Fan Site Policy: When is it coming?

Brown Jenkin

First Post
Back when the GSL was released it was mentioned there would be a separate Fan Site Policy. Scott mentioned it was being worked on and would be out later. I am starting this thread so that there would be a place to post any news on this.
 

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lurkinglidda

First Post
I am disinclined to provide a firm ETA. We will post an announcement when it is ready.

The Fan Site Policy is not a license. It is not related to the GSL. We mentioned the policy when we discussed the GSL because we knew there would be fan site questions raised when the license was made public.

I'd suggest moving this out of this forum as the FSP is not OGL/GSL/STL.
 

Brown Jenkin

First Post
I'd suggest moving this out of this forum as the FSP is not OGL/GSL/STL.

I posted here because the Forum is called RPG Legalities and this seems more related to this than anywhere else I could have posted it. While not GSL, it is the WotC legal policy we are waiting for as far as how much and what we can post about/for 4E without being sued by WotC. I am fine though if the Mods think there is somewhere better.
 

Lizard

First Post
I am disinclined to provide a firm ETA. We will post an announcement when it is ready.

I am curious why, given that 4e has been in development for 3+ years, and copyright law hasn't changed meaningfully in that time, this sort of thing wasn't whipped out and gathering dust long before the actual game development was past the first alpha draft of the rules. It's not like licenses/policies need extensive public playtesting or the like. I'm rather surprised that the existing fan site policy isn't simply extended; if the FSP is purely non-commercial, it should be a lot simpler and more straightforward than the GSL.

(For that matter, it seems that copyright/trademark law provides all the non-commercial fan site policy needed; I suppose there might be a TOS for use of logos/graphics or a registry of 'official' fan sites, but it's not lke WOTC could do anything about a site which doesn't use copyrighted images or otherwise violates existing IP law. I think the TSR "we own armor class" fiasco proved that quite handily. Really, all the policy can do is offer MORE than copyright law does; by definition, it cannot offer less. (The OGL/STL/GSL all offer less, but also have a major carrot -- commercial use rights of valuable IP. Remove the carrot, and no one will put up with the stick.) So it ought to be pretty simple, something like "You can't run ads, and you can use this cool logo as long as you don't post offensive/illegal material and otherwise make us look bad." I can't imagine what else it could be, but I suppose we'll know eventually. In the meanwhile, of course, people will be throwing up their own fan sites without waiting for 'policy', and the longer they exist on their own, the more resistance there will be to any changes unless the benefits are really worth it.)

And the usual "If we publish something that by coincidence looks like something on your fan site, tough noogies" boilerplate -- but again, normal copyright law covers that pretty well, too.
 

I am curious why, given that 4e has been in development for 3+ years, and copyright law hasn't changed meaningfully in that time, this sort of thing wasn't whipped out and gathering dust long before the actual game development was past the first alpha draft of the rules.
Yea, I'm amazed by this.

I'm trying to figure out what this (lack of) action means between the lines. Taking this long, and failing to get the legal ducks in a row prior to release does no one any good. Its not good for the community, the company, nor the individual end-consumer. But I guess it doesn't really matter in the end....

What has the legal department been doing for the last year..or 3 years? I wish WOTC would at least shed light on why the delay.

Is there anything redeeming about all of this? I don't want to be just another hater on the boards, but I'm really awestruck by all of this. I just do not see how these issues could possibly be handled this poorly. The game is completely out and released, yet the legalities concerning the game are still in development....what!!??

I apologize for what may seem repetitive childish ranting, but how in the world could these legalities not be addressed until just now...and then take so long on top...?

I'm amazed.
 

lrsach01

Explorer
They are probably gauging how prevalent and what level of quality fan material will be. If (for example) Several site publish high quality pdf's that extend 4E far beyond the strictures of the GSL, WotC will have to step in and shut them down. This would be especially true for fan sites of popular (relatively speaking) campaign settings like Dragonlance or Dark Sun. If, however, fan sites release small low quality additions that simply fill limited niches, WotC can sit back and not come down on anyone too hard. If they take a hard line stance immediately, they run the risk of losing the good will of the fans and there by losing 4E sales. It's all a matter a perception.
 

Lizard

First Post
They are probably gauging how prevalent and what level of quality fan material will be. If (for example) Several site publish high quality pdf's that extend 4E far beyond the strictures of the GSL, WotC will have to step in and shut them down. This would be especially true for fan sites of popular (relatively speaking) campaign settings like Dragonlance or Dark Sun. If, however, fan sites release small low quality additions that simply fill limited niches, WotC can sit back and not come down on anyone too hard. If they take a hard line stance immediately, they run the risk of losing the good will of the fans and there by losing 4E sales. It's all a matter a perception.

Again, this comes down to copyright/trademark law. Legally, pretty much every setting WOTC/TSR has published is heavily loaded with trademarks, and there's plenty of established legal precedent for that. It's VERY unlikely WOTC would ever issue a formal policy which said "You can use our old trademarks freely, as long as don't sell it" or the like. (They might do this for specific sites via a privately negotiated contract, but it will never be broad policy.) If the issue is "how much can we look the other way", then that's an issue for internal debate but it will NEVER show up in a formal policy; any 'fan site policy' will be written so as to give them the broadest possible net the law permits, just in case.

