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Intellectual property

May 9, 2020 11:30 am
I tried reading through the SRD and OGL and I’m still not sure what I can and can’t use in writing I want to sell. The lore and setting will be original but I’m not sure what races, classes, monsters, etc I cannot use. If some of y’all could help out, I’d be grateful.
May 9, 2020 11:45 am
I don’t know anything about this, but there is this video which might help.
May 9, 2020 12:55 pm
If you're going to try to sell a product and don't understand your obligations, the best advice is to talk to a copyright lawyer who can explain it to you.

My understanding of it is though, broadly, that you cannot reproduce or sell anything, no text or rules, etc., that is already in a D&D book, or the SRD. You have to reference those. You may be allowed to reproduce/sell small portions of the SRD in your material if necessary to make clear your product, but this should be minimized as much as possible.

You can create entirely new material based off of the 5E srd (using it as the underlying ruleset) and including the required legal OGL language that you must have in your document.
May 9, 2020 2:07 pm
emsquared probably has the best advice here.

I remember stories of the first days of the open content of 3rd edition, and WotC had sent several cease and desist orders to companies which had not paid for the right to use their OGL (there was a lot of confusion about the open content back then). So the way that i understand it, you probably have to pay WotC for the rights to use their OGL in your product.

But don't take my word for it, contact a copyright lawyer.
May 9, 2020 3:05 pm
As I understand it, you definitely do not have to pay for anything to use the OGL.

You just cannot reproduce any part of it in your commercial product.

Basically, you can create whatever NEW works you want, NEW Races, Backgrounds, Classes, Abilities, Skills, Spells, Monsters, whatever, you can format it and otherwise make it look like the srd/5E stuff, you can say "This is compatible with 5E, buy those books!", and sell that. But you have to reference the OGL and srd properly.

You cannot put srd stuff, like the stats of srd races, or classes, or spells, or anything like that in your work. It all had to be new, OR properly reference the srd.
May 9, 2020 3:22 pm
So I can’t use wizard or ranger or warlock?
May 9, 2020 3:24 pm
Not sure if the OGL changed since the early 2000, or perhaps I'm remembering the stories wrong, or they were told to me wrong in the first place, but yeah, I did said not to take my word for it and right here you have the reason why...
Last edited May 9, 2020 3:24 pm, a total of 1 time
May 9, 2020 4:31 pm
theeyetyrant says:
So I can’t use wizard or ranger or warlock?
As I understand it, yes, you can. But you can only do so by referencing where their pages are in the srd.
May 9, 2020 4:54 pm
5e has a System Reference Document (SRD) that tells you what you can and cannot reproduce, modify, etc. in your third party product. At the top of the SRD it reads:

"Permission to copy, modify and distribute the files
collectively known as the System Reference Document 5.1 (“SRD5”) is granted solely through the use of the Open Gaming License, Version 1.0a."

The SRD has 400 pages of rules text you can "copy, modify and distribute" including some races, classes and spells, and a whole lot of rules. There are some strings attached, like including a copy of the OGL in your work.

This page includes some answers, including links to documents (like the SRD) and an FAQ:

https://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/systems-reference-document-srd

Another good idea would be to take a look at a reputable third party publisher that produces 5e content and dissect what they do. Kobold Press, Monte Cook Games, and Green Ronin are some of the biggest names. Consider looking at some of their 5e products and learn from the masters.
Last edited May 9, 2020 5:00 pm, a total of 3 times
May 9, 2020 5:00 pm
lenpelletier says:
5e has a System Reference Document (SRD) that tells you what you can and cannot reproduce, modify, etc. in your third party product. At the top of the SRD it reads:

"Permission to copy, modify and distribute the files
collectively known as the System Reference Document 5.1 (“SRD5”) is granted solely through the use of the Open Gaming License, Version 1.0a."

The SRD has 400 pages of rules text you can "copy, modify and distribute. " There are some strings attached, like including a copy of the OGL in your work.

I'm not going to muddy the waters with more advice because I don't know anything, but this page includes some answers, including links to documents (like the SRD) and an FAQ:

https://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/systems-reference-document-srd

Another good idea would be to take a look at a reputable third party publisher that produces 5e content and dissect what they do. Kobold Press, Monte Cook Games, and Green Ronin are some of the biggest names. Consider looking at some of their 5e products and learn from the masters.
I would highly recommend making sure this applies to a commercial product before "copying, modifying, or distributing" srd material in a commercial product...

I'm just about 100% positive that you are not allowed to profit off of material from the srd.

For instance, Cubicle 7 - a professional 3rd party producer, used the OGL for their "Adventures in Middle-earth" line. Commercial product. Not hardly a word that I'm aware of (aside from abilities placed in the context of new Classes and Monsters, and appropriate equipment, and little piece meal things - but nothing is copied "whole-cloth") from the srd is in it.

As you can see, it's complicated. If you're trying to sell something, you better get it right. So, talk to a legal expert.
Last edited May 9, 2020 5:05 pm, a total of 1 time
May 9, 2020 5:11 pm
emsquared says:
theeyetyrant says:
So I can’t use wizard or ranger or warlock?
As I understand it, yes, you can. But you can only do so by referencing where their pages are in the srd.
But Harry Potter has Wizards. So does LotR and lots of other things.
May 9, 2020 5:39 pm
Yes, if course. But the srd is their work.

Furthermore, the entire point of the srd is so that ppl don't have to pay for the basic product.

For both of those reasons, WotC doesn't want you profiting off of what is their work and what is supposed to be free to all.

Again.

Talk to a legal professional so you understand what you're doing.
May 9, 2020 6:03 pm
Disclaimer: not legal advice. As emsquared said, best bet is to seek legal advice.

