Dark Phoenix Publishing - Links and Facts

Introduction

This page is kind of a capstone page which I can link to instead of giving myself carpal tunnel typing the same things over and over again, and I don't clutter up my blog which is actually supposed to be for writing about games. This page will occasionally get updated with new information if it becomes available. Page last updated 02/27/2013 10:10pm - added "Other Endeavors" section.

What are we dealing with here? Dark Phoenix Publishing is a company that is trying to market a line of roleplaying games. Specifically, modern horror roleplaying games: vampires, werewolves, faeries, mages, etc. They are headed by one Paul Michael Cape, aka Mykal Lakim. Here are links to their pages:

Who Am I?


This seems to be a popular question posed by Mr. Cape and his alleged supporters. I'm actually nobody. I'm just a gamer, and a database developer, and a dad. I am not a game publishing industry professional, my name only appears in the "Special Thanks" sections of a few Dream Pod 9 books, and otherwise anything I have "published" that is gaming related are fan works. I am also not a particularly big World of Darkness fan, I don't currently own any White Wolf books, and when I did they were all from the Exalted line. By virtue of being a long time roleplayer I have interacted with a lot of gamers both in real life and over the internet - including game designers - and I respect their creativity and the hard work they put into their games. I have the same respect for them as I have for musicians, artists and writers in general.

History


Collected here are a series of links to the actual websites and threads discussing Dark Phoenix Publishing. Some links may require registration to view.

Dark Phoenix Publishing and Copyright


Mr. Cape has allowed copyrighted material to be reproduced on his company's websites and pages without attribution as to the source. Steve Trustrum of Misfit Studios, who has access to professional copy editing tools, checked numerous texts. The list of texts and sources are:

  • Playtesting FAQ: 43% of the text taken from Wizards of the Coast when run through Copyscape
  • Submission Guidelines: 76% lifted from Image comics when run through Copyscape.
  • Popular FAQ (since removed): 73% lifted from Image comics when run through Copyscape.
  • "Eternal Midnight" video game page (since removed): Over 50% total lifted from a Vampire: Bloodlines Review, a Saints Row page and Wikipedia.
  • The excerpt from their Fae book: 25% (out of 33 words) from this Myspace page and another 15 % lifted from a website.
  • "Sneak peek" at Shapeshifters (part 1 and part 2, now removed): Taken from this Native American website.
  • The Vampire: Undeath free preview had text which as copied from a White Wolf book. This review has since been pulled because of "issues".
  • Stardust Publications noticed similarities between Dark Phoenix Publishing's Thralls page and their own content, after Bree Orlock had reached out to Mr. Cape and had shared some of her material as examples. Stardust posted about  the infringement and Dark Phoenix Publishing changed the page so it no longer contained the potentially infringing content. Public discussion of it can be found here.

Validity of Plagiarism Detection


Mr. Cape or his supporters have attacked the validity of plagiarism detection which was used to determine if the text was copied. Steve Trustrum of Misfits Studios, who ran the comparisons, is not only a game publisher but a professional editor who uses this tool in his day-job. The evaluations are not, as Mr. Cape or his supporters allege, because Steve "says so." Regardless, the text and the results have been provided for comparison so your own conclusions can be drawn.

The tools used for generating the citation audits are Grammarly and Copyscape, which are professional paid tools as opposed to free ones. The difference with running one of these texts through a free tool can be seen here. They typically only have access to web sources and are not as good at detecting copied text, whereas Grammarly has academic sources to check against. The free versions are really just teasers with limited functionality intended on enticing users to sign up for the more expensive paid version.

Grammarly is used by educational institutions so teachers can identify plagiarism and its results are thoroughly vetted. Students' academic careers are at stake. Like anything of this nature, interpreting the results requires context. A few words picked up as possible plagiarism is likely a coincidence. Entire sentences or blocks of text, not so much. In fact, you can see the effectiveness from my running Strands of Flesh and Spirit through Grammarly. All three parts came back at 1% potentially copied text. Part 1 and Part 3 are very short phrases and coincidences. Part 2 is interesting though, because it cites a phrase detected from the Strands of Fate Core Rules. That shows Grammarly is very accurate in finding its sources - Strands of Flesh and Spirit is a Strands of Fate conversion, and the phrase did come from Strands of Fate's standardized language for describing powers. Strands of Fate is also referenced in the introduction.

