On the OSR and its legacy

We all know that the OSR managed, in a really short timespan, to create a huge quantity of gaming material.

A good part of this creative endeavour is at least of “good enough” quality. Which is way better than what got published in the early 2000s for the d20 system, IMVHO.

What I’m concerned about is its great fragility, scarce organization and searchability. The wiki is a first good step addressing the second problem, but we can’t stop there. Because server faults can make documents unreachable forever, like happened to Microlite 20, where a change of maintainer wiped all the available material off the web, except for what’s in the Wayback Machine.

What would be optimal would be a (possibly replicated) OSR archive containing all the gaming material created by the OSR, properly licensed and indexed. While I’m not arguing to actually save all blog entries (too much noise and faff), at least saving all collections, like Kellri’s CDDs, the various retroclones, and similar self-contained materials.

The SRD by itself doesn’t allow to save the published material to make it publicly available and I don’t really know how it would interact with Creative Common licences like CC BY-NC-SA.

The question is: can us, the community, afford to lose the legal access to useful game material without resorting to cloning it? For example Robert Conley’s Blackmarsh is a very good freely available sandbox setting, but some of its parts are Product Identity and therefore it maybe should be “cleaned” before redistribution, if Rob hadn’t cleverly published a stand-alone Blackmarsh SRD. Other authors haven’t been so thoughtful.

We don’t want to lose the OSR legacy and its artefacts to Internet obsolescence. Think of the children… :)

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16 thoughts on “On the OSR and its legacy

  1. This has become an issue I have dealt with recently and an issue that has to be addressed is not only the archival approach but the fact that most of the material being posted is incorrectly licensed. No one in their right mind would back-up or host such material and take on the legal liability.

    I have tried raising this topic mostly to no response because somehow a majority thinks about this just being a hobby and not commercial in anyway, when a quick check will show more publishers appear everyday. And commercial or not the license issues must be corrected.

    A universal archive is a must, but not such that it is jeopardized by people who claim not to understand the license issues and continue to post work that will eventually lead to problems down the road.

    The OSR is growing faster everday. Commercial reporting show us at about 3%-5% of the market but I believe the numbers are much higher since those covering the retail sales of TRPGs aren’t counting all the activity within the community itself.

    With the two big boys in a slugfest to the death and the rumors starting to leak about changes at WotC I think more people, not less, will be joining the ranks.
    That leaves us with a sticky situation that I wish more people would address.

    And kudos to those out there doing it right and displaying the OGL and proper attribution and not copping out with some jangle about not understanding the ‘legal stuff’.

    • As I agree on basically everything you just wrote, I guess at the beginning of next term I’ll just set up some kind of server space automatically replicated and stuff. :)
      We just need to go out and ask authors to contribute… anyone up for it?

  2. The conservancy project is a great idea. However, I am one of those lazy bloggers who just posts stuff. If I ever get around to actually publishing anything I will worry about the legal side at that point. As I mentioned in the email taking a look at Open Game Table’s model might be a good start.

    • See, that is another misconception – bloggers ARE publishers. We are subject to the same laws, policies and contracts as any other print publisher, film maker,music maker, etc.

      As for how someone wants to handle their own copy right / intellectual property that is up to them.

      But 90% of the OSR is derived from the SRD meaning that the OGL MUST (as emphasized in caps in the license)be adhered to or the person(s) are in violation of the license and subject to legal action.

      Here’s a scenario that many have not thought about:

      You publish a new monster based on one in the SRD but you have not posted an updated OGL on your blog.

      Another person comes along, sees the monster and thinks ‘cool, I’ll put this in my Big Book of Monsters’ not knowing the status of the work.

      WotC see this later and takes action against the publisher, who in turn then sues the person who first posted the material for improper placement of the OGL.

      Result = Nightmare

      The above scenario is drawn from the Wizards faq on the d20/OGL.

      I highly recommend that anyone who puts things out in public that are derived from the SRD or a product based on the SRD to read these:

      http://www.wizards.com/d20/files/OGLv1.0a.rtf

      http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=d20/oglfaq/20040123f

      THE (UNAUTHORIZED UNOFFICIAL) OPEN GAMING LICENSE OGL D20 FAQ

      http://www.earth1066.com/D20FAQ.htm

      Also, this isn’t about whether any money is passing hands. That myth goes back to using uncleared samples in music. Free or pay it is the same thing in both instances.

