Friday, January 20, 2023

The Latest

While I don't want this blog to become dominated by posts relating to the Open Game License, the truth is that it's a very important topic for those of us in the OSR, because most of our foundational texts (OSRIC, Basic Fantasy, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry) were all created through its use. Consequently, any attempt by Wizards of the Coast to "de-authorize" earlier versions of the OGL will have – and already has had – profound repercussions. That's why this stuff is important, even if it's also more than a little confusing at times. 

To that end, I would like to direct your attention toward this post by Rob Conley, in which he quite clearly and intelligibly dissects WotC's proposed v.1.2 of the OGL and what its implementation would mean for our little corner of the larger hobby. Rob does a far better job of laying it all out than I ever could and I'm grateful for his continued posts on this matter. I'll almost certainly have some further thoughts of my own later, but, for the moment, I highly recommend the above link.


  1. Unfortunately I think killing 1.0a is red line for WoTC so we are going to end up disappointed. They don't want to leave 1.0a open as they want OneD&D to be compatible with 5E, 1.0a would allow people to keep publishing stuff for OneD&D without having to use the new licence.

    It will be terrible for the OSR community but I don't see any way WoTC let 1.0a live with the course they have planned.

    1. The thing is, everyone -- either for the sake of argument or simply because even the idea of litigation is painful -- seems to be operating from the position that WotC can actually do any of the things we worry about them doing. They claim they can de-authorize version 1.0a. Can they? Probably not.

      The license exists as a legal text independent of their licensed properties (such as the SRD) or any copyright claim to it. Their argument for putting the genie back in the bottle is that they get to determine what's an authorized version of a contract after the fact -- even a contract they may not be party to, since the license could in theory be on any gaming content by any publisher, not just stuff based on the old d20 SRD -- and that by somehow de-authorizing the text of the license itself, they can prevent it from being used in the future (nope) or at least walk back their grant of IP (the d20 SRD) that they cast into open content (again, nope).

      At no point do they claim they are _revoking_ their IP from OGL ver 1.0a: that's probably because their lawyers probably told them they can't, because it's still a real contract, and the language just a thinly re-cast version of the GPL open software licenses that courts have upheld. Instead, they are arguing they can alter the terms of the license itself, and in such a way as to prevent anyone from using the license in the future. Locking up the IP that was released under the license in the d20 SRD would basically be a "side effect" of de-authorizing the license itself.

      I want you to imagine someone telling a judge that a contract between parties B and C cannot be legal, because you own the boilerplate for that contract, and you specifically said no one is allowed to use that boilerplate anymore. I would love to sit in on that. I have to believe that Hasbro lawyers know that they are not even in _remotely_ the same class as, say, an army of IBM lawyers who all seem fairly confident of open licenses, or perhaps even the lawyers at the FSF. They have to know they are standing on very shaky ground.

      They can release OGL v1.2, but they can't make anyone use it, or even stop them from using OGL 1.0a. At best, they prevent you from mixing OGL 1.0a and OGL 1.2 in the same product. And of course, I never expect them to release another OGL version, nor for anyone to go to it if they did, so the useful OGL would be limited to versions 1.0 and 1.0a. (And let's none of us remind them they said nothing about de-authorizing version 1.0, which is _also_ still authorized.)

      The correct response for this sort of situation is, "that's cute. That's not how any of this works," and then you ignore them until they actually are stupid enough to file something in a court. And of course, _they_ don't want to go to court, because that moves this from a gray area into precedent. They don't have any power except FUD.

  2. It sucks to have to be talking about it but I am glad you are.

  3. Great post from Conley. Thanks for linking it.

    Raggi's essay is also well written but misses the crux of the issue. Raggi believes corporate morality clauses are about morality. They aren't. As we all know, corporations have one purpose: to make money. Everything they do is in service to that.

    So morality clauses aren't about doing good, or empowering marginalized communities. They're about offending the least customers possible by reflecting society's current norms, in order to expand their customer base and their revenue. And they're about not getting sued, in order to protect their profits. That's it.

    TSR had them since the satanic panic, for the same reasons.

    Lawyers and MBAs write morality clauses, not priests or philosophers. So Raggi's debate with WotC about the best strategy to do the most good is pointless. They don't care.