Could D&D Rights Be Stripped From WotC?

Zardnaar

Hero
The Oct 2 issue of the Hollywood reporter has reported that several copyright termination notices have been served on several franchises including Terminator.

How do they do this if the rights have been sold? The intent of the law is to mitigate the power disparity between an author and a corporation.


Basically authors can argue that they got ripped off by corporations that took advantage of them due to power disparities.

This was quite bad in the 50s and 60s with rights to songs signed away.

So how does this apply to D&D? As a few people here the rights to D&D have been problematic for decades dating back to the Blumes in the 70s and Gygaxs ouster in 1985.

As late as after TSR went under WotC made some sort of deal with Arnesen and Gygax over the D&D Rights.

Notice the 35 year requirement of the above law. After 35 years the original authors can apply. This was written in regards to music but it looks like there is going to be cases over movies and idk but perhaps books as well.

Now the original authors are dead. However reading that link I provided their estates can invoke it and AFAIK that means Gail Gygax.

Now this is purely hypothetical and it's probably not a good idea for D&D but morally and legally there has always been a vibe of Gary got ripped off.

WotC isn't a villain here either, they picked up the pieces after TSR collapse but they got bought out by Hasbro.

Gary did get screwed in some ways IMHO. Gail would be a terrible custodian and I'm not sure if you could even make an arguement. But if it works for movies you can argue it can be applied to books. The link above seems to imply it can be used.

Personally I'm not a fan of corporations being able to exploit copyrights for decades after an inventors death. Disney Corporation didn't invent Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney did.

IDK if Arnesen has an estate either.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
One thing to keep in mind is that most law still involves a "reasonable person" clause. A judge is going to take into account that TSR was actually terrible at doing what it was doing, and Gary Gygax to a degree did a lot of the damage to himself.

Also, D&D isn't actually able to be copyrighted as such. A specific book has copyright, but the idea of the name itself and brand actually can't be. Those can be trademarked, but that's different. The reason it works for a song, or a bunch of songs, is because each song is a separate creative endeavor.

I'd have to read the Copyright Act to be sure, and I'm not going to, but I'm pretty sure D&D is not going anywhere.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
So how does this apply to D&D?
17 USC sec. 203 (Termination of transfers and licenses granted by the author) states in pertinent part as follows:

(a) Conditions for Termination.—In the case of any work other than a work made for hire, the exclusive or nonexclusive grant of a transfer or license of copyright or of any right under a copyright, executed by the author on or after January 1, 1978, otherwise than by will, is subject to termination under the following conditions ....


Compare:

Agreement made between the authours Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson on April 1,1975, states:

"1. The Author(s) hereby agree to assign to TSR the copyright ..."


So .... given the reversion clause, there may be a superseding agreement, but I don't see a strong argument, or any argument, simply due to the dates. I'd probably re-title this post to LESS CLICK-BAITY, @Zardnaar ;)

(There would be other issues due to the timing of the notice, etc., but that's a pretty big one right there. Basically, there is a five year use it or lose it period. And, as @Beleriphon pointed out, copyright is a specific thing; "Dungeons & Dragons" is a trademark, not a copyright, and, ugh, too much too early. Getting coffee.)
 
Last edited:

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
The matter is about if an IP is created by only a author or by a group. And a character from a "one-shot" work can't be like the one from a saga.

And today many producers would rather to start from zero than the risk of annoying fans with the retcon or reboot of a old franchise.

If WotC would the rights they could start again with another name, for example "Endless Quest" (and D&D is copyright by WotC/Hasbro). And who would buy titles by the new owner of the copyright? The industry has showed lots of examples about a famous name isn't enough, but the prestige of a franchise or IP is based in the work of the titles. There are games of Sonic the hedgehog what are forgotten, but Freedom Planet, his "spiritual successor" has got a sequel.


If a movie studio or TTRPG publisher loses some copyright, they could create a new "spiritual successor". The videogame warcraft started as a Sp. Scc. of a cancelled project of a Warhammer Fantasy RTS. Angela, Thor's sister in Marvel Comics is the Sp. Scc of a character from Spawn comics.

And today TTRPGs are like obsolete software. If I recover the copyright of a videogame from 35 years ago, now it is useless in the market. Today there are retroclones of D&D and we don't need a reprint of the original titles but we are collectors.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
It’s been released under the OGL more than once. Even if in some bizarre unlikely series of events somebody managed to convince a court that they had more right to the trademark than Hasbro has, the game would continue.
 