As for 'waiting to see what fan sites produce', since many people are waiting for the policy, isn't this counter-productive? Besides, WOTC doesn't have the manpower to police GSL submissions -- do you think they'll be scouring fan sites to see if "The Net Guide To Warlocks" is up to their standards?

Really, again, this is an issue where the OGL worked perfectly -- it applied to non-commercial ventures as well as commercial ones -- and the GSL is nigh-useless. WOTC has thus far been mute on precisely what they hope the GSL to accomplish, so it's hard to judge how much of a success the GSL will be in the commercial area. Dancey's goals for the OGL might have been hubristic, but they were at least clear. The goals for the GSL? Not so much. Ditto the fan site policy.

It's hard not to fear that the fan site policy will be designed to limit/reduce competition for Gleemax, which wants to be the "MySpace for geeks". The current poor performance of Wizard's boards and the slow rollout for DDI isn't exactly making people look to Gleemax as the hosting solution of choice; the fact it will be ever under the watchful eye of Hasbro also seems like a threat to creativity and freedom of expression. I will assume they will offer all sorts of incentives for people to use their hosting for fan sites, but it's hard to guess what kind of goodies they can offer which will overcome the negatives and poor initial launch. First impressions last a long time on the net.

I suppose we'll see when we see.
 

Xyxox

First Post
We'll see, but after the TSR internet fiasco of the 90s, I am disinclined to ahve anything to do with 4E without such a policy.
 

pbrink

First Post
Again, this comes down to copyright/trademark law. Legally, pretty much every setting WOTC/TSR has published is heavily loaded with trademarks, and there's plenty of established legal precedent for that. It's VERY unlikely WOTC would ever issue a formal policy which said "You can use our old trademarks freely, as long as don't sell it" or the like. (They might do this for specific sites via a privately negotiated contract, but it will never be broad policy.)

Again - here is this idea that WotC's publications are loaded with trademarks. Where do people get this idea from? Trademarks do not spontaneously erupt from nowhere - they require active efforts from their prospective owners in order to form. Also, how could a non-commercial website ever violate a trademark? Trademark violation require that:
  • a trademark exist;
  • it's used (without permission) as a trademark, and
  • that the use is in commerce (that is on or in relation to the sale of goods and services), and
  • the usage confuses consumers as to the source of the goods or services.

How would a fan-site qualify for trademark infringement under these circumstances? A fan-site would need to sell stuff - and then of course it wouldn't be a fan-site any more - in order to get within the scope of trademark legislation.
 

Xyxox

First Post
Again - here is this idea that WotC's publications are loaded with trademarks. Where do people get this idea from? Trademarks do not spontaneously erupt from nowhere - they require active efforts from their prospective owners in order to form. Also, how could a non-commercial website ever violate a trademark? Trademark violation require that:
  • a trademark exist;
  • it's used (without permission) as a trademark, and
  • that the use is in commerce (that is on or in relation to the sale of goods and services), and
  • the usage confuses consumers as to the source of the goods or services.

How would a fan-site qualify for trademark infringement under these circumstances? A fan-site would need to sell stuff - and then of course it wouldn't be a fan-site any more - in order to get within the scope of trademark legislation.

The problem with fan sites would be exclusively related to copyright and would center around images, if you ask me.
 

Lizard

First Post
Again - here is this idea that WotC's publications are loaded with trademarks. Where do people get this idea from? Trademarks do not spontaneously erupt from nowhere - they require active efforts from their prospective owners in order to form. Also, how could a non-commercial website ever violate a trademark? Trademark violation require that:
  • a trademark exist;
  • it's used (without permission) as a trademark, and
  • that the use is in commerce (that is on or in relation to the sale of goods and services), and
  • the usage confuses consumers as to the source of the goods or services.

How would a fan-site qualify for trademark infringement under these circumstances? A fan-site would need to sell stuff - and then of course it wouldn't be a fan-site any more - in order to get within the scope of trademark legislation.

You are forgetting the concept of "Trademark dilution", which means anything you do which lowers the value of a trademark -- even if you make no money from doing so -- is a violation of the law. A fan-site called "Hot sluts Of Faerun" would be quickly sued for trademark violation, even if it used no copyrighted text and was non-commercial in nature. Likewise, any "fan" conversion of, say, Dark Sun could arguably reduce the market for a later
commercial product -- C&Ds would be flying fast.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trademark_dilution

Please note that under current case law, no ACTUAL dilution is needed; only the *liklihood* of dilution.

Just wanted to add that the idea that "As long as you don't charge, you're safe" is one of the most pernicious memes to fly around the net. Trust me -- I could not put up a web comic called "The Adventures Of Superman", even if I charged nothing and used no copyrighted art or text. Commercial activity means you're more likely to be sued for cash damages, but the lack of it is not an invulnerable shield against C&D notices.
 
