This blog is about the world of gaming miniatures, as seen from my perspective. I've been collecting and painting for over 30 years now, and while my primary focus is miniatures for D&D, I also enjoy many other games that use minis, so we'll be covering those as well. Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Rip Off? Knock Off? Or Fair Game?

In my time spent cruising lead listings on eBay, I've come across more than one seller peddling what appears to be cheap recasts of miniatures that are no longer in production. I use "cheap recasts" to describe the quality as viewed from the pics in the listings, which is not the same as holding one in my own hand, of course. Still, from what I can see in the pics, the level of detail looks anywhere from middling to downright shoddy.

Now, to be fair, the sellers are not attempting to pass off their versions as authentic, or even use the manufacturer's name or product lines or proper miniature name/ID. I'm just going to guess that they saw a mini they liked and started making copies of it.

What I think I'm getting at here is this: What are the legal and moral/ethical implications of making copies of miniatures that (again, I'm assuming) aren't their own or they are not the holder of the master molds or casting rights?

I'll be the first to admit that I have ZERO knowledge of how the miniatures industry functions from a business and legal standpoint. And I suppose when we are dealing with companies long since out of business (such as Superior Models, Inc.), and unknowns such as there whereabouts of master molds and who may or may not own the casting rights to any given line of miniatures, the waters become even muddier and more turbulent.

Perhaps it is just me, but selling copies of someone else's work just rubs me the wrong way. Or maybe since they don't even bother to give credit to the original artist or company, I suppose that chaps my hide too. Even if there is some sort of law that allows one to make copies of someone else's work, it still strikes me as lazy or cheap.

Case in point: I have seen this listing on ebay before, which is of course a copy of Superior Model's WL-006 Magic Master. The seller has over 17,000 transactions and a 99.6% feedback rating, so it's not some one-hit wonder. (Sidebar: if you read the negative and neutral feedback, the seller comes across as rather...rude?)

I contacted the seller via eBay Messaging and asked them this question: "I was just curious if these were made using the original Superior master molds, or are they cast from molds that you created? I can't tell from the photos if they have the same level of detail as the originals or not. Thank you!" to which they replied "as you know. molds burn out."

Hmm. OK. Thank you for NOT directly answering my question. So I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume this seller does not have the master molds or casting rights to WL-006, and is casting with his/her own homemade molds. Maybe it is of little or no concern because we are dealing with long-OOP miniatures from a defunct company. But if someone were to make cheap casts of something from Reaper, Iron Wind Metals, or Games Workshop, I don't think that would go over so well.

I guess it just really bothers me that people copy the work of others for their own personal profit.


Center Stage Miniatures said...

I know what you mean about recasts, but you have to be careful there. Iron Wind Metals technically sells "recasts" of old Ral Partha miniatures. Never mind that the company not only has many of Partha's same staff but uses the exact same metal, content-wise. With time, production molds break down and then it's up to whoever holds the rights to said miniatures to use the master castings to create new production molds.

Center Stage Miniatures holds the intellectual property rights to several Metal Magic and Archive miniatures - they are spun from the same master castings created by both companies years ago, but all of the molds are new.

There's certainly a difference if Mr. Smith off of the street buys some rare figures off of eBay and pops them into a production mold, but as for keeping vintage minis alive, new molds are the only option.

I still have the rights to three Archive Miniatures where the master models were lost long ago - my casting company is doing whatever they can to spin some serviceable masters from 15+ year old molds. Given that, there's only a slim chance that those models will ever exist again. Had the master castings themself been saved, new production molds could have been made easily with the original quality of the first miniatures.

But you are absolutely right - illegitimate re casters stink, and you have a terrific point. :)

Anonymous said...

Collectors even gripe about the legitimate recasters because they are afraid that they reduce the value of their originals. I don't have a lot of sympathy for that viewpoint. I'm glad that so many Heritage, Ral Partha, Minifigs, etc. are still available.

But if you read some of the dedicated miniatures forums like The Miniatures Page there are a lot of people who are making bad, illegal recasts and selling them as the real thing which is bad for everyone (except the sellers, I guess). As far as I know (and I'm not a lawyer) copyright law forbids recasting of anything under copyright without permission, whether or not it is for profit, personal use, and whether or not the rights holder is known or findable!

TopKat said...

@CSM - Matt, thanks for chipping in. I was hoping someone in the industry would speak up. As long as the folks making recasts are doing it on the up-and-up (they are the legal holders of the IP rights) and aren't trying to pass them off as originals from back in the day, more power to them!

@mike - I totally agree with you. I have no problem at all with legitimate recasts, because it sucks when anything miniature-related is lost forever.