Count_Zero

Explorer
It’s been released under the OGL more than once. Even if in some bizarre unlikely series of events somebody managed to convince a court that they had more right to the trademark than Hasbro has, the game would continue.
I suspect that someone might be more inclined to try to strip copyright for a campaign setting than the game as a whole - Dragonlance, Greyhawk, or the Forgotten Realms.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
I suspect that someone might be more inclined to try to strip copyright for a campaign setting than the game as a whole - Dragonlance, Greyhawk, or the Forgotten Realms.
Again, copyright is ...

eh, whatever. Look at the full text of 17 USC sec. 203; it's not a free-floating, terminate whenever you want, right. It's a very specific right that is exceptionally time-limited (accrues 35 years after assignment, with a five-year window) and has specific procedural hurdles, and DOES NOT COVER WORKS FOR HIRE.


EDIT- I ended in all-caps because idle and baseless speculation is the devil's internet's work. Here's the original article that the OP was alluding to:

This is a fairly big deal for Hollywood, because it sources material from books (assignment of rights!) and they don't like to move forward with a legal cloud over the material. But it's like a lot of things- it's complicated! And fact dependent. And exceptionally time dependent. And it does not, at all, apply to works for hire (which is the usual situation when a company employs people to make products for them, as opposed to authors independently making books, and then assigning rights to Hollywood to make films).
 
Last edited:

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
That would be as asking divorce when in the next years the husband is going to become richier. Nobody wants to face against Hasbro's lawyers when you know they can buy a company as WotC, and this then wasn't a little fish. And asking the copyright when a franchise is a now a smash-hit after be rescued from the oblivion is very unpopular among fangs. A name isn't enough, Blade the vampire hunter was a blockbuster trilogy in the cinemas, but only a season as teleserie, and Buffy the vampire slayer all the opposite. Some Disney movies now are forgotten because there were before the rebirth, and after "Beauty & Beast" other studios tried to produce their own cartoon movies but they failed most of times. Where is now Dave Arneson's Blackmoor world?

And if my memory doesn't fail, the copyright is about characters and plot, but not about name of fictional countries or places, or fantasy creatures, but if these are registered as trademark.

I guess to be the owner of the copyright of a setting, you had to have created the whole world without help by more people from the same company.
 

gyor

Adventurer
I suspect that someone might be more inclined to try to strip copyright for a campaign setting than the game as a whole - Dragonlance, Greyhawk, or the Forgotten Realms.
This makes a lot more sense to me and is a lot more realistic.

The Forgotten Realms is the most likely example for this as Ed Greenwood would have a solid case to do this given the historic deal he had over the Forgotten Realms, he has solid case.

That being said he is also too nice a guy to actually do it, even if WotC deserves it for discontinuing the novel lines as far as I'm concerned.
 
Trademarks neuter much of the potential of any copyright reverting to its original owners or entry into the public domain. For example, take Superman. Action Comics #1 should be entering the Public Domain in the near future (I don't recall the date off the top of my head) but that doesn't mean everyone and anyone can create Superman comics. Superman is a trademark owned by WB and is protected under a different set of laws than the individual copyright on Action Comics #1. Likewise, even if the copyright of the original version of D&D returned to the Gygax and/or Arneson estates, it wouldn't suddenly mean they owned all things D&D.
 

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
Now I remember the gazer from the videogames "Dragon's Dogma" and "Dragon's Crown". They are too similar to the famous D&D beholder.

White Wolf could publish Ravenloft for the 3rd Ed, and Dragonlance by Margaret Weis Productions. It is easier to start from zero, pay for other franchise, or offer your work to be hired as subsidiary and then you enjoy the power of the brand.
 

Dausuul

Legend
The Forgotten Realms is the most likely example for this as Ed Greenwood would have a solid case to do this given the historic deal he had over the Forgotten Realms, he has solid case.
What? No. This is just as nonsensical as the original post. You cannot reclaim a copyright that never existed in the first place.

"Forgotten Realms" is not a copyrighted work any more than "Dungeons & Dragons" is. Both are trademarks owned by WotC, which WotC slaps on a whole bunch of books and boxed sets and things. Each individual book is a copyrighted work, but they are almost entirely works for hire (thus not eligible, per @lowkey13) and very few of them were written by Greenwood anyway.

Now, Greenwood wrote some FR novels back in the day, and if he did not write them as works for hire, he might be able to reclaim copyright to those specific novels. But "Forgotten Realms," the trademark, belongs to Wizards of the Coast, and so do all the books Wizards of the Coast hired people to write in FR. Greenwood cannot claim any of that.
 

