EXTRA!
The Collecting Times
EXTRA!


WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 27th, 2003


PRICE: THIRTY-FIVE CENTS

USURPER COUNTERFEITER DESTROYER DESTROYS USURPER COUNTERFEITER


PEORIA, ILLINOIS-- It feels a little odd doing a third counterfeiter column when the second one is still a work in progress. There's a lot here I'd like to tie into my last brush with forgery, but my readership wouldn't understand the references, and the Infocom T-shirt article isn't going to be ready for awhile. So bear with me here.

I first became aware of "timmon" (his eBay ID) through a post made to the SWCollect mailing list by a fellow collector who spotted an odd-looking copy of Sir-Tech's Usurper: The Mines of Qyntarr on eBay, and was pretty certain this was the same guy who'd recently sold him a phony Angelsoft Indiana Jones in Revenge of the Ancients. I look up the Usurper auction, and it definitely appears to be a DVD case, going by the tiny IPix image. But I'd never heard of the "Orb of Qyntarr", which was not a prop in the original Sir-Tech packaging. I venture a guess that it's a cheap marble he stuck in as a prop (or "feelie"... though I personally loathe that term, it sounds like you're touching someone inappropriately B-).

Intrigued -- and eager to be on the trail of another possible ripoff artist -- I e-mail the seller asking what the "Orb" might be. When I don't get a response, I become even more convinced I'm on to something. Usurper and Indy are both semi-obscure titles not everyone may have seen before. Thus potential buyers may be unfamiliar with what the cover art should look like. (Another reason I'm trying to fill out the vault pages with box scans).

Mildly interesting: Checking his other auctions, the guy has one more Usurper up, plus a folio release of Malinche's Pentari: First Light, and two I-F games I'm not familiar with, Ghost Train and Vampire's Tale. They all seem to get snapped up relatively quickly at $17 BuyItNow prices. More interesting: The games all look to be in DVD cases, but are not described as such. In fact there's very little description beyond their status as "classic text adventure games". The media is described as a "disk" (implying a floppy) rather than a "disc" (implying a CD-ROM). MOST interesting: Not only is this guy keeping his feedback profile private -- eBay still lets you do this, God only knows why -- but his auction results are hidden too! You can't click "Bid History" and see who won!

What all this suggests to me: He's printing and selling fakes, and he knows he's being a naughty boy, so he's using BuyItNow to minimize detection, he's hiding any negative criticism he might incur, and he's hiding his buyers so no one (like, oh, say, me) can warn them. Fortunately I am a devious little bastard with plenty of other tricks up my sleeve. But first let's try and reason with the guy, so he doesn't feel like I'm blindsiding him with accusations. (You'll understand my mindset here once you see the column on the T-shirt guy.) In a couple of auctions I find a link to a web page, Cargonaut Press (as in "printing press"), where he sells supplements from a classic pen-and-paper RPG called Traveller. He gives an e-mail address there, so I write to him.

Hi Paul, [I've learned his name from his Cargonaut Press page.]

I am writing in the hopes of getting more information about the adventure game packages you have listed on eBay. To me they look like plastic boxes, about the size of a DVD case, rather than the original manufacturer releases.

The reason I am wondering is because there are a large number of collectors out there who are after the original-release (1980s) packaging of these games. Since some of the titles you are selling are semi-rare, many collectors may not have ever seen actual boxes. My suggestion would be for you to add a bit of text to your auction indicating that the games are on CD (if indeed that is the case), or to describe the outer packaging in more detail. Otherwise I fear these buyers may be disappointed with the product they receive.

Thank you for your time. Hope to hear from you soon.

Very reasonable, not accusing him of anything, just explaining my point of view and making a helpful suggestion. Expecting a venomous reaction along the lines of the past two counterfeiters, I take a deep breath, settle back, and await the approaching shitstorm.

It never comes. Two days later, skies are still clear. No reply to this message, or the one about the "Orb" prop. Is he even answering e-mail, then? Using a secondary eBay account, I write him about one of his Traveller auctions, inquiring about the cost of international shipping. This one he responds to promptly, within a few hours. So he's clearly been reading his mail, which means he's ignoring my other messages. And since I've told him he might be misleading people, it now seems like he doesn't care. So what more can I do? I gave him his fair chance to share his side of the story, but he has apparently decided not to, so now I can only share mine. (Sighhhh... Why do these people always want to do it the hard way?)

I post an alert to the Shoppe's news page, and consider my options. I've already ruled out eBay as worse than useless for doing anything about this guy. Their "VERO" program ("Venue Eschews Responsibility Overall" B-) requires that any complaints of infringement originate from the actual copyright owner. So that rules out much action on the Usurper items. But those two other I-F games, what are they?

