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Frylock's Gaming & Geekery Challenges WotC's Copyright Claims

LordEntrails

Explorer
Haven't yet gone and read the blogs, but would like to comment on one aspect that seems fairly evident at this point. If his claim that a stat block can not be copyrighted is held to be correct, then their will be little incentive for WotC to ever publish another 'Monster Manual', since almost everything it it could just be re-distributed without their consent. As well as best sellers on the DMsGuild like 'Monsters of the Guild' would be affected as well.

That would be a harm. Would it be a greater harm than not though? I don't know but I suspect that would be addressed in a court case.
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
Side note, is it odd that lawyer is blogging details and legal strategy for a case where he is the defendant? I would think staying silent and saving it for court would be a better choice.
Yes, if you thought your legal strategy had any chance of success in court. However, you would disclose it if you wanted your case tried in the court of public opinion, in the hope of a large out-of-court financial settlement, where you might suppose it had a much better chance, since that court pre-supposes that all large corporations are Evil and must therefore be In The Wrong.

You might even deliberately create something you knew to be an intellectual property violation (but just contentious enough to generate an argument) in the hope of receiving an out-of-court settlement.
 

neobolts

Explorer
It’s not a case, and he’s not a defendant. It’s just a (fairly polite) email from WotC at this point.
True. WotC isn't guns blazing on this. But I'm assuming based on Frylock's actions that his intent in all this is to make WotC take him to court.
 

AriochQ

Explorer
As well as best sellers on the DMsGuild like 'Monsters of the Guild' would be affected as well.
DM's Guild already has horrible protection for content creators. Anyone can take your material and use it in their product, so long as it is for sale on DM's Guild. They can't repackage it under a different title, but there is no clear line about how much is too much.
 

LordEntrails

Explorer
Yes, if you thought your legal strategy had any chance of success in court. However, you would disclose it if you wanted your case tried in the court of public opinion, in the hope of a large out-of-court financial settlement, where you might suppose it had a much better chance, since that court pre-supposes that all large corporations are Evil and must therefore be In The Wrong.

You might even deliberately create something you knew to be an intellectual property violation (but just contentious enough to generate an argument) in the hope of receiving an out-of-court settlement.
All this is true, but I don't think WotC can really back down on this because the harm in allowing free reign to stat blocks would cause. But, we'll see, probably.

DM's Guild already has horrible protection for content creators. Anyone can take your material and use it in their product, so long as it is for sale on DM's Guild. They can't repackage it under a different title, but there is no clear line about how much is too much.
The protections the Guild has for creators depends upon your opinion. I don't believe it is horrible given the benefits of the platform. But, each creator has to weigh it themselves and decide.

You are right that their is no clear line. But then as evidenced by this article/topic, their is no clear line on copyright either. Nor pretty much any other legal framework that protects creators either. But the Guild does have a line, and from what I have heard, multiple products have been taken down for that reason and others. Maybe you want a mathematical formula for determining what is too much content to pull from other Guild creators, but as soon as any such thing were published, people would figure out how to abuse it.
 

AriochQ

Explorer
Maybe you want a mathematical formula for determining what is too much content to pull from other Guild creators, but as soon as any such thing were published, people would figure out how to abuse it.
I would be satisfied if they had a requirement that you be informed when your material is used by another party.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
But the Guild does have a line, and from what I have heard, multiple products have been taken down for that reason and others. Maybe you want a mathematical formula for determining what is too much content to pull from other Guild creators, but as soon as any such thing were published, people would figure out how to abuse it.
I can confirm that when someone attempted to sell versions of monsters I have posted in these forums on DMsGuild. It was reported to me, I then reported it to the DMsGuild and they took down the products.
 

tomBitonti

Explorer
Here's a thing: The stat blocks aren't an exact reproduction, nor is the ability text or attack text exact text copies. I thought that game rules weren't copyrightable, just their expression. Then, if its a game rule that cyclops has 22HP, that is not copyrightable. However, the particular format that one uses to display that information is copyrightable. Similarly, the text which was created for the new stat blocks are copyrightable.
The question would be whether the new expression is too similar to the previous one. (A name like "Illithid" is copyrightable, but a name like "Cyclops", which has been around for a very long time, isn't.)

Then, if there is a game mechanic (rule) which gives a Cyclops 22HP, then that rule is not copyrightable (although "literary, artistic, or musical form" expressions of the rule are). By the "stick figure" argument, saying "A cyclops has 22 HP," even though a literary statement, lacks sufficient creativity, and is not copyrightable. I have no clear sense if this true, and would need to search for precedents to have a better idea.

