In 1994, when file sharing on the internet typically meant logging into a FTP server hosted by a university for uploads and downloads, gamers used the new technology to exchange their own D&D creations like monsters, classes, and spells. TSR management felt that even fan creations for D&D belonged to the owners of the game, so to stop gamers from freely sharing any D&D content on the internet, the company took two steps: First, a TSR representative sent letters to the administrators of servers hosting D&D content and in some cases content for other games. “On behalf of TSR, Inc. I ask that you examine your public net sites at this time and remove any material which infringes on TSR copyrights.” Because universities hosted most of these sites, the notices led to a quick wave of shutdowns. Second, TSR insisted that fans who wished to distribute their D&D creations exclusively use a server run by a TSR-licensed company. The process required creators to add a disclaimer granting TSR exclusive rights to publish or distribute the content.
The demands alarmed D&D fans. Many creators feared that TSR would bundle their creations in a CD-ROM or start charging for online access. The more conspiracy-minded worried that TSR would simply gather content and pull the plug, eliminating a source of competition.
After a year enforcing the policy in the face of the backlash, TSR eventually stopped sending cease-and-desist letters that threatened people posting their own D&D creations, and started focusing on actual copyright infringement. TSR online coordinator Sean K. Reynolds said, “Without actually changing the TSR policy, we just kind of mitigated our enforcement of the policy.”
Next: Number 7.