My investigative partner, the ever-reliable Sergeant Duffy (aka Google), helpfully informs me that the author of those games is named Paul Johnson (yeah, two Pauls, just to add to the confusion), and he has a web page where he offers his two games, Ghost Train and House of the Rising Sun: A Vampire's Tale, as Z-code downloads. They are recently written games (2002 and 2003), though I later learn from the author than an earlier version of House, titled Castle Dracula, was offerred through a 1983 issue of Computer and Video Games magazine in the U.K. I e-mail Mr Johnson and ask if this Timmon character has his permission to package and sell his games.

He reports back that he knew nothing about this, that his games are strictly freeware. He did not give permission to distribute them for profit, and has never even heard of the seller. (YES! Bus-ted!) I point him to the auctions and Timmon's website, and I helpfully locate eBay pages where he can report the infringement. Shortly thereafter a post from Johnson appears on r.g.i-f, where Timmon is certain to see it: I've discovered he posts there occasionally, likely lurks, and has sold Infocom packages (apparently genuine) in the past, when he needed the money. (Why are these things always about money?)

With the modern I-F community on to him, I doubt Timmon will be showing his face around there for some time. That's one side of the coffin nailed shut. Step two, find out if he's really allowed to sell those Traveller materials. From prior research, I've learned that Traveller is owned by a company called FarFuture Enterprises, which also publishes the RPGs Megatraveller and Twilight 2000 (which I recognize only because of the Paragon computer games based on them). Timmon's page offers a number of reprinted "lost supplements" for Traveller. (In a display of gorgeous irony, one of these is titled "Scam"! You can't make stuff like this up! B-) Are the reprints legal? I contact FarFuture's Marc Miller, owner of the company and the original creator of Traveller, directing him to Timmon's page and asking if everything's kosher.

Haven't heard back from him yet. But I do find this Google thread, which indicates he and Timmon corresponded six-odd years ago, and Mr Miller even sent Timmon copies of three Apple II Traveller text adventures for release as freeware. (Hmm, hafta get my hands on those... Anyone have 'em for trade?) So unfortunately, that's as far as I can take things here.

Okay, best two outta three. What about Pentari? He's already had a taker on the original auction, and now has a second one up. Both were listed with a $17 BIN, but the game normally sells from Malinche for $29.95, so how's he making a profit? He describes it as the folio version with the key, but there's no picture. Hmmm, why do I not trust this guy? Pentari author Howard Sherman is a friend of mine and we met at PhillyClassic, so I e-mail him and am awaiting a reply. Check back here for updates. In the meantime, Timmon's stopped selling the other homemade I-F packaging, and that's really all I want. Another case closed.


Mug Shots Gallery


Indiana Jones, cover inlay for DVD case.
Indiana Jones, CD-Rom with label.
Indiana Jones, instruction manual and reference card.

(Click Images to Enlarge.)

Usurper, cover inlay for DVD case.
Usurper, CD-Rom with label.
Usurper, 'Orb of Qyntarr'.  (This'n's my favorite.)



The print jobs on the Indy manual and cover sheet actually look quite good, and the CD label is particularly nice, though it doesn't include any sort of copyright information. (Hmm, I just now noticed the artist signature, Jeff West. Hafta save that in case Timmon tries this again.) Different artwork from the Angelsoft release, I guess Timmon didn't have an original to work off.

Usurper is similar, but uses cover art from the original against a white background. The cover image is a bit blurred, again as though he's not working off an original, and the cover itself is a thicker paper stock, described as heavy linen by one of the owners, 40-50#. He also says the manual pages appear to be on standard bond paper, and are neatly printed. Unfortunately the Curse of the Shrinkwrap Hoarder prevents me from side-by-side comparing the text with an original. The label is noticeably off-center on the CD, which has a light-green rather than silver base, indicating CD-R. I've been informed that the disc contains an automated .exe that walks you through the install, creates a subdirectory for the game files, etc. The "Orb of Qyntarr" is my favorite: It's a rock! Looks like something you could pick up at any mineral show. Or driveway. More details once I actually have one in hand and can show it to my printing expert.

One thing the original SWCollect poster wondered was, could well-made counterfeit game packages ever become collectibles in their own right? (Like the Sraffans in Steve Meretzky's The Space Bar, how they collect quality fakes of famous artwork.) Personally I hope not, it'd just encourage more people to try crap. But I'd be interested to hear anyone's thoughts on this.

That said, I just want to make it perfectly clear: I am not out to take on the whole piracy industry. If you want to peddle vintage games on CD-R to people who only want to play them and don't know where or how to find free abandonware downloads, that is your business. My business is protecting people who, like myself, collect the original 1980s packaging. The only problem I have is when someone sells a homemade copy without specifically saying that it is a homemade copy. (Pictures aren't good enough; eBay's IPix shrinks them to miniscule size and is notoriously unreliable.)