That being said, one possible weakness of his defense would be that certain defined terms, such as "Multiattack" are creative terms. Note the distinction between the actual rule ("The creature can make multiple attacks.") and the choice of "Multiattack" to label this rule. The choice of label seems to be creative. However, while this might work for "Multiattack", it doesn't seem to work for "Poor depth perception".

Thx!
TomB
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
My thought as a slick corporate lawyer would be to argue every single stat block as an individual entry worthy of copyright and make Frylock prove that it isn't. You know, thousands and thousand of pages of material.

Because some of them might be, I'd also suggest that the individual block might be based on ancient material, but the expression of it certainly is not and it is dependent on the unique expression of other copyrightable material.
 

doctorbadwolf

Explorer
Eh. Look, here's the slight leap he takes that I don't know that I agree with.

It's a truism that you can't copyright something with no creativity. Say, a phone number. And a collection of things you cannot copyright cannot be copyrighted. So, a database of phone numbers (for example) cannot be copyrighted.

Here's where he loses me. He then makes the leap to saying that monster stat blocks cannot be copyrighted because they are obvious expressions of what the monster "is", you know, like you can't copyright the distance to Jupiter. ....but ..... that's not true. He uses the example of the Cyclops, as if it is obvious that the Cyclops would have particular stats and attacks and so on.

There is creativity in converting monsters into 5e. And giving them stats. Otherwise, there would be some platonic ideal stat block that could be understood independently and without creativity; put another way, he is copying WoTC shamelessly because he HAS TO, and because there is creativity in those stat blocks.

Who knows? Maybe he'll set a new precedent, but I don't think his logic is either airtight or particularly sound.
Right, like, I wouldn't have included the depth perception part of the block. It's not a human with a missing eye, it's a creature that has never had two eyes, is not physically designed to have two eyes, whose brain is 100% guaranteed to not be designed to take sensory input from 2 eyes, etc, so I wouldn't try to represent only having 1 eye in any meaningful way. Especially not at 30 feat!

But, he also copyrighted his version, which seems to contradict the only potentially valid basis for his side of the argument. Either the information can be legitimately copyrighted, or it can't be. He isn't adding anything that is so distinct and creative that his is a valid copyright but wotc's isn't, it is the same information, with only the most mild rewording. The rewording itself is also entirely of information that he himself seems to believe cannot be legitimately copyrighted, because it's basic mechanical information.

Between all that, and the fact that he is making a huge deal out of a friendly "hey maybe don't copy-paste our work and then slap your own copyright notice on the bottom of it" letter from a company that would be well within their legal and ethical rights to be less friendly about it...and I'm not sympathetic at all. Even as a guy who view large corporations that hold copyrights over decades old IP that they purchased as subsidiary companies as inherently bad for the culture in which they operate, I find I can't place myself on this guy's side on this one.
 

Parmandur

Adventurer
Here's a thing: The stat blocks aren't an exact reproduction, nor is the ability text or attack text exact text copies. I thought that game rules weren't copyrightable, just their expression. Then, if its a game rule that cyclops has 22HP, that is not copyrightable. However, the particular format that one uses to display that information is copyrightable. Similarly, the text which was created for the new stat blocks are copyrightable.
The question would be whether the new expression is too similar to the previous one. (A name like "Illithid" is copyrightable, but a name like "Cyclops", which has been around for a very long time, isn't.)

Then, if there is a game mechanic (rule) which gives a Cyclops 22HP, then that rule is not copyrightable (although "literary, artistic, or musical form" expressions of the rule are). By the "stick figure" argument, saying "A cyclops has 22 HP," even though a literary statement, lacks sufficient creativity, and is not copyrightable. I have no clear sense if this true, and would need to search for precedents to have a better idea.

That being said, one possible weakness of his defense would be that certain defined terms, such as "Multiattack" are creative terms. Note the distinction between the actual rule ("The creature can make multiple attacks.") and the choice of "Multiattack" to label this rule. The choice of label seems to be creative. However, while this might work for "Multiattack", it doesn't seem to work for "Poor depth perception".

Thx!
TomB
An example was produced earlier in this thread that was an exact reproduction, that used definitely copyrightable text from WotC.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Right, like, I wouldn't have included the depth perception part of the block. It's not a human with a missing eye, it's a creature that has never had two eyes, is not physically designed to have two eyes, whose brain is 100% guaranteed to not be designed to take sensory input from 2 eyes, etc, so I wouldn't try to represent only having 1 eye in any meaningful way. Especially not at 30 feat!

