’ll discuss below).
All submissions I made to Outlaw Press / James Shipman were made before he posted his current submission guidelines. In one instance, I submitted an article about a new “Solitary Wizard specialist character type” to Outlaw Press for publication in The Hobbit Hole magazine. I was pleased when it appeared in that magazine. Later the article appeared as an appendix in a separate solo adventure published by Outlaw Press. Outlaw Press / James Shipman never asked for my permission to reprint the article in another of its products.
A more blatant example of this happened with a GM-moderated adventure, Between Sea and Sky, co-authored by Tom Loney and me. In that case, we submitted the adventure for publication in The Hobbit Hole, but it was published instead in Dungeonier Digest, without Outlaw Press / James Shipman asking permission first. Between Sea and Sky was also reprinted in a GM adventure collection by Outlaw Press / James Shipman without permission.
These types of actions proved to me that Outlaw Press was not the type of operation to which I wanted to continue submitting materials. I had personally reached the decision to no longer submit materials to Outlaw Press / James Shipman before the allegations against him of stealing artwork appeared on RPG.net. Several people who felt that Outlaw Press / James Shipman had overstepped his bounds rallied against him, some more vocally than others. Sites such as Geek Related took up the call and urged gamers to boycott Outlaw Press. Various Outlaw Press contributors posted about how their rights had been violated by Outlaw Press / James Shipman. Talk of legal action followed, but much of that talk was accompanied by statements that the effort was not worth it, since a civil suit against Outlaw Press / James Shipman would likely be too costly for whomever pursued it. Nevertheless, some actions were successfully taken at the time against Outlaw Press / James Shipman; his web site was closed down by his web host, while Amazon and Lulu were convinced to stop selling most titles published by Outlaw Press. James Shipman was ousted from Trollhalla, the members-only Tunnels and Trolls fan site run by Ken St. Andre, the creator of Tunnels and Trolls. James Shipman has not been allowed to rejoin Trollhalla since, and likely will never be allowed back in, due not only to his failure to apologize but even more to his continuing practice of violating copyright laws. (Note that it is suspected by many, myself included, that James Shipman has rejoined Trollhalla under a fake identity.)
After his original web site was closed, James Shipman created another web site for Outlaw Press. He has now posted Submission Guidelines, the terms of which should stop any publishing-savvy contributor from submitting to him (bold emphasis is mine):
If you are published in The Hobbit Hole, you will receive a free copy of the issue in which your article appears. All artwork and articles published are copyrighted by the artist/author, and Outlaw Press retains all re-publishing rights in all forms.
If Outlaw Press / James Shipman had posted these Submission Guidelines back when I was submitting materials to him, I would have never submitted anything to him. These terms grant him the ability to do anything he wishes with any submission he publishes. Those are the terms Outlaw Press / James Shipman assumed in the early days, but none of his contributors assumed those terms, and they were not publicly stated until after the stolen artwork fiasco, at which point most past contributors ceased submitting materials.
No professional author or artist would grant to any publisher the broad rights specified in the current Submission Guidelines for Outlaw Press. Professional authors and artists keep as many rights as possible for themselves, so they can exercise the rights they retain to their own advantage in whatever ways they deem best for their careers, which may include allowing their works to be distributed for free in particular formats and particular distribution channels.
In addition to posting new Submission Guidelines, James Shipman set up his current Outlaw Press site to accept payments for items through PayPal. Although James Shipman is not selling many printed materials through Amazon or Lulu anymore, he does still sell printed materials directly from the Outlaw Press web site. He has found some printer who will print copies of products for him. It is impossible to know who this printer is, or to take steps to persuade that printer to stop printing pirated materials for Outlaw Press. Even if the printer could be identified and convinced to stop, James Shipman could just go to another printer. Score one for James Shipman and piracy.
However, by taking payments through PayPal, Outlaw Press / James Shipman opened himself to actions being taken against him through PayPal. Claims were made with PayPal against Outlaw Press / James Shipman, and these actions prompted PayPal to stop accepting payments for him. At the time of this writing, if you go to the Outlaw Press site and click the “Add to Cart” button for a product, you will be presented with a page on PayPal with the heading “Error Detected,” followed by this statement:
PayPal cannot process this transaction because of a problem with the seller’s website. Please contact the seller directly to resolve this problem.
