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Cortex Fan License Published

The fan license which allows you to create free material for Cortex Prime was announced by Fandom yesterday.

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Fandom acquired the Cortex Prime system recently, and is also the owner of D&D Beyond.

The announcement was greeted with negative feedback about its restrictions by the community. The Community License grants ownership of any mechanics created under the license (but not 'lore' such as names, art, fiction, etc.) Additionally, Fandom can terminate the license at any time. The usage of the Cortex Prime mechanics is limited in that fans cannot "decompile, disassemble, or reverse engineer the Cortex System, or any component thereof, by any means whatsoever."

In the comments under the announcement, Fandom confirmed that fan creations could not be distributed via DriveThruRPG or Itch.io because those platforms "grants them rights to specific parts of the content, including content that the community license does not grant you the rights to." I'm not familiar with Itch's terms, but DTRPG doesn't acquire any rights to content distributed on the platform.

Fandom does confirm in the comments that people can create their own versions of the Cortex mechanics without using the license; but by doing so you can't call it Cortex or use the resources Fandom provides. Mechanics in themselves cannot be copyrighted, but the expression (the text used) to describe them can.

Those wishing to sell their work will be able to use the Cortex Creator Studio, which will become available at a later date. The commercial license requires an application.
 
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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


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timbannock

Adventurer
This can’t be a coincidence

It's immaterial, though. Fandom wants to keep Cortex close, and is providing an alternative way for folks to publish for it (the as-yet-unreleased Creator Studio), while also letting the non-publishing fans create whatever they want and not make money on it (the fan part of the license: "don't use our branding, please"). Not every game system must follow an "open it up" mentality, and thinking that "only the ones that do are popular" misses an awful lot of games that don't that are popular.

Fandom has different business goals than Mork Borg, and that should be okay. Apparently there are many people who feel it shouldn't be okay, though, which is...perplexing.
 


Aldarc

Legend
I like the Cortex Prime system a lot and have a Mass Effect RPG half-written-up for it (and lightly playtested), which I might share on the internet one day (it's not ready yet), but this license seems pretty incompetent. It's not even like, intentionally grasping or something, it's just not at all the right license for the product.
I have a few Cortex Prime projects on the back burner that I intermittenly work on. I'll probably hold back on them until the dust settles a bit regarding this creative license.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
I could go into detail how this is dumb on several levels.

Instead, I will just repost the top reply in that Twitter thread. It really is thorough and encapsulates everything wrong with this license.
Mod Note:

Just like triggering the profanity filter, attempts to evade triggering it by using screenshots or videos that contain profanity is just as forbidden.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
This can’t be a coincidence

Well, it isn't like Mork Borg came up with a brand new license in one day as a response to this. Lawyers need longer than that to craft and review language. That license must've already existed, and the only thing that isn't coincidence is them choosing to tweet about it. Which... of course, yeah, they'd use the opportunity to make themselves look good.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Well, it isn't like Mork Borg came up with a brand new license in one day as a response to this. Lawyers need longer than that to craft and review language. That license must've already existed, and the only thing that isn't coincidence is them choosing to tweet about it. Which... of course, yeah, they'd use the opportunity to make themselves look good.
In other news the WOIN, Awfully Cheerful Engine! And Level Up licenses are awesome!
 

schneeland

Adventurer
Well, it isn't like Mork Borg came up with a brand new license in one day as a response to this. Lawyers need longer than that to craft and review language. That license must've already existed, and the only thing that isn't coincidence is them choosing to tweet about it. Which... of course, yeah, they'd use the opportunity to make themselves look good.
The Mörk Borg 3rd party license is a good year old by now (see e.g. the announcement here on Reddit). So yes, the link was reposted most likely in response to the Cortex license announcement.
 

Kannik

Adventurer
Well, this is unfortunate. The more I read on the license (and responses from the creator and Cortex team) the more it seems that it's in actuality much more open and 'normal' than the wording or the FAQ imply. But that is what they released into the wild, and I fear lot of interest and goodwill may have been burned by this. (Perhaps driven by overzealous ownership/profit chicanery by Fandom?) They can clarify and revise, but this first impression will likely stick. :/

FWIW, I really like many bits of the Cortex system (playing/have played a few of campaigns in it, and I am casually working on a couple more) and the Prime toolkit/rulebook is quite well put together and the system bits therein are quite versatile. Again, unfortunate that its positives may get overshadowed by this bungled license release/announcement.
 