      FYI-ALL of the popular retroclones, etc fall under the OGL.

      This is why the idea of a central archive right now is not possible. We need to clean our own house first before someone does it for us. Then we can archive material with peace of mind.

  3. The viral nature of the CC licenses does not allow them to work alongside the viral OGL in the same product. Because so much of the OSR material relies upon the OGL, we should be weaning ourselves away from the CC and just switch to using the OGL.

    I know when I get around to actually publishing material, it will be under the OGL, with nothing in the product actually marked as Product Identity – make it all Open Game Content including layout, art, etc.

  4. And no, you can not mix the license. What you designate as Product Identity is protected against any further use without your permission, so always put contact information where folks can find it and when you post declare the material being posted as OGC or PI, hot link to the license on your blog and and make certain you update clause 15 to include your work in the OGL.

  5. Thanks for those links AD&D Grognard. Here are some points from the earth1066 link that clarified some of it for me:

    Copyright does not protect ideas, concepts, systems, or methods of doing something.

    A gaming system cannot be copyrighted. But you CAN copyright the written instructions that you write to set up your gaming style and describe how to play the game.

    Copyright does not protect names, titles, slogans, or short phrases.

    * * * *

    My gaming material does not use anything from the SRD, or Hasbro IP, or any copyrighted material (other than the occasional sleestak or hobbit – uh oh). While I do comment on D&D and mention copyrighted phrases in posts I am not releasing any of that as game content. It’s just observations and opinions.

    • I’m familiar with your work (and a fan at that :).

      You ride a thin line Sham (the references to OD&D being the thin line) but I checked everything I have from you and the actual work is fine.

      One other thing in general, by agreeing to the terms of the license you are waiving certain other rights in exchange for the use of their IP. Just wanted to clarify that. These things concern copy rights, trademarks, etc.

      I know this all sounds like nit picking but I have reason to believe that things are about to change in the world of gaming and we might be on the front lines before we know it.

      • You are entirely correct, AD&D Grognard, that by publishing under the cover of the OGL, one gives up specific rights. They’re spelled out right there in the OGL that is (supposed to be) included in every copy of everything that is published.

        I would point out that simply posting a link to the OGL (as on a blog) violates the letter of the OGL itself. The wording is specific; “You MUST include a copy of this License with every copy of the Open Game Content You Distribute.” Not a link, a copy.

        However, I would also point out that when not publishing under the auspices of the OGL, such as on most (almost all?) blogs, the situation is at once both clearer and murkier. Clearer, in the sense that the strictures of the OGL are not in force, because the work on the blog is not published under its auspices. So a blog is not required to describe Product Identity, etc.

        However, it is murkier in the sense that it is dependent on subjective assessments of what is and is not permissible under the concepts of “fair use” and the oft-quoted dictum that “rules can be copyrighted, but not the underlying principles”. Too, statements of compatibility with existing works, even those using registered trademarks, are protected. The question becomes, does a particular hypothetical work published on a blog, or even in print, fall into that category? Nobody will know until it’s tested in court, and that’s on a case-by-case basis. Even a term that’s been technically registered as a Trademark can be declared to be not a trademark in court. It’s all subjective, and depends on the judge you get.

        To my knowledge, it hasn’t been tested with any of the retro-clones, most of which either skirt the line of trademark or copyright infringement or cross it outright. Technically, if a clone uses the phrase “dungeon master” they just violated the OGL and lost all of its protections, but then again they also lost all of its restrictions.

        I’m not a lawyer either, but I have been giving these matters a bit of thought.

        I’m curious, though, if you could possibly elaborate a little on these rumors of change at which you hint.

  6. Pingback: OSR Conservation Project « Lost Papers of Tsojcanth
  7. @ADDG: Thanks! I understand more where you are coming from here. Regardless of the many murkier aspects of the current state of affairs, given the growth (albeit still relatively small) of interest in the so-called OSR, Hasbro could at any time tighten the reins, particularly in regard to certain phrases and possible IP terms/items we take for granted, and essentially change the rules many publishers have been operating under. Not that I have been particularly forward thinking, but even the most diligent author might then be violating copyright law by using, for example as Joe pointed out, the term Dungeon Master.