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pbrink

First Post
The problem with fan sites would be exclusively related to copyright and would center around images, if you ask me.

Indeed. The issue will turn on when something is a derivative work. Under which circumstances is for example a fan created image of an Aboleth a derivative work? That's not so easy to answer. It gets less tricky when you move outside the U.S. Artistic representations of literary characters are not treated as derivative works in many jurisdictions, the reason being that such an image would be separate (independent) expression of the idea that has been expressed in text. Lots of room for conflicts here...
 

pbrink

First Post
You are forgetting the concept of "Trademark dilution", which means anything you do which lowers the value of a trademark -- even if you make no money from doing so -- is a violation of the law. A fan-site called "Hot sluts Of Faerun" would be quickly sued for trademark violation, even if it used no copyrighted text and was non-commercial in nature. Likewise, any "fan" conversion of, say, Dark Sun could arguably reduce the market for a later
commercial product -- C&Ds would be flying fast.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trademark_dilution

Please note that under current case law, no ACTUAL dilution is needed; only the *liklihood* of dilution.

You forget that non-commercial usage is explicitly excluded as a dilutive action. Only commercial usage can dilute a trademark, see U.S. Trademark Act § 1125 3 C.
 


AdmundfortGeographer

Getting lost in fantasy maps
I'm most interested in the fate of "official" fansites. WotC has for a while now recognized one official fan site for each of the retired settings (with the exception of Greyhawk, I guess because Living Greyhawk still qualified as ongoing support, even though LG itself was entirely fan authored after the setting book).

From my long ago involvement with Athas.org, I recall the official fansite policy was that athas.org had WotC approval to create new material for Dark Sun, including release free rules conversions. Rules conversions were required to be written in athas.org's own words and could not borrow text from previous published material, but the entire setting's characters and unique monsters and cities were fair game for athas.org to write about and expand. If athas.org did make new material, then WotC and athas.org authors would be joint owners of all new material.

Another clause I recall was that official fansites were required to not have discussion forums and to direct discussions to the WotC forums. Maybe WotC dispensed with this limitation because I had seem over time other retired settings set up discussion forums of their own, but athas.org lived up to it until WotC forum masters blewup the retired settings forums with some Potemkin village model of aesthetics.

I doubt WotC would give such wide open use to all fansites in the future. But I hope official fansites are kept around to allow someone to continue publishing for the retired settings.
 

Yair

Community Supporter
I doubt WotC would give such wide open use to all fansites in the future. But I hope official fansites are kept around to allow someone to continue publishing for the retired settings.

I have, some long time ago, referred some WotC guy (I think Rouse, but I'm not sure) to the issue of official fansites and their agreements with WotC. It was about Birghright, not Athas, but I was surprised to know thay WotC seemed to have no institutional memory of these agreements whatsoever. I started the discussion in the hope that WotC would maintain these or similar agreements as pertains to 4e; I ended up doubting they will. I hope that WotC will continue to support the old settings and allow the official fansites the great leeway that they do; but I somehow doubt it.

I'm also interested in fan-site policy in general, for my own (and others') use. The sooner the happier I'll be...
 

The lady is reluctant to post anything because everyone will shred its content, grouse unendlingly when the deadline isn't met, and then go screaming that "WOTC sucks! They don't listen" when her hands are tied.
 

lrsach01

Explorer
The lady is reluctant to post anything because everyone will shred its content, grouse unendlingly when the deadline isn't met, and then go screaming that "WOTC sucks! They don't listen" when her hands are tied.

On the other hand, saying "We don't have a time frame on that right now. We have other things going on which are more important" is a lot more polite than saying "I'm disinclined to provide a firm ETA." I'm sure fan sites will be willing to wait on producing material until WotC gets around to codifying their Fan Rules. Sure they would...won't they? *cough*Kenzer*Cough*
 

CapnZapp

Legend
To return from the wild off-topic discussions...
I am curious why, given that 4e has been in development for 3+ years, and copyright law hasn't changed meaningfully in that time, this sort of thing wasn't whipped out and gathering dust long before the actual game development was past the first alpha draft of the rules.
My guesses:
1) Because it isn't in Wizards best interest to have this done and served at launch - this holds off any deluge of small-time efforts in time for itself and its partners (Kenzer?) to dig some gold in private first. Possibly Wizards was burned by things like the first GR Freeport adventure that stole some of Wizards 3E launch thunder way back.
2) Because having any 3PP support at all might have been a recent development within Wizards. Considering the haste and confusion with which the GSL is born, I wouldn't be surprised if six months ago Wizards were thinking of going the completely closed route with no 3PP support at all (a.k.a. "the dark age of T$R")
3) Because Scott and Linae are only two people, and it can be difficult at times to get hold of the legal resources they require. Hence the work with the FAQ needs to be on slow cooking.

Pick your favorite(s)... :)
 

tomBitonti

Adventurer
My own take is that because the US legal system is essentially adversarial, there is no motive for Hasbro/WotC to provide any guidelines at all. The motive for Hasbro/WotC will be to claim all rights to themselves, and to force others to fight for any rights at all.
 

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