I am also aware that this rambling blog post is going to serve as flame bait, but I think in this case writing is good therapy. I really don't want to think about this any more and I think writing about it will get it out of my head. (If I use that as criteria for making a post, I should have plenty of them.)
This exchange in the comments of a post by +Jeff Rients bothers me, days after I first read the thread. The exchange occurred in his "Dwimmermount: WTF?" post and, specifically, is an exchange by +Courtney Campbell and +Robert Parker. In sum, Courtney was airing a grievance about allegedly being taken advantage of by James Maliszewski, and then a few comments later someone threw out this straw man (successful, since the topic diverted to that rather than stay focused on the Dwimmermount fiasco):
+Robert Parker Apr 2, 2013:
+Courtney Campbell You want to talk about being taken advantage of?
How about Flying Buffalo and Rick Loomis?
(several other examples provided from Courtney's blog snipped)
You stole from Rick, a small press publisher and an old man, from a book still published today. Then you took credit for it. Who is exploited now?
To which post +Courtney Campbell immediately replied:
Yeah, if you'll look harder, you'll find Steve Crompton commenting about how he's happy about someone remembering his contributions to the old school aesthetic.
I'm fairly open about how what I'm doing is taking old traps from Grimtooth and Undermountain and discussing how to run them using player agency.
As far as bringing attention to their work, I cannot see how that's a bad thing, considering how wonderful it is.
Also, as I'm sure you're well aware, ideas cannot be copyrighted, only specific implementations of those ideas. Also, you are familiar with the doctrine of fair use?
I attempt to credit every image I use on my site (unless it happens to be one particularly well known, or if I can't find the artist). What's that?! Cromptom's name, right under the use of his art! How terrible!
If they feel harmed by the discussion and attention given to ideas similar to the ones they published, why they are free to take me to court to attempt to sequester every last cent I made from those articles.
They would lose, of course, because there is nothing illegal or wrong about my actions but if they did win, what is 100% of 0$ anyway?
What bothers me are the bits I bolded, above. They reflect what I, after some consideration, consider to be poor ethics at best, and willful distortion of what is copyright infringement plus poor ethics at worst.
Ethics: Using someone else's work without at least noting them as an inspiration (Courtney's treatment of the traps from Rick Loomis' Grimtooth's Grimoire) strikes me as ungracious, at least. One loses nothing except any cache gained by seeming original by acknowledging the giants upon whose shoulders one immediately stands. YMMV.
If one does something innovative with an idea, then so much the better - but if one claims to be "bringing attention to their work," one should probably actually bring attention to their work. I visited many of the links in +RP's comment and saw no mention that this was from GG until I raised it.
Copyright: I'm not talking about the parsing of the traps into stat-less game-y terms. Using someone's art without their explicit permission is infringement of copyright except under the fair use doctrine, which +CC cites, implying that he's doing it. So I looked it up:
In my opinion, there's nothing there that covers +CC's use of the art he does use, attribution or not, though to be clear IANAL. I could see how he might be trying to argue that he's covered under point 1 ("The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes"), but considering the purpose is to _illustrate his trap description_, even in a seemingly non-commercial non-educational context (though there is a Donation link low on his page) it probably counts as being used as an illustration of his (or Flying Buffalo's) topic, in which case he should probably seek the approval of the artist before using the art for _his_ illustration needs. It's probably save to read "should probably" as "is obligated to."
(Yes, I realize the burden of enforcing copyrights is the holder's. But, really, do any of us want to willingly infringe?)
Finally, in the comments of the link to "Paranoid Party," above, I pointed out he was using art without attributing it (I asked if it was his art, but it turns out to be cribbed from some video game source). Since he offered in JRients' thread to remove such art as could not be attributed, I kinda think he should - and though I used Google Image Search to find the original art and its citation, he clearly didn't (dropping an image in the Google Images search window is a new feature introduced in 2009 that most people don't know exists).
Now, to be clear, many of us use someone else's art to illustrate our blog posts and other ideas. I think what really bothers me is despite his rather obviously infringing on other people's copyright for the art, he uses the classic "go ahead and sue me, they can't get blood from a stone" as some sort of justification. That's pugnacity when there were probably better ways to address the challenge, at the very least.