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WotC The other snake in the grass: the Wizards Fan Content Policy


tl;dr there's another Wizards document out there that needs to be stamped out.

A heads-up to all who have been following the Open Game License debacle... pay attention to the OTHER potential problem: the Fan Content Policy.

Yes, Wizards/Hasbro have backed down on the OGL and SRD 5.1. That's great! It never should have gone this far, but here we are. However, there is a "back door" that is still out there which can potentially be used to harass competitors and critics, or to seize fan work without compensation. That is the Wizards Fan Content Policy (FCP).

I have my own reading and interpretation which concludes that most of it was never enforceable or is legal junk to begin with:
  • "We ask." It's good to want things, but asking does not mean you get what you want.
  • It's not an agreed upon license.
  • With the SRD 5.1 now in Creative Commons, the FCP is in many ways in direct conflict with that, and loses.
  • Some of it is just restarting "trademarks are a thing". Yep. That's not a policy, trademark infringement is a law. FCP is irrelevant.
  • Same for implying "officialness" or endorsement. That's already covered by law.
  • That bit about "we can take your stuff for free"? Without agreed-upon compensation, that's also against the law.
  • And about a "right" to take down any videos, reviews, etc. they feed like? Nope. Illegal seizure, especially given the now-present CC-SA-4.0 license, basic intellectual property law, and public statements made by WotC all acknowledge that they can't take that stuff down. It's just hot air, and abuse of copyright claims can land them in hot water.
Wizards/Hasbro needs to be told to take that FCP down. It's a garbage document that has no teeth other than to intimidate. Do we look intimidated?

We have millions of master rules-lawyer DMs used to people trying to get away with shenanigans.
We have tens of millions of min-maxers who know how to look to grant themselves Advantage in a rules system.
We have many, many real-world attorneys who play the game and who are paying attention to this.

And Hasbro/WotC? You're under the microscope. You're on probation. You've made a positive step which I and many others acknowledge, but if after all this you still think you're clever, think again. You're not owed forgiveness, and a second abusive scandal will be the nail in the coffin that destroys the value of D&D forever. Your investors and shareholders will not be pleased. Speaking of which:

I also am aware that Paramount is not happy that you've ruined their investment in "Honor Among Thieves". Their attorneys are looking at your behavior too, and I'd bet a copper to a GP that there are mutual-obligation, legal detriment and non-performance clauses in the contracts between Hasbro and Paramount that cover actions that badly harm the viability of the project. Personal opinion: I think it's likely that Paramount applied a lot of pressure to Hasbro to knock it the F off when publications like Forbes and Motley Fool started discussing (and thus widely amplifying) OGL upset and calls for boycotting of the movie. P.T. Barnum's assertion that "there's no such thing as bad publicity" just ain't so, even in this circus.

I, however, am not an attorney. I am a DM of 45 years' experience, a QA engineer of 33 years' experience, an author of commercially-successful fiction who has successfully used the legal system to defend my own intellectual property, and a department head that read, approves, rejects, and signs contracts on a daily basis. I'm not coming in completely cold here, but would like to hear from IP specialist attorneys as to whether the FCP ever had any real relevance or what, by simply stating "We can has Policy", what power Hasbro can simply assign to itself without others' consent, and how to proceed to dismantle the FCP as a potential sleeper-cell.

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It's not an agreed upon license.

Fundamentally the fan content policies are just guidelines on what uses of their IP, that they would be within their legal rights to be jerks about, they will not take issue with.

That said there is a little bit of a quasi-contractual relationship here in as much as uses that follow these guidelines are permitted to, even encouraged to, use WotC art, which is a major release of intellectual property they could generally shut down outside of narrow fair use cases.

If you don't want to freely use WotC art I think you can more or less ignore the whole thing and rely on normal fair use practices, though it's still a good guideline of what trademark uses they'll get sue-happy over.

I'd argue the fault here overall is less with WotC or their legal department and more with a legal system that applies the same near absolute principles of ownership of intellectual property by the entity that created it regardless of how deeply that IP get ingrained in a community's culture.

I like the cut of your jib, OP. Now is probably the best time for the community to get together and demand better terms for fan content and DM's Guild stuff.

Channel 9 Rock GIF by The Block

DM's Guild seems like more of a problem than the Fan Content Policy. I'm not aware of WotC messing with anyone re: the FCP - have they?

I've read your post and you seem to have no specific objections to the FCP, and no specific suggestions for changes.

You say "it's not enforceable", buddy, obviously it's not. The FCP is a policy. WotC would have to decide what to do if they felt there as a problem. It's not a contract. There's nothing to enforce.

Whereas DM's Guild has done weird creepy stuff like censor the words "anti-capitalist" (hardly an extreme sentiment, especially when their proposed replacement was "anti-imperialist", which whilst having a different meaning is at least as strong), at least one LGBT+ friendly supplement and so on.
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