Mistwell

Hero
It’s been released under the OGL more than once. Even if in some bizarre unlikely series of events somebody managed to convince a court that they had more right to the trademark than Hasbro has, the game would continue.
That's not quite what I think he's arguing. I think what he's arguing is all the rules and descriptions and trademarkable names and trade dress and everything were invalidly transferred from Gygax to TSR. Which would mean TSR didn't have the right to transfer something they didn't actually own to WOTC. Which would mean WOTC didn't have the right to issue an open gaming license for something they didn't actually own. Which would mean everyone using that open gaming license didn't have the right to use any of that content for something they didn't actually have a valid license for, etc..

I think he's saying it all unravels. Everything.

Which is a really good sign this is not, and never will be, a thing. Courts don't tend to destroy entire industries over "Party X had more power than Party Y while negotiating this contract 50 years ago" type things.

I feel pretty confident the rights were validly transferred, and that even if there was some question about that at the time those questions were resolved long ago, and even if those things didn't happen then Hasbro would just settle the matter with the Gygax estate rather than just letting it all revert back to the Gygax estate.

So I see zero chance this could be an actual thing.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
That's not quite what I think he's arguing. I think what he's arguing is all the rules and descriptions and trademarkable names and trade dress and everything were invalidly transferred from Gygax to TSR. Which would mean TSR didn't have the right to transfer something they didn't actually own to WOTC. Which would mean WOTC didn't have the right to issue an open gaming license for something they didn't actually own.

I think he's saying it all unravels. Everything.
No. To the extent he's saying this, he's wrong.

He read an article in the Hollywood Reporter (I linked to it). It's about a very specific provision of copyright law, 17 USC 203 (I quoted the opening above- you can read the whole thing if you want to google it, and it contains my favorite word ... stirpes!) that Congress added in the late 1970s.

This very specific provision allows for a brief window of time for a copyright holder to terminate a transfer of their rights (license, assignment); this termination is effected by following a specific procedure and timeframe. Of salient interest is the timeframe for notification:

The termination period begins 35 years AFTER the assignment occurs, and ends 5 years after the termination window opens. So, for all practical purposes, 35-40 years after the assignment. No more, no less.

THIS IS ONLY FOR COPYRIGHTS. This does not apply to other IP; you cannot use it for trademarks.


As a general rule, the OP falls into the "There is something on the internet about IP, I've read it and then made a bunch of sweeping, general, and wrong statements about What It All Means, Usually by Conflating Copyrights, Patents, and/or Trademarks and Applying It to my Own Pet Cause." ;)

Which is common, unfortunately, because the IP regime in general (and copyright in particular) is confusing, annoying, and often used in a malicious manner and/or for dead-hand control, as opposed to protecting the interests of creators. But the perfect is the enemy of the good etc.
 
Last edited:

Zardnaar

Hero
I don't see D&D going anywhere and I suspect the Hollywood things are just a shakedown.

Just thought it was interesting and thought how it would apply.

I don't think the OGL could be revoked if in an unlikely scenario this did happen. AFAIK even if the rights did transfer it wouldn't invalidate anything WotC did since they legally did have the rights at the time.
 
In an extreme case WotC might lose the copyright to some of the early D&D publications they currently own. This would not in any way affect their ownership of the D&D trademark or the copyright of any D&D products published after WotC aquired TSR.

As a side not, it would be quite strange if a court found that TSR had illegaly exploited Gary Gygax back in the 70's, considering that Gygax was running TSR at the time.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
Which is my next sentence? That you cut?
Because he's wrong, but for a different reason. It has nothing to do with the validity of the transfer of the right; 17 USC sec. 203 works to terminate a valid assignment of rights.

It's that 17 USC sec. 203 doesn't apply.
 

Harzel

Explorer
No. To the extent he's saying this, he's wrong.

He read an article in the Hollywood Reporter (I linked to it). It's about a very specific provision of copyright law, 17 USC 203 (I quoted the opening above- you can read the whole thing if you want to google it, and it contains my favorite word ... stirpes!) that Congress added in the late 1970s.
So then, this law has no teeth - just a beak and only 2 HP. Oh, wait...
 

Mistwell

Hero
Because he's wrong, but for a different reason.
I didn't give a reason. At least, none of the nature you're using in this context. He's wrong for a variety of reasons. The reason you're giving isn't the only reason he's wrong. Let it go man. This is going to be a silly debate if you want to dig into the nitty gritty of the many reasons he's wrong given we both agree this is not a thing.
 

Advertisement

Top