From everything I am reading, it is pretty clear that you can publish and sell products with SRD content if you follow the conditions laid out in the OGL. It is the entire purpose of the SRD and OGL.

From Wizards of the Coast: "The Systems Reference Document (SRD) contains guidelines for publishing content under the Open-Gaming License (OGL)."

The definition of publish: to prepare and issue (a book, journal, piece of music, or other work) for public sale.

Multiple google searches confirm. I can find nothing that indicates the SRD or OGL are off limits for commercial products. This is the purpose of the OGL and SRD, to outline what you can and cannot use in your third party products that are compatible with their game.
May 9, 2020 6:06 pm
Again, not legal advice.
emsquared says:
Furthermore, the entire point of the srd is so that ppl don't have to pay for the basic product.
No, that is the purpose of the Basic Rules. An SRD outlines what is Open Gaming Content, which under the Open Gaming License is permitted to be used for publishing.

Multiple sources confirm:

https://medium.com/@MonsterCards/publishing-your-own-d-d-5th-edition-content-9b771f8b37d0


https://theangrygm.com/save-vs-lawsuit-how-to-publish-dd-content/
May 9, 2020 6:13 pm
emsqaured says:
If you're going to try to sell a product and don't understand your obligations, the best advice is to talk to a copyright lawyer who can explain it to you.
Definitely the best advice in this whole thread. I hope I'm not coming across as confrontational, emsquared :)
Last edited May 9, 2020 6:14 pm, a total of 1 time
May 9, 2020 6:59 pm
Not at all.

I'm by no means an expert on the topic. My advice is probably on the side of caution.

Looks like there's some weird interactions (or lack thereof) between OGL and the GM Guild, and combined with things I've seen like this language from the SRD FAQ:
Quote:
SRD 5.1 FAQ
Q) Why does the SRD only have one background and one feat? Why do the PC races not include all of the subraces?

A) The goal of the SRD is to allow users to create new content, not to replicate the text of the whole game. We encourage players, DMs, and publishers to come up with their own backgrounds and feats.
May be the source of my confusion.
Last edited May 9, 2020 7:11 pm, a total of 2 times
May 9, 2020 7:47 pm
When in doubt, seek legal advice. Those above that said it already are 100% accurate.

My understanding is that everything has to be cited/referenced, and what is permissible to be copied should really only be the what's under the hood of the game so to speak. "Ranger" is very generic and not specific to D&D, but Beholders are off-limits because those are specific to D&D.

When they set up the DM's Guild, one the things that WotC did that was different was allow people to publish with the setting material as well. They set rules out for how you're allowed to do it, but it gave fans a green light to develop Forgotten Realms and Barovia (Ravenloft).


I know it's not 5e, but Paizo has documentation on how to make use of their legal documentation for people who want to their rules. It's pretty helpful, and they're good about providing information on the do's and dont's of the OGL. Its probably cheaper than litigation!

Checking other people's references is also a good idea. You can see how extensive the citations can be, and it can be very nitpicky.

Copyright is tricky, but as long as you're willing to note exactly what you take from the source material you'll be protected.

If I remember correctly, there was an interview from 10 or more years ago (which is why I'm having trouble finding it) and the decision to create the OGL was a business decision. It centered around two things, the longer people play a game the more money it can make, and the better the biggest company in the industry does, then the better the entire industry does. So, D&D decided to create a copyright license to grant people permission to remake the game for profit, but knowing that it was still essentially D&D. This was back during 3.0, but the same logic holds true for the current iteration of D&D and the OGL. When I read that this was the idea behind the OGL I have to say I was pretty impressed.
May 9, 2020 10:35 pm
Tyrant, are you talking about using the terms "Wizard" "Warlock" "Ranger" "Fighter" etc? Say, in a story set in a fantasy world, or are you talking about using the classes with their rules attached for a homebrew system? Everyone here is giving you advice about the latter, and I would agree with them: Seek legal counsel. However, if you want to write a story and you want a Wizard to meet with a Ranger and they run along to talk to some Elves about fighting some Goblins, you can do that. Wizards owns a few fantasy concepts (Beholder being a big one) but they can't own the word "Druid" or "Barbarian". Harry Potter books contain the word "Wizard" and apply it to characters. Harry Potter books do not contain 5th edition rules for the Wizard class (They do predate 5th edition by quite a bit of course, but that's besides the point.)
May 11, 2020 3:03 pm
As @Butcherbird points out -- it depends on your usage and whether or not a copyright can be placed on a bit of intellectual property. Words that predate the product (were in use before the product was created) cannot be copyrighted as they are not sole proprietary words. However, things like Beholder and Harry Potter and Muggles (maybe?) are not viable as they are unique and thus owned. Further the general settings of various worlds are also owned, for instance you cannot create a story based within the Harry Potter world nor the Forgotten Realms without explicit permission.

This is the reason that Marvel and DC have certain characters within their comics that they have done next to nothing with. They wanted to create the concept so that someone else could not and most importantly use the specific name so it could not be used by someone else. However, neither of these giants can corner the market on the word superhero and other concepts as they predate the creation of their works.
May 11, 2020 10:18 pm
That being said, the Copyright has run out on some intellectual property. Most famously, the Cthulu mythos is public domain now, allowing anyone to make content in that setting using those monsters and profit off of it. Similarly, Disney uses a lot of public domain sources for their older films. Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, etc. You can use the public domain versions of those stories, and you can set a story in those worlds, but you cannot use Disney's version of the characters or worlds, nor can you use their artwork. Copyright is tricky to work around.

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