The value of Army Builder for Warhammer 40K

So recently, Homer (Homer_S on DakkaDakka) posted in the Dakka “News and Rumors” section that The Army Builder 40K Maintainers (ab40k.org) would not be publishing any more updates, implying that Games Workshop had contacted the group…

What ensued was the normally collection of questions, whining and trolling.  I wanted to respond on Dakka, but there is frankly no point, because the posters there often do not bother to read, fact check, and/or think intelligently before responding.  The original thread is here and was locked down after a day or two because people are trolls.  So, I get to respond here.

Some general data points:

1. LoneWolf is the developer and publisher of ArmyBuilder.
2. You buy ArmyBuilder and then pay an annual support fee (standard practice for software that gets constant updates).
3. AB40k.org are the maintainers of the 40K data files.
4. AB40k releases updates to data files once they have a chance to read, understand, and code the changes to the codex rules.

nkelsch writes:

Pretty sure someone else could take up the effort and go through the hassle of moving the new files around the internet if they wanted and learn to edit the ab files. 

I think some of it is converting the 5th edition army builder files to full blown 6th is probably too much effort. Changing the force org stuff and allies is probably a huge undertaking for the software.

My response – Yes.  Anyone can write their own data files for AB.  The tools come with the program at no additional charge; however, it is not a simple process.  I’ve personally edited the Chaos Daemon file for myself to make all the 6th Edition updates and most of the recent White Dwarf updates.  It took hours, but I was learning the process at the same time.  BTW, message me if you want the Daemon Updated file.  Also, the 6E general rule changes are HUGE!!!  Not a small effort.

Hulksmash writes:

Wonder if AB does refunds. I just renewed my license last weekend so if this is true I’ll be pursuing that option….

My response – See numbers 1-4 above.  When you buy AB, you are not buying a license to the 40K dat files.  Even though there is all sorts of speculation about the legality or otherwise of the AB40k maintainers providing free data files, I think most people would agree that LoneWolf will/cannot sell 40K dat files for fear of a lawsuit from GW.

Squigsquasher writes:

To be fair, they kind of had it coming to them. They knew the risk of using GW IP and they took it, and they paid the price for it. Sad, I know, but it’s the law.

My response – SS appears to live in the UK, based upon the flag next to his profile.  I cannot comment on copyright law in the UK, but here in the US (where LoneWolf is based) the US Copyright office has posted the following on their website:

Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

While I am not a lawyer, and will not pretend that I know what I am talking about.  When you combine the above with US Fair Use law, the amount of data contained within the AB40k dat files is limited to rules, and abbreviated rules at best that refer the user back to the actual copyrighted material by page.  It is not practical to play a game of Warhammer 40K with only an Army Builder list and without the actual rulebook and codices.  Sure, you could make a go of it, but you’d get all sorts of stuff wrong.

nkelsch writes (again):

The thing is people bought Army builder, downloaded 3rd party files which had copyrighted materials and then relied on the copyrighted materials and never bought the codexes. So many times people used army builder lists for a source of rules and validations and did not own codexes to know what the original rules said or reference the original lists. I don’t think I have ever met a person who owned a FW book and knew the FW rules for their model… they just go by what is in AB (and sometimes it was wrong or not fully written out so they don’t know their actual rules) Hence lost sales as people were not always buying codexes in addition to the army building software.

I find these sorts of generalizations to be the problem with posters on Dakka.  Case in point, I own ArmyBuilder and about 11 of the 13 codices.  Most of which I don’t play.  I don’t find it practical to play 40K without the rulebook and codex.  What comes in the Ab40k dat files might be “okay” but the rules are highly abbreviated, such that you NEED the rules to play the game.  Further, I know a few guys locally who don’t own any Codices or even the Rulebook.  They pirate it all, because they don’t have a lot of cash.  I don’t condone this; however, none of them has shelled out the $35 for ArmyBuilder either…

Recreating GW’s copyrighted rules in armybuilder files, excel, PDF, Word is illegal and we have all known this for a very long time. Nothing has changed. GW has targeted any place the offending files exist and the people who put copyrighted materials in those electronic materials. Armybuilder is fine as a software… but if someone puts copyrighted material in part or whole in the electronic format AB makes… then the builder file is infringing. Unlike Excel and word… about 99% of Lonewolf’s function requires the user to have copyright infringing datafiles for the software to have value… opposed to word and excel which have other valid uses. Sure someone could make up their own game system and make their own files… but no one pays 39.99$ a year for that ‘functionality.’ Tehy pay to avoid buying codexes and have access to multiple gaming systems copyrighted rules. 

This guy clearly doesn’t understand that AB supports at least 20-30 game systems, not just Warhammer 40K.  But more importantly, I don’t think there is actual case law that has determined that this is, in fact, illegal.  He also doesn’t understand that part about US fair use that allows us to use copyrighted material “in part.”  Finally, AB doesn’t cost $39.99 a year.  Just once, and it is $12.50 a year for software updates.

I would expect no less from a book publisher if someone took a copy of a book, put it in MS word and posted it all over the internet. They would have every right to have that file taken down and the person who made the file held responsible. It really is very reasonable and common even if annoying… There is a reason there is a whole industry on locking down electronic versions of book contents to make sure people have to purchase them to gain access to the info inside them.

And we continue with the bad analogy that an AB40k file is a copy of the whole material…

Redbeard writes:

From the EFF’s website: (http://w2.eff.org/IP/eff_fair_use_faq.php)

There are no clear-cut rules for deciding what’s fair use and there are no “automatic” classes of fair uses. Fair use is decided by a judge, on a case by case basis, after balancing the four factors listed in section 107 of the Copyright statute. The factors to be considered include:

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes — Courts are more likely to find fair use where the use is for noncommercial purposes.
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work — A particular use is more likely to be fair where the copied work is factual rather than creative.
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole — A court will balance this factor toward a finding of fair use where the amount taken is small or insignificant in proportion to the overall work.
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work — If the court finds the newly created work is not a substitute product for the copyrighted work, it will be more likely to weigh this factor in favor of fair use. 

Now, while ArmyBuilder is a commercial venture, it’s important to remember that the data files are not. They’re produced, for free, by volunteers. So, I’m not sure they fail on bullet one. 

Bullet three certainly goes towards Fair Use as well. AB data files use a few names and numbers, nothing close to the entire codex. I’m also thinking that bullet 4 goes in favour of Fair Use, as a data file is not a substitute for a codex, especially lately where the ‘rules’ for wargear items direct you to a page in the codex, rather than saying what the item does. 

So, the sticking point is bullet two. It’s clearly a fictional work. 

Even still, looking at these, I’m not sure that this isn’t a case of GW swinging their legal stick, hoping that the datafile maintainers will blink. It would be interesting if they found some pro-bono representation, like chapterhouse did, and mire GW in another legal fight.

My response – Finally a voice of reason…

Finally, if you want some history from the AB40K Maintainers themselves, go here:

http://www.ab40k.org/viewtopic.php?f=8&t=1044

It’s a good read and I recommend understanding the history…

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