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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

darjr

I crit!
I like the idea of a creator studio. And I think Cam is going to get this fixed.

Of note is that DMsGuild has one license and there is still the OGL for 5e. Both can be available at the same time.

Speaking of licensing and the DMSGUILD I think this is also important:
 

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FormerLurker

Explorer
Wow, that is a terrible licence.
How terrible is it? So terrible that I had to stop lurking after over a year away from this site just to comment that it's terrible.

Here's why it's terrible: firstly, it's a licence.
A licence is a legal document. It's something you actively sign. You don't want or need one of those for a fan site, which shouldn't require formally signing a license with terms and services. After all, are they REALLY going to send C&D letters to fan sites that don't sign the licence? If not, then the purpose serves no purpose, as people gain no benefit from signing. If yes… then why would anyone want to start a fan site supporting such a company? A firm licence with hard rules just means you're inevitably going to have to shut down sites run by your fans, which will directly anger your biggest supporters.
Even thinking about a "fan site" is almost awkward and dated. If the game is popular, someone might create a free Wordpress site, but that hasn't been the sole way of sharing homebrew content for years. There'll inevitably be a fan Discord with a channel of homebrew, via pictures on Twitter, or on a subreddit that shares content. You cannot expect everyone to sign a licence before posting on those sites.

Instead, what you need is a plain text policy you can point to and say "these are the guidelines to follow so we won't sue you or send you unpleasant emails." Something you can direct fans running problematic sites towards before pursuing legal actions.
Because you WANT fan sites. Fan sites keep the game alive. They're free advertising for the system. They keep interest in the game going in the looooong time between supplements that occurs with smaller publishers. Fan sites fill the content gaps that make it harder for people to play. And lacking a slush pile or other way of attracting new talent, a fan site becomes a potential source of freelancers. (Rodney Thompson ended up at Wizards of the Coast because of his contributions to a Star Wars RPG fan site.)

Making it harder to create fan sites for your game is like making it harder to stream games or to maintain a Discord: it's an unnecessary hurdle that just hurts the product line and engagement with the game.

This is ironic given fan sites like Marvel Plot Points have kept that game alive for many times longer than the publisher.
And it's doubly ironic, given that Fandom runs Wikia, which has made its entire business off of fans making fan sites for other people's Intellectual Property. Wikis like Memory Alpha, Wookiepedia, the MCU, and even D&D!! Heck, even Twilight has a Wikia site.
The company has literally made their name doing the kind of thing they're trying to discourage and shut down.

I imagine this licence was written by Fandom's legal team who have zero idea how RPG games and fan sites work. It reads like an "ass-cover clause", like you see in the fine print of contests. They assume ownership of the content done by fans, which covers their ass in the event they publish something similar, preventing a lawsuit. Or the DMsGuild, which grants irrevocable rights to posted content, so people can't pull their PDF and then demand OneBookShelf remove it from people's libraries or remove other PDFs that use formerly posted content. (So if/ when Matt Mercer removes the blood hunter class, every product that references it doesn't also have to be pulled.)
But this is entirely ineffectual given all the places content might be shared. And I don't think there's ever been an example of a gamer even attempting to a sue a publisher for ripping off their homebrew. It's needlessly paranoid.

Really, what Fandom should do is start an officially moderated Wikia, and include the ownership restrictions/ ass-cover clauses in the Terms of Use. Foster a community there, which just encourages fans to become familiar with their sites and pushes them to other Wikia communities. It unites the community and grows the brand.
 

darjr

I crit!
@FormerLurker i think you’ve just highlighted something i didn’t realize.

Fandom is a web site company. Specifically a fan web site company. Could this be part of the misunderstanding or problem? Fandom sees this as a website issue not an RPG issue?
 

Staffan

Legend
Okay.

Though, like... folks expect a really good licence for free? Good license terms are valuable - people generally pay for them, rather than get them handed over on a platter for nothing.
Are they, though? I mean, if the thing you license has a strong enough brand that people will check your game out because of that brand, sure. But how many games are in that position? Not very many, and the main one that would be basically gives away the store with the OGL anyway. I am reminded of the anecdote about E.T., where the filmmakers contacted TSR about getting some free stuff for use in the movie when the characters were supposed to be playing a game, and TSR said "No, and you can't use our game without paying for it." So of course, the filmmakers went with something else and TSR lost out on a great opportunity for product placement.

I'm pretty sure that for almost all games, the creators would be better off letting people go wild with making supplements for them. Maybe skim a bit off the top if they're done for profit (similar to the DM's Guild - and there are quire a few companies who have followed in Wizards' footprints there).
 

darjr

I crit!
Are you mixing that story up with M&Ms vs Skittles?

Edit to add: Reeses pieces, not skittles




Edit: this says tunnels and trolls

 
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doctorhook

Adventurer
I won’t pretend to truly understand most of the legal issues being discussed here, but now I’m wondering: If I create materials for my own game and post them here on ENWorld, does Morrus own it?
 


pming

Legend
Hiya!

sigh
Another "RPG license" that doesn't nothing but take away rights of creators without actually giving them anything in return. :(

What they should have done... take a page from some of the Video Game Engine companies out there like Unreal Editor (Epic Megagames, or just "Epic" now I guess). You can use their Unreal Engine to make a video game, and you can sell it. For whatever you want and wherever you want. You only have to pay them when you make over $1,000,000 on THAT GAME, which will be 5% of anything you make OVER the $1m.

