Wednesday, 28 December 2011

More on the OGL

Damn Blogger for not being a forum. Rather than bury my replies to yesterday's comments, I'll make them into a post.


If you were legal under copyright law, but they send you a C&D anyways then they could do the same under the OGL. You're just operating under contract law now instead of copyright law.

I'll take my chances with a tightly worded contract that they've provided an FAQ for, rather than the poorly understood murk of copyright law, especially across national boundaries (I'm a US citizen living in the UK), especially in the realm of games where very little precedent has been worked out.


What words or concepts did you use that you feel put you at risk?

It's not any one or two or three, it's a complete game product that pretty much uses all of them, and that's all I was going to put under OGL. I'm not talking about trademark law here, of course, I'm talking about what would count as a "derivative work" (standard copyright law) rather than a "novel extension" (the Super Add-Ons precedent).

This is a not-for-profit, non-commercial fan work that mentions some terms and concepts from D&D in ways that are believed to reside within the bounds of “fair use.”
Indeed, you do sign away your right to nominative use with the OGL. I can live with that; people are familiar with the coy work-arounds by now. But I'm not sure any statement can make a retro-clone or complete houseruled game into "fair use" (see here). At issue is whether the use of all the game terms from D&D together constitutes a particular expression of an idea even if the exact words to describe them are different.
...either you create something completely original without a trace of SRD to it or you will be in violation of the OGL.
So you are saying that using the OGL for one work binds you to use it for all? Seems to me that if you don't accept the contract you take your chances with copyright law and the fair use doctrine. Based on precedent my impression is that an "add-on" that uses the terms from the game would fall under fair use but a derivative work that attempts to do exactly what the SRD is doing would not. Of course, if you do include the license then you have to make sure your use of the SRD is kosher.
This is the crucial issue for us all I think - to what extent the terms in the SRD are covered by copyright, as opposed to their precise expression as game system. If you rework the stats to give different effects, be generated differently (or at all - the SRD does not cover character creation, a gap that was put in there to cripple it as a complete RPG), but you use five out of the six names, would that be fair use or a derivative work? The Wizards FAQ refers to a stat block as one of the elements of the SRD: is it the concept of a stat block (I doubt it, too much prior art), a stat block with some of the terms but working completely differently, or a stat block with all the exact terms as laid out in the SRD?
Example: Game mechanics can't be copyrighted, but under the OGL you control it's fate. You have opted out of the standard copyright and secured the material inside a contract.
If you put those mechanics under Product Identity. And you have only secured them to the extent that other people use that contract.

Under the OGL you can lock it down under Product Identity and if someone uses the material then they can be sued due to license violation.

Even if they never signed up to the OGL? I don't think that solves the problem.


  1. the poorly understood murk of copyright law

    This is why it's helpful to talk to a lawyer... ;)

  2. If your One Page Rules count as a "derivative work" how would Tunnels & Trolls not? Or, if you want to grant that simultaneous invention, surely Runequest is clearly derivative of Dungeons & Dragons. And how about all the other rpgs through the years? The Fantasy Trip? Gurps? Marvel Super Heroes?

    They use concepts and language so similar to D&D that if they were made today I'm guessing ADD Grognard would be telling them to OGL their work just to be safe. But they were considered different games in the past.

    Why is this? I think it is the result of the concerted effort by content creators to expand the idea of what is ownable.

    If you concede that Hasbro owns the idea of a game that has characters of certain classes that have hit points and roll dice to see if they hit an opponent. Then, yes, you should come to an agreement with Hasbro about using their property.

    I do not concede that they own these things.

  3. This is a 'no signature' contract. By using the material as written in the SRD you are agreeing to abide by it's terms...seriously...this all comes from the website:

    The answers to all these questions concerning the SRD/OGL are right there.

    And yes, I prefer to spend my time working on an actual game and not worrying whether or not I have violated IP somewhere.

    After Stuarts innuendo in the previous post about my having hidden agendas I believe his is becoming clear.

    Example: The OSR logo on his blog that he so proudly claims is his creation he actually lifted from another blog, added some grid lines to it and called it his. I believe he fears that he won't be able to plagiarize other peoples work and hope they don't feel like going to court over it as opposed to a license agreement that by using that material he has to agree to the license. It's starting to make sense.

    I apologize for this crap starting on your blog, Roger. It's just he does this every time someone mentions wanting to use the OGL and he is mis-informing people about the entire process again.

    Understand, I'm not telling you which method is best for you. I'm saying based on following your blog everyday and reading all your posts that the OGL seems like the best fit. Since much of your work is 'crunch' most of it is not fully protected under standard copyright law. The OGL provides a way to let you maintain control of your work and not the hazy world of the 'if I change it just enough' crowd.

    That was my only point. He knows that by starting this process most people are going to get scared of something as simple as the OGL and take there chances with this:

    I just feel like Stuart is insulting people in the hobby by basically calling them sheep for using the OGL. There's a lot of things you might call James Raggi but stupid isn't one of them. He just picked up another award for LotFP and he utilizes the OGL. So do the makers of OSRIC, LL, S&W, C&C, etc.

    If it is such a bad idea why do people who make money at this use this license? And I would like for Stuart to answer that. Real proof, not opinion. A case, just one documented case, where a knowledgeable person has ran into a problem using the OGL.

  4. Ahhh, I hope I don't come off as shrill and prickish, Roger. It's just that if your cautious interpretation of the requirement of the OGL is true, you realize 90% of blog posts should be OGLed? The Secret Santicore should have been. Hell, probably even the One Page Dungeon Contest compiliations. And that means those blogs that don't include OGL on everything could rightfully be shut down. And that's just not a world I want to live in.

    Okay, I'm going to go try to make something now and be positive. Thanks for the conversation.

  5. I'm suggesting you to talk to a lawyer and get more information. Anonydude is telling you not to worry about it because only bad people would give you advice like talking to a lawyer about legal matters (And feeling so threatened by this idea that he's moved straight to the ad hominems).

    Make up your own mind what to do. :)

  6. Okay, if people are going to throw ad hominems and external baggage, no new comments on either of these posts.

    I haven't really seen anything here to change my mind. Telecanter, please go back and read what I wrote. I'm not trying to encourage a chilling effect over add-ons - though hypothetically, if Hasbro wished to risk their reputation in the community there's no telling what they could get up to. I'd like to think that history shows exactly what they can and can't get away with, PR wise.

    You'll see that the line I draw is between supplementary material (no OGL for me) and material that supplants the core game (the One Page character creation material plus any resolution material I see fit to publish). With this in mind I will be keeping the wilderness system, coin city system, etc. as separate documents.

    Yes, my lawyering is strictly of the jailhouse variety but that's all it realistically can be. I'm not sure a professional lawyer could give any clearer indications given the lack of precedent in the game industry. What little case law there is comes down supporting game add-ons (look up, also, the Galoob Game Genie case), but coming up with a competitor RPG system would fall afoul of a number of fair use considerations that were instrumental in the precedent case. Namely, if you use "my RPG" there is no need to go out and get any version of the original one. Ultimately, informed or not, that is the basis of my decision.