So WHY Didn't The OGL Contain The Word 'Irrevocable'?

Whether or not the Open Game License v1.0a is revocable is one of the main things being argued about during this whole OGL-gate crisis, with lawyers firmly stating opinions on both sides of the issue. We all know that Ryan Dancey, the OGL's 'architect' (along with IP lawyer Brian Lewis, who was WotC's in-house counsel at the time) firmly believes that the license is irrevocable--in his words...

Whether or not the Open Game License v1.0a is revocable is one of the main things being argued about during this whole OGL-gate crisis, with lawyers firmly stating opinions on both sides of the issue. We all know that Ryan Dancey, the OGL's 'architect' (along with IP lawyer Brian Lewis, who was WotC's in-house counsel at the time) firmly believes that the license is irrevocable--in his words, "If that had been a power that we wanted to reserve for Hasbro, we would have enumerated it in the license."

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But why didn't it just say so? On the face of it, including that simple word might have prevented this whole crisis. Dancey commented on Facebook:

because in Y2K that term was not used in state of the art copyleft licenses like the LGPL or the Apache or BSD licenses. There's no "magic word" in US contract law that lets you walk away from your obligations.

The OGL was based on existing software open source licenses; it even predates Creative Commons by a couple of years.

Just on this site there are lawyers on both sides of the 'revocabiity' debate, and on social media and elsewhere there are many more. In this thread no less than SIX lawyers weigh in over an 86-page debate, and they don't all agree. WotC clearly currently believes it to be revocable (but didn't believe so before), and Paizo believes the opposite.

The license does indeed contain the term ‘perpetual’, but many lawyers have argued that the precise legal meaning of that term is not the same as the common English meaning, and that it does not render a license irrevocable. On the other hand, legal minds have pointed out that the license contains no verbiage regarding 'de-authorization', or any mechanism for doing so. That said, if all lawyers agreed, we wouldn't need courts.


It's clear that Dancey's, Lewis', and indeed WotC's intent at the time was to make it impossible to revoke the OGL, and that that was the proposition offered to third party publishers at the time. D&D historian Ben Riggs (author of Slaying the Dragon: A Secret History of Dungeons & Dragons) comments:

This is a radical change of the original intention of the OGL. The point of the OGL was to get companies to stop making their own games and start making products for D&D. WoTC execs spent a ton of time convincing companies like White Wolf to make OGL products. To act like the existence of Paizo or Kobold is a perversion of the OGL may be gaslighting, it may be ignorance, but it is certainly nonsense.

Everybody believed the OGL was irrevocable at the time. Dancey and Lewis did. WotC did. The entire industry did. Everybody. Whether or not the license can be de-authorized, it is certain that a breach of trust has taken place.

Dancey has posted a blog where he talks more about his current attempts to save the Open Gaming License.

Unfortunately, the leadership team at Wizards of the Coast has decided to unlawfully and in bad faith attempt to deauthorize v1.0a of the OGL. In mid-December 2022 they met with various parties who use the OGL and attempted to strong-arm them into signing onto a new OGL that repudiates the philosophy of Open Gaming that is embodied in v1.0a. The draft license that they attempted to force onto the community included onerous provisions that shifted control of the content created out of the commons shared by all participants equally and into a legal space controlled solely by Wizards of the Coast. Their new license was not, in any sense, an “open gaming license”.

The leverage that the company believed it had was their perception that they had the right to deauthorize and revoke the v1.0a version of the license. They do not. Attempting to do so will result in difficult litigation which ultimately poses a risk to Wizards of the Coast’s fundamental conception of what it can copyright and protect with US intellectual property rights laws.
 

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Erdric Dragin

Adventurer
Oh I think they knew that at some point in the future WotC could be that evil. They did everything they could to exclude the possibility that the OGL could be deauthorised. They didn’t just release the OGL with “perpetual” and clause 9 in it, they publicly stated that it was intended to be a forever license. And those statements will hurt WotC if this ever goes to court.

The problem was that they weren’t psychic, and couldn’t predict how legal language would evolve over time. They thought “perpetual” had them covered, but the term now has since been interpreted to have a specific legal meaning, one that the writers of the OGL didn’t intend.
Problem is we live in a society where your money is what decides a case. Even if 3pp win the case, they'll be so broke from all the fees, they end up shutting down anyway. Unless every single major company teams their lawyers up to fight this. Heck, Paizo already stated they could fight this and everyone knows WotC will lose, but Paizo doesn't want to be bankrupt from the fighting so they rather invest in a comparably much cheaper way; create their own license.
 

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Vincent55

Adventurer
I Don't think this will destroy WotC or D&D but will knock them off their throne making way for other companies to take the seat. As to how long well it might be a while and will result in them never obtaining such hights again. I really feel this will bring in more creativity and variety to the game industry due to their greed and over reach.
 

rcade

Hero
Because by then WotC hated the OGL.
If WOTC hated the OGL in 2007, it wouldn't have kept releasing updated SRDs through 2016 and continued to offer the current one for download. Hasbro didn't start asking "who will rid me of this turbulent license?" until last month.

In 2008, Hasbro had a problem with the d20 System Trademark License, not the OGL. It abandoned the d20 STL and replaced it with the Game System License.
 

rcade

Hero
Ryan Dancey, who might be said to be the driver of the OGL, left WotC in 2002. Five years after that, I don't suspect there was anyone tasked with actually managing the thing.
Somebody at WOTC had to greenlight the decision to produce and release new SRDs after 2007.

There are probably people inside WOTC who understand and champion the OGL even now. I hope there are enough of them to make a difference now that it has become evident that a lot of D&D customers strongly support open gaming.
 


rcade

Hero
Releasing errata updates is a low-level job. Changing the legal details of agreements with dozens of other publishers is not.
WOTC released a new SRD for version 5 in 2016 and updated it six months later to version 5.1. That's a lot more than an errata update. It would be interesting to find out what exec(s) made that happen.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
WOTC released a new SRD for version 5 in 2016 and updated it six months later to version 5.1. That's a lot more than an errata update.

Revising a license is opening up a can of worms in the legal department in a way that using the same old license you already have doesn't.
 


rcade

Hero
Revising a license is opening up a can of worms in the legal department in a way that using the same old license you already have doesn't.
That makes sense. Nothing grinds work to a halt like needing permission from people several rungs up the corporate ladder. Or the lawyers.
 

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