Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Beware the Gifts of Dragons

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, no stranger to the hobby, has posted an article on its blog about the ongoing Open Game License controversy. It's not a formal legal opinion on the matter, though the author, Kit Walsh, is an attorney and clarifies a few points about copyrights, open licenses, and contracts from a legal perspective. 

My main takeaway from the post, aside from the obvious fact that Wizards of the Coast is behaving in a "rude and unfair" way, is that the existing version 1.0a of the OGL is, unfortunately, not written as clearly as one might like, if the goal is for its terms to be legally irrevocable. This is a criticism I've seen of the Open Game License before, but, until now, it's never really mattered, because WotC seemed content to let the situation stand as it had for more than two decades. However, it seems quite possible that the terms presented in the draft of version 1.1 are completely legal, however much that flies in the face of the previously stated intent of the original OGL.

As more and more creators and publishers publicly state that they intend to drop the OGL from their current and future publications, I'm not certain that Wizards of the Coast can say or do anything that will undo the fear, uncertainty, and doubt engendered by the last few days. The cynic in me wants to believe that that was always WotC's intention, but I suspect the truth is that they simply didn't think the consequences of this action through and are quite surprised by the intensity of the public backlash.

Yesterday, Ray Winninger, the former Executive Producer in charge of Dungeons & Dragons at WotC, had this to say in response to a question about the OGL situation:

There's still no response from Wizards of the Coast about this, though they will apparently be "sharing more soon," whatever that means. In any case, this story is far from over and I expect there will be a few more twists and turns before the week is done.


  1. The letter is unfair and doesn't take into account that the OGL 1.0a was released in 2000 and one of it's model was the GPL v2. Which also doesn't use the term irrevocable.

    By her reasoning that mean Linus Torvalds can withdraw his authorization for his work that went into Linux.

    While the consensus today is that it is better to have irrevocable in the license. The GPL v2 (and perhaps the OGL) are still irrevocable because of how the license as a whole is constructed as outlined in section 7.4 of this article.

    As it turns out the need for adding irrevocable to a license is relatively recent. But you don't have to take my word for it. If any lawyer tells you that this needs to happen, ask what was the key case that decided this in his country? The answer will be illuminating as well as expose the exact nuances of why that is a good idea. And why it may not be applicate to the OGL.

    Furthermore the article's author neglects the practical considerations of publishing in the RPG world namely of working with licensed content like Lord of the Rings, Conan, etc.

    The OGL structure of product identity, open content, and not able to cite compatibility allows this to freely happen.

    While I present this as pretty much black and white, I found this out only after rounds of discussion. Which makes it understandable why enforces these rights is so expensive for a individual author and his attorney who has probably only a small staff if at that.

    This is why it is important that we have as many teams of folks getting their heads together on this issue.

    We must hang together or surely hang separately. These words of Benjamin Franklin have never been more true than today.

  2. I'm hearing that the article's author is not only a lawyer, but also an RPG contributor, having worked on Evil Hat's Thirsty Sword Lesbians.

  3. The GPLv2 doesn't use the term "irrevocable", bit it does have what is effectively an irrevocability clause:

    "If the Program specifies a version number of this License which applies to it and "any later version", you have the option of following the terms and conditions either of that version or of any later version published by the Free Software Foundation. If the Program does not specify a version number of this License, you may choose any version ever published by the Free Software Foundation."

    1. The drafter of the OLG fumbled the wording of section 9 which is supposed to do the same thing as the above. Which one reason is why we are in this mess.

  4. I wonder if this new "OGL" is the reason Ray left Wizard's...

  5. The cited blog post was posted yesterday, but there was an update to it at bottom posted today. Was this noticed before this post here was written?

    1. The updated portion of the blog appeared after I first posted this.

  6. WoTC has gone and shot themselves in the marketing. They have turned "One-D&D" into the "Not One Penny From Me Edition".