Of course, that's video games, and they can make stupid money. For RPG's I can see that being lowered SIGNIFICANTLY, but the same general idea. "Use the system, create something, advertise you are using the system, sell it...pay us when you make more than X amount".

For Fandom, I particularly like the part where they claim ownership of something nobody can actually have ownership over: game mechanics. LOL!

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Bravesteel25

Baronet of Gaming
Okay.

Though, like... folks expect a really good licence for free? Good license terms are valuable - people generally pay for them, rather than get them handed over on a platter for nothing.
No, not at all. Honestly, I think licenses where you actually pay some sort of license fee or percentage of sales ala Traveller's Aid Society Creator Program tends to be better and would be a better choice for Cortex. On the other hand, a free license tends to raise the overall profile and offering of any particular game that uses it.
 

Grantypants

Explorer
The only way this license makes sense to me is if it was drafted to be the terms and conditions for using their upcoming Cortex website. With that in mind, a lot of what people are complaining about seems more reasonable, or at least less unreasonable.
The first paragraph of the license says that using any aspect of the Cortex System means you agree to the license. That would be ridiculous if they meant playing or writing for the existing game, but standard procedure for creating an account on almost any website.
Other lines about how you can't disassemble or decompile the system and how Fandom doesn't guarantee that its systems are virus-free also don't make sense except as related to a website.
Claiming copyright over all material ever written compatible with Cortex is preposterous, but claiming copyright over all material posted to their website is... not great, but not unheard of either.
 

Kannik

Adventurer
I like the idea of a creator studio. And I think Cam is going to get this fixed.

Of note is that DMsGuild has one license and there is still the OGL for 5e. Both can be available at the same time.

Speaking of licensing and the DMSGUILD I think this is also important:
I have confidence in Cam at wanting to get this smoothed out (he's carried Cortex all this way!)… though at the same time I'm surprised that he “let” this go out this way. It’s possible he didn’t read it/left it to others to deal with, or that their internal discussions made this seem fine inside the framework of the different licenses, but to us coming in fresh it seems a mess.

From what I gather their intent was:
  • Create something for free, off your own website/distribution, without using any of the Cortex trade dress: go wild.
  • Create something for free, off your own website/distribution (but not on any site that allows for monetization?), using the Cortex trade dress (provided in the link provided): you adhere to the license that says any rules you create can be used by Fandom in a future product (they use the word ownership which is very much the wrong word here), and you keep any of your story/world IP.
  • Create something for sale, you must sell it on their marketplace website, and adhere to a more stringent license that is upcoming.
All of which all sounds quite reasonable. What their license and poorly-worded FAQ actually says, however, looks to not match that intent yet. :/

Again, a very unfortunate situation that could negatively tinge things going forward, both for them and for any products designed and released by fans and enthusiasts that use the system.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Here's why it's terrible: firstly, it's a licence.
A licence is a legal document. It's something you actively sign.
Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I don't think anyone signs - actively or otherwise - the Open Gaming License when they make use of it.
 


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.
Section 5 talks about decompiling... it's clear the lawyers used a computer game add-on content license.
 

Grantypants

Explorer
Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I don't think anyone signs - actively or otherwise - the Open Gaming License when they make use of it.
You don't have to physically sign anything when you use the OGL. The terms of the OGL say that if you use any content that other people have released under the OGL, then that counts as you accepting the terms of the OGL the same way a signature would. However, I doubt that any court would hold that just using OGL content was agreeing to the license, unless there was some other evidence you meant to agree. (For example, including the OGL text in your credits.)
 


Staffan

Legend
Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I don't think anyone signs - actively or otherwise - the Open Gaming License when they make use of it.
I'm not a lawyer, but open licenses in general (e.g. the OGL, Creative Commons, GPL, etc.) tend to be accepted by including them in the product itself, thereby stating "I am using this material under this license and accepting the terms thereof."

But if I were to release a D&D supplement, I would not automatically be doing so under the OGL, and so I would not be bound by its terms. For example, one of the terms of the OGL is "You agree not to indicate compatibility or co-adaptability with any Trademark or Registered Trademark in conjunction with a work containing Open Game Content except as expressly licensed in another, independent Agreement with the owner of such Trademark or Registered Trademark." That means I can't release a product under the OGL and say it's for use with Dungeons & Dragons – that's why the d20 STL used to exist as a separate license, and these days publishers instead use euphemisms like "5e" or "the world's most popular RPG". But if I'm not using the OGL, there's nothing stopping me from saying my book is for use with D&D. I probably can't use the D&D logo, and I probably have to use some fine print to the effect of "D&D is a registered trademark owned by Wizards of the Coast blah blah", but indicating that your product is for use with another product is a commonplace thing. Depending on what else the book contains, I might be getting a nastygram from Wizards' lawyers for copyright violations, but indicating compatibility is not one of the things I'd get in trouble for.
 

timbannock

Adventurer
Interesting take aways to be had from some questions Mellie has answered on the Cortex RPG subreddit regarding examples of what's okay regarding referencing (or even rewriting) rules (in your own words):

rewrites.jpg
 

You don't have to physically sign anything when you use the OGL. The terms of the OGL say that if you use any content that other people have released under the OGL, then that counts as you accepting the terms of the OGL the same way a signature would. However, I doubt that any court would hold that just using OGL content was agreeing to the license, unless there was some other evidence you meant to agree. (For example, including the OGL text in your credits.)
US courts have upheld shrinkwrap licenses provided the license text is on the exterior of the box. So, yes, they likely would.
 

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