But, he also copyrighted his version, which seems to contradict the only potentially valid basis for his side of the argument. Either the information can be legitimately copyrighted, or it can't be. He isn't adding anything that is so distinct and creative that his is a valid copyright but wotc's isn't, it is the same information, with only the most mild rewording. The rewording itself is also entirely of information that he himself seems to believe cannot be legitimately copyrighted, because it's basic mechanical information.

Between all that, and the fact that he is making a huge deal out of a friendly "hey maybe don't copy-paste our work and then slap your own copyright notice on the bottom of it" letter from a company that would be well within their legal and ethical rights to be less friendly about it...and I'm not sympathetic at all. Even as a guy who view large corporations that hold copyrights over decades old IP that they purchased as subsidiary companies as inherently bad for the culture in which they operate, I find I can't place myself on this guy's side on this one.
Yeah, the last paragraph is spot-on.

There are so many truly egregious instances of corporations wielding their IP like a hammer, and all the world is a nail.

But this is, "Hey, maybe don't copy our stuff and claim it's your copyright, ok?"
 

doctorbadwolf

Explorer
My thought as a slick corporate lawyer would be to argue every single stat block as an individual entry worthy of copyright and make Frylock prove that it isn't. You know, thousands and thousand of pages of material.

Because some of them might be, I'd also suggest that the individual block might be based on ancient material, but the expression of it certainly is not and it is dependent on the unique expression of other copyrightable material.
Right, like if I tell a new and distinct story about Thor and Loki dealing with Jotuns, I can copyright that. I can't trademark "Thor", but I can copyright stories or art about Thor.
 

doctorbadwolf

Explorer
Yeah, the last paragraph is spot-on.

There are so many truly egregious instances of corporations wielding their IP like a hammer, and all the world is a nail.

But this is, "Hey, maybe don't copy our stuff and claim it's your copyright, ok?"
Seriously, I can't imagine getting mad at Disney because they didn't like that I illegally copyrighted my scene for scene reproduction of The Lion King.

Now, we all know that Disney would try to destroy my entire existence just for putting too much of the plot in a review, because the mouse is literally the definition of lawful evil, but no example is perfect.

But yeah, this is like one of those really eye-roll inducing "Am I The A-Hole?" posts.
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
Alright I read the entire blog post and the way it's broken down does seem to be a sound argument that a statblock, any statblock, is not copyrightable. But I am admittedly no lawyer.
 

tomBitonti

Explorer
An example was produced earlier in this thread that was an exact reproduction, that used definitely copyrightable text from WotC.
I looked through the images which were presented, and both the format and the text are modified.

Tor example, CR and Exp are relocated, and the layout uses simple lines of varying widths, while the WotC layout uses tapering lines.

Certain text elements are the same -- "Poor Depth Perception" -- but the exact wordings differ.

I think a key question is whether the wording differences are sufficient, or were made to simply appear different. The appearances do seem very similar. But then there is a second issue, which is whether the words (and layout) are primarily functional in intent.

Thx!
TomB
 

Parmandur

Adventurer
Seriously, I can't imagine getting mad at Disney because they didn't like that I illegally copyrighted my scene for scene reproduction of The Lion King.

Now, we all know that Disney would try to destroy my entire existence just for putting too much of the plot in a review, because the mouse is literally the definition of lawful evil, but no example is perfect.

But yeah, this is like one of those really eye-roll inducing "Am I The A-Hole?" posts.
Now, I am a bit of a fanboy, but WotC use of their copyright has been by any definition generous and ethical.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Eh. Look, here's the slight leap he takes that I don't know that I agree with.

It's a truism that you can't copyright something with no creativity. Say, a phone number. And a collection of things you cannot copyright cannot be copyrighted. So, a database of phone numbers (for example) cannot be copyrighted.

Here's where he loses me. He then makes the leap to saying that monster stat blocks cannot be copyrighted because they are obvious expressions of what the monster "is", you know, like you can't copyright the distance to Jupiter. ....but ..... that's not true. He uses the example of the Cyclops, as if it is obvious that the Cyclops would have particular stats and attacks and so on.

There is creativity in converting monsters into 5e. And giving them stats. Otherwise, there would be some platonic ideal stat block that could be understood independently and without creativity; put another way, he is copying WoTC shamelessly because he HAS TO, and because there is creativity in those stat blocks.

Who knows? Maybe he'll set a new precedent, but I don't think his logic is either airtight or particularly sound.
I rather hope he doesn’t set a new precedent, given that this concept of the platonic ideal statblock is such nonsense.
 

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