At this point, anyone who wishes to actually purchase products from Outlaw Press must pay via snail mail. The payment instructions on the Outlaw Press web site are as follows:
You can also buy items via snail by sending Checks, Bank Drafts or Money Orders made out to:
2105 Maple Street
Lawrenceville, IL 62439
Note that payments are to be made out to James Shipman, not to Outlaw Press, even though “Outlaw Press Inc.” is the “company” name at the top of the Outlaw Press home page and on front matter pages of countless products sold on the site, supposedly published by Outlaw Press. If Outlaw Press is a legal entity—a corporation, as indicated by the “Inc.”—then why aren’t checks to be made out to “Outlaw Press Inc.” instead of to “James Shipman”? This to me is more evidence of shady dealings, of an unprofessional operation at best, and a fraudulent operation at worst.
It is impossible for anyone other than James Shipman himself to know how much the man knows about corporate law or copyright law, or knew about them when he started his “publishing business.” Anyone who decides to start a publishing company had best research copyright law, and anyone who wishes to use “Inc.” at the end of their business name had best research corporate law. Having researched such laws, it also behooves a person to abide by those laws. It may be that James Shipman knows both corporate and copyright laws, and intentionally disregards them, believing that nothing will come of it. Certainly he has been told many times what others believe the laws to be; I’ve sent emails about such matters to him myself, and he even responded to some of them in the past. He has not acknowledged any of my most recent emails. If he actually believed himself to be acting within the law, why wouldn’t he answer me with a defense? He has no real defense, and he knows it. His only defense is to rely on the legal system to deem him beneath their notice.
Outlaw Press / James Shipman is not stealing from only one or two people. His victims comprise every creative member of the Tunnels and Trolls community—including even those who joined since 2009 and never had any prior dealings with Outlaw Press—and fantasy artists outside the community. More than this, he has altered statements of credit and copyright in the versions of the products he has pirated, either removing credits altogether, or outright claiming ownership of rights by Outlaw Press.
How many copies of pirated items is Outlaw Press / James Shipman selling? Judging by the private posts on Trollhalla, most members of the Tunnels and Trolls community have chosen not to purchase any products from Outlaw Press / James Shipman, and do their best to avoid buying from him in even an incidental fashion, such as on eBay, where it is not always easy to know who you are buying from. There are always a few people who think that bucking the system is cool, and perhaps some of them view James Shipman as some sort of underground hero who provides them with Tunnels and Trolls products in formats that the copyright holders have chosen not to. There may also be some gamers who newly discover Tunnels and Trolls, perhaps by discovering the Outlaw Press web site, and these people may not have seen the warnings against buying from Outlaw Press / James Shipman. I hope that Outlaw Press / James Shipman is not selling any pirated materials, and that no one is downloading the pirated materials he is making available as free downloads, but the fact that he maintains the Outlaw Press site implies that he is making some profit from it. Despite any profit he does or doesn’t make, some of those pirated materials he makes available for free download are not available for free from authorized distribution channels, despite his implications to the contrary. And the practice of altering statements of credit and copyright in pirated materials is just as heinous, if not more so, as selling pirated materials for profit.
Does James Shipman think he has some moral or legal right to do what he is doing? I could believe his mind is twisted enough for this to be the case, but he has not publicly stated so. Rather, he chooses to hide behind lies and half-truths. Some of what he does is legal, such as re-selling second hand items he has legally acquired. There is nothing illegal about buying a legal print copy of a Tunnels and Trolls print magazine and reselling it on his site, and he has done this sort of thing for about as long as he has been selling Tunnels and Trolls materials. But there is something illegal about downloading a digital-only copy of a Tunnels and Trolls ezine, having copies printed, and selling those printed copies on his site—and then claiming that he bought legal print copies and is re-selling legal print copies. There is something illegal about altering statements of credit and copyright in the pirated materials he distributes. Fortunately, PayPal saw through the lies and the half-truths, and stopped accepting money on his behalf. But for James Shipman to stop behaving as though he owns everything that is labeled as “Tunnels and Trolls,” he needs to be hit with a sufficiently large fine, do some jail time, or both.
More than a few people are considering what legal action can be taken against James Shipman to make him stop, without resorting to an expensive civil case. Filing claims with PayPal and getting them to stop accepting payments for him is only a minor win. James Shipman is still selling or giving away several dozens (hundreds?) of products, many of which are obviously illegal. His actions become more brazen as time goes by; most recently I’ve seen him offering hardcover editions of games published decades ago, which were never printed as hardcover, and which are not always easy to find these days in softcover. How far does this man think he can go before he has gone too far? Does he really believe he is operating within the law? I’ve heard rumors that James Shipman is some sort of lawyer; if so, is he not worried about being disbarred?
I’ve said all I want to say about this topic for now, but I don’t intend to let the matter lie. I’m not sure what I can do, but I’m going to do what I can; this post is a start. If you’ve had your intellectual property rights violated by Outlaw Press / James Shipman, I urge you to look into what actions you can initiate against him too. The more, the better.