Lack of Copyright Claims


Mr. Cape or his supporters have said Dark Phoenix Publishing never actually claimed to have written some of the text. In most instances, this is true. However, you can look at the above excerpts and see whether sources were cited or what impression words like "sneak peek" and "excerpt" give. In addition Dark Phoenix Publishing claims copyright and trademark on things such as "Arkham Asylum" and "Cthulhu".  Searches for any trademark or copyright held by Dark Phoenix Publishing come up empty.

Artwork

The Dark Phoenix Publishing logo

As mentioned in the linked blog posts above, the original Dark Phoenix Publishing logo was swiped from the DeviantArt user WildSpiritWolf, who denied any knowledge that the company was using the logo. Mr. Cape's stated the logo was "used in a lot of places on the internet" (in case that disappears, you can view the image here) and eventually "we've come to an agreement with the artist to not use the logo".

The logo has since been removed from nearly all of Dark Phoenix Publishing's official pages, after he was contacted by WildSpiritWolf. Recently the logo was replaced with a new one, likewise with no attribution to the source. WildSpiritWolf has contacted me and indicated that Mr. Cape never followed up with her on drafting a new logo, and therefore the new one is not hers. You can do the comparison below to see whether the two logos are merely similar or if one is direct copy of the other.





The Gen13 Swipe


The Mark Smith mouthpiece has repeated the same lines Mr. Cape used: the "Lilliana" image was a common pose, Mr. Cape never claimed he owned or claimed copyright on the image, and the new found claim that the use of a graphics program to uncover copying invalidates the results.

So judge for yourself. You can go back to the blog posts listed above as well as go to where Bleeding Cool picked up on the swipe. You can also follow the entirety of the discussion on Facebook (now deleted) to see what Mykal Lakim's responses to the criticism were:




Mr. Cape eventually responded to the allegations by posting a black and white original of the Lilliana image with explanation. Steve Trustrum ran a comparison against the color version and the Gen13 cover, and this was the result. After stretching back to the original proportions, the black and white version still matches the Gen13 cover exactly.

The Paul Mudie Swipe


Once Mr. Cape was told his werewolf image was swiped from an artist named Paul Mudie, he posted this message on his Facebook. Paul Mudie has a slightly different opinion.

The "you used Photoshop on that" claim


One of Mr. Cape's supporters maintains using Photoshop to detect if an image was copied is somehow not valid. The Lilliana copy was revealed using this technique, as was the logo, the wolf drawing, the Bill Nighy Underworld copy, etc. that were shown in the my last "trainwreck" blog post. Go and look at those images, and judge for yourself. If you're feeling lazy just look at the two logos above. Then ask yourself - how is using a graphics tool to compare lines in an image any different than using something like Grammarly to detect copied text? How is it any different than comparing them by hand? If someone can use graphics software to make two images match, they can certainly use it to make the same image look different than the original - but when both the original and the comparison image are presented unaltered, and the overlay is displayed separately, how would that make the comparison invalid? The sword cuts both ways. Which version you choose to believe is, again, up to you.

Fan Support


Since around 2011 there have been a handful of individuals that have professed being fans of Dark Phoenix Publishing. Not only are they typically the only vocal proponents of Dark Phoenix Publishing, it is also the only thing they ever comment on publicly aside from criticizing White Wolf and belittling Dark Phoenix Publishing's critics.

There are a number of odd things about each of the accounts listed below. Posting style, common "turns of phrase", the focus of the subject matter, timing of when they began posting, and other elements such as personal relationships - or lack thereof - with others on the social network (and who with) all point to these accounts having, at the very least, personal relationships with Michael Cape. At the worse, they are actually "sockpuppet" accounts.