If Timmon had done this from the start, I never would have gotten involved. But any act of deceit only serves to deteriorate trust, and is a threat to the entire software collecting hobby. Somebody's gotta speak out when it happens, let these people know in no uncertain terms that they suck and they're totally out of their league. (Heh, I'm like that one jerkass judge on "American Idol". B-)

'Nuff said. Here's the final score:



Game Counterfeiting 101 - Report Card


Student: Paul Sanders (aka "Timmon")

Forgery: F
Aside from omission of details in the text description, Timmon made no effort whatsoever to disguise the true nature of his items. Once you got it, you knew you'd been ripped.
Misidentity: F
Unlike Eyal Katz, Timmon made no attempt to disguise who he was. Which I don't quite understand: If I were him, I'd be embarrassed about it.
Deception: F
Being a successful seller of fake software packaging requires that you be a smooth talker with extensive social interaction skills. Timmon, through this entire incident, never uttered a word! Frank Abagnale Jr he ain't. Two pieces of advice pie: Ignoring people over the net does not make them go away. And if someone e-mails to let you know THEY know your stuff is phony, you had damn well better answer.
Greed: D+
Timmon's variety of fake products was slightly superior to other counterfeiters', but duplicate items were still listed too frequently. But then, what do you expect from someone who nicknames himself after a big smelly warthog in a Disney kiddie flick? (Or was Timmon the other thing, the one who ate grubs and insects? If he's that strapped for cash maybe that's his diet, so I stand by the analogy, regardless.)
Overall Course Grade: F
It is the recommendation of this institution that Timmon be enrolled in our summer counterfeiting program, in order to catch his woefully deficient skills up to the necessary levels in preparation for next year.
Please have parent/guardian sign and return within two weeks:




Signature __________________________________________________


UPDATE, 11/01/2003: Timmon Speaks!

But still not to me. To Howard Sherman. With Howard on the road doing research for Greystone, and me with a screwy new fax machine to deal with, it took awhile for me to get copies of the e-mail exchange. But at long last, I have the conclusion to the Timmon saga, complete with proof that, yes, the guy can indeed talk. Here's how it went down:

A few days after the original column goes up, Howard sends him a message stating his awareness of Timmon's activities, and a cease and desist warning on selling Pentari. Timmon's reply to that message falls somewhat short of the height of eloquence I'd hoped for:


Seeing as how I bought it from you a couple of months ago - you can kiss my ass.

Yes, after weeks of me dying to hear from the guy, THIS is the best he can come up with. What a complete prick! No wonder he hasn't found a wife yet, with that kind of behavior. Scroll down, his personal is the "jps64@earthlink" one, and it's a hoot. Apparently his chosen career focuses on social work, yet he rips people off. Don't bother checking out his Yahoo page, the only photo there is one of Jesus, and for some reason, I doubt there's any resemblance between the two.

Howard writes back with a request for a proof of purchase for each copy of Pentari Timmon is selling, as he'd listed multiple copies for auction simultaneously. Timmon boneheadedly stands his (shaky) ground:


As a courtesy (that you do not deserve) I am supplying the following information:
my copy of Pentari was purchased from you on July 4th using paypal - you go look it
up. PayPal keeps records, and I have already verified the date on my end. This is
the last communication I am having with you, at least informally - you want to be
an ass, then bring on your 'legal remedies' and I will look forward to filing a
counterclaim.

This is what I call the "brick wall" stage: The faker is mad that you've wrecked his little scam so he gets all belligerent and refuses to talk anymore. Howard files the appropriate reports with eBay, and they actually listen because he's the bona-fide copyright holder on Pentari. The latest auction is pulled, but he continues to list one a week for the next month, apparently guessing (incorrectly) that no one is watching anymore. Just to pour fuel on the fire under Timmon's stake, I file a complaint as well and encourage Paul Johnson to do the same. I get a reply from someone at eBay thanking me and informing me that "this seller is currently under review". Heeheeheeee.

Unfortunately the money Timmon makes for eBay must exceed the cost of the trouble he's caused, because to this day he's still there (Hi, Timmon!). He's stopped selling the self-made game packages, though. Whether it's because of Howard's promise of litigation or eBay puttin' da smack down on him, I can't be sure. But he's stopped listing them, which was my primary goal. Just cake this time, no icing. Eh well.

All in all, I would rate my experience with Timmon as a distinct disappointment. Following the scandal of Eyal Katz and the mindblowing wrath of the T-shirt jerk (whom I will get around to telling you about, promise!), there was just no way this one could possibly have lived up to my expectations. Timmon is the Star Wars: Episode One of software package counterfeiters.

Oh, and Timmon, if you want to read about yourself on my site, you might try the news page or this column, right here, because you won't find anything on the main page or for-sale lists. (That's right, you little piss-ant, I can tell you've been poking around my site and I have a list of the exact dates, times, and pages you've visited.)

Heh. Power-trip. >B-)


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