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


To those telling me to be silent: I rather think I shall not.

We got into this trouble precisely because the OGL was taken on trust for 21 years only to have it used as a tool of betrayal. Prior to late last year, it could have been said with equal validity "I'm not aware of WotC messing with anyone re: the OGL- have they?"

Guess what? They did.

Hasn't the FCP been on the books for years? Yes, five of them. OGL was 21.

Guess what. Longevity didn't stop the attempt.

As a (real) lawyer friend said, "courts uphold contracts, not intentions". And as others have said, you plan for what the enemy is capable of, not what you think their intentions are. They haven't used the FCP (to my knowledge) yet. But given it's all they have left, you know very well they're at least looking at it. Given their demonstrated goals through the past several weeks, they'd be fools not to look at how they can weaponize what's left to them.

Why, then, in the world should we take anything WotC/Hasbro might say about the FCP at face value, unexamined? Or, for that matter, the deafening silence? If you actually read the FCP, it starts with "we ask" but ends with "we can take", "we can silence", and "you must do this". That sounds like someone thinks the FCP has weight and is willing to spend legal fees to test it.

The OGL, though not originally intended as a trap, was factually eventually used as one. No reasonable person doubts that now. Therefore, everything WotC has ever had to say about third parties and fan content needs to be examined with the same scrutiny and lack of trust. The FCP is another such document. They are demonstrated untrustworthy. It would be foolish to leave any avenues of attack open; whether the current people in charge dare think they can try to use the FCP offensively, others in the future might. Just as did the current ones attempted to use the OGL, and continually tried to, one poisoned attempt after another.

And yes, WotC and Hasbro are indeed here. Of course they're watching what's happening on the largest RPG forum in the world. There might not be a "WotC Official" account, but there doesn't need to be one for them to... y'know... read. Or make sockpuppet accounts to try to steer the discussion.
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To me this looks like a solution in search of a problem, but you obviously see it differently. You should email Wizards of the Coast about it, instead of posting an open letter here. Like @Umbran said: WotC isn't reading this thread, so your point of view won't reach them.
More interested in ensuring that the people who have been fighting the OGL changes aren't assuming that it's all clear. I don't believe it is, and I see the FCP as something that a lawyer seeking additional billable hours might try to leverage, or that an exec believing they have nothing to lose might try as a hail-Mary.

We can no longer assume good intentions. We must plan and act only upon capabilities, and what the opposition might attempt to exploit as a perceived avenue of attack.

All I ask is that the publishers who have lawyered up point out the FCP to those same attorneys, and if they find a minefield there, to be as loud as possible about it while the topic is still hot and on everyone's (including investors, shareholders and Paramount) minds. Intertia is on our side, and if there is another defective document to be removed, now is the best time to do it.

And I will point out that private communications with WotC solved nothing; it took a whistleblower to start things up. Public scrutiny and widespread news of what was happening... including open letters (what I'm being "advised" against)... was what got things done. Open letters and publicly pointing out dangers are now the first resort, not the last.

There needs to be more such open letters, not fewer. No more negotiations in the dark or assuming that "someone else" will take care of it.
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Limit Break Dancing (He/They)
We can no longer assume good intentions.
Sure we can. I'm doing it right now.

We must plan and act only upon capabilities, and what the opposition might attempt to exploit as a perceived avenue of attack.
You choose very interesting terms and phrases: "plan and act," "attempt to exploit," "the opposition," "avenue of attack." It makes me think you want much more indeed than simply to ask publishers to do you a favor.


the Incomparably Shrewd and Clever
It is not a license. It is not a legal document. It is a policy.

They are just telling you how they, as a company, will respond to people using their IP. That is it.
Exactly so, IMO. As strongly as I felt WotC was wrong about the OGL in the recent weeks, I feel they can do whatever they want with their IP, and have every right to. Could the fan policy change or be rescinded in the future? Yes it could. I think it would be a stupid move by WotC, but they are fully within their rights to do so. Fans do not have any "rights" to WotC's IP.


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.

You were part of an army that defeated the dragon. Not only defeated it, but actually came out ahead. It was an awesome victory and a welcome relief.

A lot of people in that situation are going to look for the next dragon to slay in order to relive that sense of hard fought victory.

But the FCP is not a dragon. It's a policy and guideline that let's people know ahead of time what WOTC thinks. It clarifies, it doesn't suppress.

Sometimes it's hard to accept that there are no more dragons to slay, that doesn't mean we should be tilting at windmills.

Fan Content Policies are basically a standard business practice these days for any company that creates media content. In this regard, WotC has what appears (IMNSHO, IANAL) to be a fairly standard policy. It's pretty in line with what you will find if you google Fan Content Policies from other companies. At a first glance, I would say it's actually more fan friendly than some others like, for example, Nintendo or the NFL.
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