Mr. Cape has made the statement that several people may be using the same computer, implying one or more of these accounts are people close to him. Even if this is not the case, all of these commenters display an astute understanding of the current issues and situation regarding Dark Phoenix Publishing, They also parrot many of Mr. Cape's statements regarding White Wolf's theft of Dark Phoenix Publishing's material, calling critics "trolls", making accusations of defamation or conspiracy, and threatening legal action against detractors.

James Pendragon
James Pendragon is the earliest of these. A James Pendragon account was likewise the one which caused Mr. Cape to be banned from the White Wolf forums for sock puppeting.  His Facebook posts on the White Wolf page appear here:


Iblis Eterna
Iblis Eterna appears in one of the Facebook threads as a cheerleader for James Pendragon, who is tied back to the Mykal Lakim as well as James Pendragon.

Sarah Anderson
Sarah Anderson likewise turns up to support Mr. Cape, and is apparently the only time she has ever posted on Facebook.

Pendragon James
There is also a Pendragon James (or James Smith) who is tied to a curious effort to reprint Vampire The Masquerade and has a rather specific interpretation of "fair use" which is not generally shared by the courts. Again, there are links tying the account back to Mykal Lakim's account. Although Pendragon James has not commented on any of the past or current Dark Phoenix Publishing controversies, he does show that there is a pattern of accounts (James Pendragon, Pendragon James) which are connected to Mykal Lakim's Facebook accounts.

Mark Smith
Mark Smith is a newcomer. He began posting on Google+ and set up a review blog which was originally called Vampire Undeath Review (it's still in the URL, even if the title of the blog changed), which only has reviews of Dark Phoenix Publishing products. You can read his posts to see what makes up the majority of their content, but I will point out a few things.

Mark Smith has taken up the bulk of the aggressive posting since Mr. Cape's official accounts have gone mostly "dark". Mark Smith carries the torch for James Pendragon's claims that White Wolf stole Dark Phoenix Publishing's ideas, accusing game designers of conspiracy and trying to accuse critics of slander.

Mr. Cape made the same claim on his Facebook page, the Dark Phoenix Publishing webpage and an interview with "Midnight Design Digital Media".

Nicole Johnson
Nicole Johnson appeared as an interested party in Dark Phoenix Publishing's products, specifically engaging Mark Smith without only a couple of unsubstantial posts beforehand. There is no history to her account, only celebrities and pages are Circled, and her questions to Mark Smith appear very directed and leading. She is yet another poster who has a very astute understanding of Mr. Cape's comments.

Raven Tibby
Raven Tibby, like the others, has no known posting history except for to comment or +1 Dark Phoenix Publishing related posts. She uses the same profile photo as the DeviantArt user who defended Mr. Cape's actions in relation to WildSpiritWolf's artwork. Her posting history is similar to Nicole Johnson's in terms of it being unsubstantial.

Other Endeavors

Mykal Lakim has circumstantial links to a number of Facebook pages, usually via secondary accounts such as Iblis Eterna or James Pendragon. It should be noted for all of these "businesses", the only business record associated to Paul Michael Cape is a DBA for Dark Phoenix Publishing. All a DBA does is allow him to cash checks made out to Dark Phoenix Publishing. There are no records of incorporation, no business licenses, no anything.
  • White Entertainment - Iblis Eterna comments on this page. The page's mission is  "To provide entertainment to each White teen and young adult to give back to their culture in an equal and fair world."
  • The Inner Court: Soliciting for fetish modeling and advertising a gentleman's club, this is linked back to Iblis Eterna. The page advertises membership fees and the general manager is listed as "Mike." It is allegedly located in South Bend, Indiana. 
  • Needful Things Electronics and Gaming: Apparently defunct/nonfunctional business (second hand store? Online store?) tied to Mr. Cape. 
  • Midnight Design Digital Media: Alleged digital design studio. 
  • Dragon's Eye Design Studio: Alleged modeling/photography studio.

Accusations and Threats of Lawsuits

Mr. Cape and his associates have a long history of threatening legal action, as well as accusing others of defamation, harassment, theft, and conspiracy. Many of these threats are embedded within the links above, but they are brought together here as one section.


My response

I have posted a response to Mr. Cape's threats of legal action and a rebuttal of his statements.

For more information on Paul Michael Cape's background, click here.