Friday, January 15, 2016

The Underlying Sin of Proxygate and Leakgate: Using the WPN and DCI as Hit Men

In separate clarifications/apologies, Wizards of the Coast has walked back a little bit from its initial position on both Sharpie-on-card = proxy [edit: Counterfeit, we all agree they are proxies] & the penalties issued to those judges that knew or could have known about spoiler leaks but didn’t tell Wizards about it. 

Neither clarification/apology backs down from the most troubling aspects of the issues though: Wizards’ willingness to use the WPN and the DCI to enforce corporate policy very loosely related to the mandate of those organizations, and its legal team’s repeated failures to locate the balance between protecting IP and not harming marketing and business interests.  The lawyers don’t understand or can’t work within the nuance that exists in both the market and the legal landscape, and the mouthpieces outside the legal team like Trick Jarrett, Helene Bergeot, and Elaine Chaise are able to sort-of find the mark, but only after they are able to review a swath of negative public reactions to their initial remarks in order to locate exactly where and how badly they missed.  

All together, this group has inspired so much fear in our community that I have people messaging me saying essentially, “Maybe you should avoid poking that bear with negative commentary or jokes, their legal team could fly off the handle at any time and their business team clearly can’t stop them.”  I can’t go public with the detailed examples of how the public discourse has been impacted by a fear of Wizards’ next overreaction, but you can trust me I’m not making this shit up.  Multiple people, multiple times, have expressed concern to me about where and when the shoe will fall next.  It is shaping behavior and discourse for the worse.  It sucks.

Here’s my take on the two recent issues that brought these issues into pretty sharp focus:

      The new Proxies Policy

Wizards recently announced to its WPN store locations that they may not run unsanctioned events with proxies, and later clarified that marker-on-card = a counterfeit card in their view.  Their explanation made little sense.  “Counterfeits” no one would mistake for real cards simply aren’t counterfeits.  That's what the word means.  

You can call a black spell “Devoid’ and say that makes it colorless.  It isn’t a good idea, it makes for a shitty set, but you can do it if you want.  You control the definition of the word Devoid in the game engine.  But you don’t control the definition of the word Counterfeit in the secondary card market.  You can’t just say cards no one would mistake for the original are counterfeits.  This type of overreach is typical of Wizards. 

I presume they would never actually sue someone for writing on their own toys with a Sharpie (unless they felt like lighting some money on fire), so they use the network of game stores (the Wizards Play Network or WPN), comprised mostly of struggling or very modestly profitable businesses, to exert their influence over a problem that wasn’t an actual problem.  Well done Wizards, some fantasy your bad lawyers dreamed up about a culture of counterfeiting being encouraged by proxies, or who knows what else, is now negatively impacting the entry point for older formats, an issue you claim to care about in countless Reserve List and Modern Masters articles. 

I wish the WPN, a part of the infrastructure of Organized Play, wasn’t the stage for Wizards to act out these fantasies, which leads me to….

      Banning people from competitive play for leaking Magic cards or not reporting leaks

The DCI shouldn’t be whacking people for Wizards like it’s a corrupt police officer with bad coke and gambling debts.  The DCI is a governing body for competitive play among hobbyists, not an intellectual property protection service.  Wizards, if someone violated your Nondisclosure Agreement and leaked your IP, take legal action and/or restrict that person’s access to information in the future.  Do your own dirty work within the frameworks that were set up to govern how the flow of corporate information is controlled.

Before you all get in the comments and shout “Playing Magic is a privilege, not a right!’ or “They are a private org, they can ban whoever they want,” just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.  Just because you have leverage over people by virtue of controlling their hobbyist club, doesn’t mean it’s ethical to say “you can’t engage in your hobby anymore in this club because you didn’t inform on your friend when he violated a confidentiality promise you never made.”  That’s again, an overreach.  These are the actions of an entity that is armed only with a vague idea about which pieces of IP it needs to protect, and repeatedly burns the stables down to prevent anyone from stealing the horses.  

They have successfully disincentivized leaks by acting like Soviet Russia. “Inform on your friends and you might be spared” was explicit in the first round of announcements about the punishments and still very present even in the most recent Elaine Chase statement.   “Our Olympic athletes will do what is good for Mother Russia at all times, or they will not play.”  “Fear will keep them in line.”  I believe that last one was Grand Czar Tarkin, and I assume someone had to talk Trick Jarrett out of quoting it.

Learning about something confidential shouldn’t be a violation of anything within 10,000 miles of the DCI, especially if the person in question had no direct obligation to breach.  Being in a Facebook group where you have access to posts but don’t participate in the dissemination of information is “Possession of stolen property?”  Get real. 

The message here is that if they don’t like what you’re doing, they will use the WPN or DCI to put pressure on you.  I’d love to read an updated WPN or DCI mission statement that lines up with this role as mob enforcer. 

Again, the apologies they have issued (following outcry in the community) are statements to the effect of, “That guy/proxy-method didn’t deserve to get whacked I guess,” but they lack the realization that whacking people with your OP networks is a bad idea in the first place.