    Anyway, I doubt I need to worry about a cease and desist from Hasbro. Nevertheless I will definitely be keeping this in mind with my future projects. Sean of FO! fame might be treading the safest path in pursuing an even more system neutral approach than most of us OSR fellas.

    Keep this going. It is a good discussion.

  8. Greyhawk Grognard
    2011/04/20 at 02:08

    I would point out that simply posting a link to the OGL (as on a blog) violates the letter of the OGL itself. The wording is specific; “You MUST include a copy of this License with every copy of the Open Game Content You Distribute.” Not a link, a copy.

    That is correct and by using a static page on blogspot, for instance, that can be maintained and updated. Since a blog is a single entity but has the unique attribute of being added to all the time the static page with the license properly updated to include new material be it OGC or PI would be considered reasonable compliance.

    However, I would also point out that when not publishing under the auspices of the OGL, such as on most (almost all?) blogs, the situation is at once both clearer and murkier. Clearer, in the sense that the strictures of the OGL are not in force, because the work on the blog is not published under its auspices. So a blog is not required to describe Product Identity, etc.

    Correct. Only when dealing directly with SRD / SRD Derived material is it necessary. If someone is just posting reviews lets say then standard copyright applies (and DO put a copyright at the bottom of your blogs so others don’t just copy your work and re-post it). The PI notification is when you want to maintain control over something related to the SRD and derivatives.

    However, it is murkier in the sense that it is dependent on subjective assessments of what is and is not permissible under the concepts of “fair use” and the oft-quoted dictum that “rules can be copyrighted, but not the underlying principles”. Too, statements of compatibility with existing works, even those using registered trademarks, are protected. The question becomes, does a particular hypothetical work published on a blog, or even in print, fall into that category? Nobody will know until it’s tested in court, and that’s on a case-by-case basis. Even a term that’s been technically registered as a Trademark can be declared to be not a trademark in court. It’s all subjective, and depends on the judge you get.

    There again the issue is when you are dealing with the SRD material. What is important here is the reference source of a work. If it is generic then there is no issue. But the license clearly states you may not imply compatibility or use their trademarks when working within the OGL.

    To my knowledge, it hasn’t been tested with any of the retro-clones, most of which either skirt the line of trademark or copyright infringement or cross it outright. Technically, if a clone uses the phrase “dungeon master” they just violated the OGL and lost all of its protections, but then again they also lost all of its restrictions.

    Correct on the use of the words. The generic Game Master is the common substitute and keeps the work within the OGL boundaries. But if you violate the terms of the OGL and do not correct it within a set period of time you must remove all OGL licensed material from your work.

    I’m curious, though, if you could possibly elaborate a little on these rumors of change at which you hint.

    They don’t want us…at least not yet. We are small fry.

    But their biggest competitor works under the same license we do. If you had the ability to knock out the company that is quickly taking over 1st place in sales would you do it? I’ve never seen a corp. yet that wouldn’t. Except the competitor follows the straight and narrow.

    But if you gather enough evidence and plead the case before a judge that there are so many violations as to make the license unenforceable then revocation is possible. With the license revoked Paizo is effectively dead and we along with them.

    Now Paizo would sue of course and I would be willing to bet that they would settle out of court under a new license that pays royalties to Hasbro and leaves us completely out in the cold. That is my concern.

    We have folks out here who don’t know the rules but worse yet do know and have official D&D logos on their pages, claiming compatibility with trademarked material, using the CC after using SRD material with no sign of the OGL because they feel they don’t have to follow the license, etc.

    • “That is correct and by using a static page on blogspot, for instance, that can be maintained and updated. ”

      A link to a static page elsewhere on your own blog is still a link.

  9. The only thing in the Blackmarsh PDF or Printed product that is Product Identity is the art (not maps). I included a Blackmarsh Setting Reference Document to make wholesale copying of the text and maps easy.

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