Monday, October 17, 2011

Oh, gee, Elle!

Loviatar is not published under the OGL. This is due - in part - to a very educational discussion I had with a representative from Steve Jackson Games.

     About seven years ago I had written to the company asking for permission to write fan material for GURPS. I wanted to do a fanzine called "Weirdness Magnet [-15]". The response I received was interesting and it amounted to, "What do you need our permission for?"

     Basically, the only content from their copyrighted works that I was going to reference in the zine were game mechanics, specifically those words and numbers needed to build a stat block, like abilities, advantages, spell names, etc. As I talked things over with the rep, what became clear was that as long as I was acknowledging trademarks, not copying blocks of text, not mirroring trade dress and making it clear that my work was unlicensed, unofficial and transformative rather than derivative, I was just fine.

     The bottom line is that the OGL is not a law or a system of rules, but an agreement. More importantly, it is not even an agreement that I must adhere to if I want to write and distribute bodies of text that include things like, "Red Orc; Armor Class 7, Hit Dice 1, Hit Points 5, No. of Attacks 1, Damage: 1d8 (axe)." Those words are game mechanics that cannot be copyrighted. I would give up quite a few rights if I published under the OGL and in the end I decided it was not something I wanted to do.

In conclusion, the Loviatar fanzine is on solid legal footing without the OGL because:

1) It does not contain text from copyrighted works, other than references to game mechanics which do not enjoy copyright protection.

2) The zine is transformative, which means it presents unique material that differs substantially from the original content that appeared in a copyrighted work.

3) The zine is produced in such limited scope as to not undermine the value of any trademarked brand.

4) All trademarks and copyrights are clearly acknowledged.

5) The zine does not emulate trade dress nor does it present game mechanics in a format that mirrors the copyrighted work that inspires it.

6) The zine does not claim to be a licensed or official supplement. 

     Furthermore, even if the zine presents, for example, an NPC for a game published under the OGL, I still do not need to provide a copy of the agreement. Designing monsters and NPCs that can be used with a particular game is not a copyright violation nor can it be proved that improper compatibility is being claimed for the reasons cited above.

     This use of copyright and trademark law is what allowed publications, like Dragon, White Dwarf and Shadis to present material for a wide variety of games. No OGL  - or its equivalent - was required then and it certainly isn't now.


  1. Cool. Very informative. I needed this info in a bad way. I understand a lot about copyright, but this was news to me. Thanks.

  2. Please take everything I wrote with a grain of salt. YMMV and all that. :)

  3. I think I now have a better understanding of what "transformative" means in this situation. Thanks, Christian!

  4. I would also point out that your zine is not, necessarily, a for profit publication and this point might hold some weight in the area of copyright law too.