Monday, October 17, 2011

"It's Free" Does Not Mean "Free for all!"

I feel like I'm beating a dead horse, but this crap really annoys me. Probably even more so, as I get alerts from OBS for most of the OSR releases. I like to pass that info on to my readers as soon as I can, and in doing so I got burned by the same person twice.

Just because you are releasing your latest set of houserules for free it doesn't mean you don't have to follow the law.

Let me put it another way. John gives Mike a free joint. Free as in "Yo man! Just take it. I made it special. It's free!" Guess what, in the eyes of the law (at least under the NYS Penal Law)
John just "sold" Mike marijuana. Criminal Sale of Marijuana. No money needs to exchange hands.

Releasing your latest and greatest plagiarized piece of work for free is no different than asking cash for it. Hell, you might as well ask cash for it - it's product lifetime is gonna be short either way, you may as well make a few bucks off of it.

I'm wondering what his third release will be. You know he has something waiting in the wings.


  1. Exactly. I have stopped arguing with people who, when told they are doing something wrong, start going on about how they 'don't understand all that legal jibberty jabber' and how they would worry about it if they were selling something.

    The word publish doesn't seem to sink in. The Internet is a real place with real people and if you put something up there for others to see or download you have 'published' it whether or not you get paid.

    That and people who, without benefit of understanding the English language, decide they will re-write the OGL to suit themselves. That dog don't hunt either...

  2. You may be talking mostly about the real hardcases (recidivists, I think you pros call them) when you're talking about plagiarism. But you also mention people putting out their house-rules for free. You don't say it, but I think you mean that without including the OGL that is a type of crime (like/including copyright or trademark infringement or IP theft ... or something). For the all the well-meaning folks out there, maybe you could provide a link to the OGL here, and maybe to some webpages or discussions that would help folks understand the practical applications.

    The assholes won't heed this, but some folks honestly don't know how they are being criminals.

  3. I would like to point out, that unless you are actually pulling text from said game, you do not need to use the OGL. You cannot patent a set of game rules (at least in most places, ie: "schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games or doing business, and programs for computers" are not inventions and cannot be patented). This may be different in your area (I am not an American).

    Copyright is another issue entirely though, if text under copyright protection is copy pasted into a new file that is also illegal.

    But the OGL really isn't needed for many places except to save the time of rewriting game play elements.

  4. @Spawn - the person in question copied tables from the Holmes Basic Book word for word - that is not covered under the OGL.

    The OGL covers D&D 3x exclusively,which is why the writers of retroclones are very careful in the "reverse engineering" they do to accomplish their results.

    This "recidivist" included the OGL in his latest product,but apparently thought it was a blanket cover to include anything he wanted form even non-OGL sources. Or, more likely, he just didn't care. 'Cause, you know, it's FREE. Sigh

  5. @Zzarchove - if you use the OGL you have to abide by it. He used it (as cover I suspect) and most certainly didn't abide by it.

  6. The OGL is a trap, so *everyone* should avoid it anyway. Never give away rights for nothing in return.

    As to copying tables, it depends on the table in question. There are limits on what can be copyrighted and in a lot of cases simple tables have been found in courts not to be covered, although as ever there is a random element when you ask for an opinion from a single person, whether they're a judge or not.

    I would expect, for example, that a table of spells usable per level would not be protected, that a table of experience level titles and requirements to probably not be covered, and a table of rooms and their contents probably would be protected.

    The core issue is the one that Zzarchov mentioned - you can't patent a rule that says "this sword does 1d6+1 damage" and you can't get around that by making a little table with 1-6 down one column and 2-7 down the next and claim copyright on it. The dividing line between this and what a judge might describe as "creative invention" is blurred but it does exist in law and some things are on one side and some things are on the other.

  7. From a quick look through, Monster descriptions were taken from Holmes, word for word as well. I noticed a few other things, The beginning Level titles, etc.

  8. A table is a unique expression of information.However:

    Table N
    1-3.... apples
    4-6.... oranges

    Table 14

    Table N and table 14 both express the same range of information but are not the same table.

  9. JD is right on the money with that example. However, the RISKY part is that first sentence: "A table is a unique expression of information." The formatting of a table can be copyright protected, which is just one example of the pitfalls involved. You can take some non-copyrightable rules, put them into the original format, and find that you've got a copyright infringement because of the way you *presented* those non-copyrightable rules in a copied table format. The biggest pitfall is a test of "similarity of appearance and presentation." This is a catch-all test that could potentially destroy a lot of reliance upon "rules can't be copyrighted" because it focuses on the framework in which those rules are presented.

  10. @Nagora-The OGL is not a 'trap'. It is a license which affords one an even greater amount of protection than copyright.

    For instance, a word can not be copyrighted. But in the OGL a word, especially if unique to a base of data, can be protected because it has been placed under the OGL license as Product Identity (This is how several monster names were declared off limits in the original OGL from WotC).

    The OGL grants someone the use of a large body of work if they agree to abide by the rules of the contract and if you use said material you are agreeing to those rules by using that material. The material covered is the SRD, the MSRD and and new material created since that has been released under the OGL, like Pathfinder and now West End Games d6.

    How the OGL is viewed as a 'trap' is beyond me when it protects the original content created by someone and allows the degree to which it can be copied and re-used. I find it to be a unifying device that I look forward to contributing to myself as a way of paying the community back by releasing material as OGC and being able to protect storylines or characters in adventures, etc as I see fit.

    Where is the problem with that?

    And only artistic content is protected by copyright. It was a hard win for the level titles but that set precedent and you will notice no clone uses them because of that lawsuit. It's a little thing, but a lesson learned the hardway if you get a summons to court.

    Yeah, I've read this thing quite a bit. It takes me about 30 seconds to spot violations.

    This guy tried to hide behind the OGL while he performed out right copyright violations.

    And the folks doing it right do have it posted, just like we are supposed to, for all to see:


    My project...or how about Grognardia:


    As for the rest of your post it is wrong as well but I know I will not change your mind so I will call it quits there.

  11. @Zzarchov-Only one set of rules have ever received a patent and it's why the company is still around today (I'm willing to bet) and it is for Magic: The Gathering.

  12. And these are up for everyone to see:

    Open Game License:
    Frequently Asked Questions


    Other Licenses:
    Frequently Asked Questions


    These are the two definitive pieces on the subject because they wrote it, copyrighted it and issued it.


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