J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Well, this is unfortunate. The more I read on the license (and responses from the creator and Cortex team) the more it seems that it's in actuality much more open and 'normal' than the wording or the FAQ imply.
Yeah. My legalese is rudimentary at best, and I'm hazy on how the license translates into what's in the FAQ.
But it really doesn't look to be all that unreasonable, especially for fan works. Just basic stuff like... Don't associate your work too closely with the Cortex brand; don't violate others' IP; open up your new rules for use by other creators.
Aside from the publishing platform restriction, that's not all that different to the OGL, is it?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
Yeah. My legalese is rudimentary at best, and I'm hazy on how the license translates into what's in the FAQ.
But it really doesn't look to be all that unreasonable, especially for fan works. Just basic stuff like... Don't associate your work too closely with the Cortex brand; don't violate others' IP; open up your new rules for use by other creators.
Aside from the publishing platform restriction, that's not all that different to the OGL, is it?
I think the issue is the 'ownership of mechanics' phrasing. They say in their replies that the intention is to ensure new mechanics become part of the ecosystem and available to other creators. They'd have probably been better using 'open' language rather than 'ownership' language.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
Wow. What an absolute disaster of a "license". Somehow worse than Chaosium's "license".

So who's working up an OGL version of Cortex Prime and coming up with a faux-logo similar to the "5E" logos people are using?
 


Kannik

Adventurer
Given that the publishing tools are not yet available, they may well be able to correct, have folks look at it again when those tools are out there, and have it go okay.
I sure do hope so! :)

But it really doesn't look to be all that unreasonable, especially for fan works. Just basic stuff like... Don't associate your work too closely with the Cortex brand; don't violate others' IP; open up your new rules for use by other creators.

They say in their replies that the intention is to ensure new mechanics become part of the ecosystem and available to other creators. They'd have probably been better using 'open' language rather than 'ownership' language.
I concur; it feels like they were going for a GNU/copyleft type license while stating that Fandom can use your rules ideas in their own commercial product, but the ownership bit makes it sound more like a copy-grabbing license. Which is not the best look when trying to encourage others to use and proliferate the brand and system. I’m not sure what the internal process was like in hammering out the license and how it was presented to the public, but something didn’t get fully thought through, I’d say.

Curious to see if/what/how they revise and resubmit in the next few days. And getting this massaged smooth and clear now and not waiting until they also have the commercial license ready to release I think would be best...
 

timbannock

Adventurer
I think the issue is the 'ownership of mechanics' phrasing. They say in their replies that the intention is to ensure new mechanics become part of the ecosystem and available to other creators. They'd have probably been better using 'open' language rather than 'ownership' language.
Yes this is confusing. I think it works to their detriment that they are creating a FAQ and answering questions in one place for what are technically two different (though obviously related) licenses: one "fan" (non-commercial) and one "publisher" (commercial). Elements of one might seem like they have crossover when legally they do not.

I wonder what their objection is to just using the OGL? Anyone have any clue by fours?
I can't read their minds, but I can conjecture a whole bunch! Here we go:

1. I think the upcoming Creator Studio is going to be like D&D Beyond but on steroids. Meaning, it will much more fundamentally bring in the "homebrew" building tools you see in D&D Beyond into the infrastructure of how the rules referencing works. More cross-referencing, more tools to "build your own full game" by referencing the core rules, your homebrew rules, and other people's homebrew creations, etc. The idea being that you can build a sort of wiki of your group's specific iteration of Cortex with all the mods linked together in one place, rather than forcing your players to remember to click links ABC, LMNOP, and YZ and figure out how it all comes together.

Because of that -- and a bunch of other completely financial and legal reasons -- it makes a lot of sense to protect themselves in this ecosystem from running afoul creators wanting to homebrew stuff but somehow also claim ownership, or create things that get incorporated into many people's homebrew stuff and then suddenly take those creations down, breaking links (either literal website links or whatever internal reference links) and rendering some people's versions of a toolkit-built system useless (or at least incomplete).

That's my big-picture guess.

2. Much more realistically, it's a case of them simply being okay with keeping as much of their branding and system in-house as they can so you don't see a "Pathfinder situation". I get that that's a pretty corner-case situation that is fairly unique to the D&D-D20-Pathfinder ecosystem, but it's not impossible, and it's a perfectly reasonable business choice. Less corner-case is all of the completely pirated materials people are selling with D&D branding: it's easily a multi-million dollar business (not for any one single company, mind you) that directly infringes on WOTC's branding and is so widespread it's nearly impossible to squash. It's even harder when people have a legal recourse to hide behind the OGL, even if just temporarily. Folks always talk about how big corporations are happy to bleed individuals dry in court cases that technically have little merit but one side can afford the lawyers, but as someone who's worked for big companies with big IP, I can tell you that the legal fees cut both ways. Certainly not to the same degree, but it's not something a company is looking forward to spending their money on.

Anyway, point being that Fandom might rather spend their time making a fun closed ecosystem and be okay with the folks who want an open ecosystem finding their fun elsewhere. Both are legitimate ways to have fun.

Case in point on pirating silliness:

 

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