Wizards of the Coast has sent a cease-and-desist letter resulting in the closing of popular fan site “Ema’s Character Sheets.” As usual, they refuse to comment on that action or commit to actually delivering a fan site policy so that people might be able to operate safely.
Ema’s Character Sheets had loads of high quality character sheets for 3.5e, 4e, Star Wars, and other games. They had 4e power cards, too. You could even save your characters up on their server for a fee, and they had a character builder functionality. Which was all great, and has been running without comment for years, until WotC finally got their 4e Character Builder done, then it’s nap time for the competition.
The worst thing about all this is that Wizards is going after folks without even delivering the policies that should let people know if they’re “safe” or not. The GSL revamp, the fan site policy – all in limbo for months with nothing but statements like “Well, it’s not really that important” from Scott Rouse.
Sure, the data Ema’s site (and hundreds of other sites across the Internet) was using is Wizards IP. They certainly have the “legal right” to go after anyone so much as saying the words “Dungeons & Dragons” on their site. But the point of the gaming community is to let people use that IP to advance the game. Rouse says “Oh, you know, we only really care about pirate sites posting whole torrents of our books.” But that’s clearly a lie in the face of this action. And he crosses the line from honest company rep to corporate shill when he says things like “not one website has been sued because of a lack of policy” (emphasis mine). No, you don’t have to sue them, they close down when you C&D them because they can’t afford the lawyers you can, and they are risking their own personal money, time, and life while you get to hide behind incorporation and an organization.
So what was the problem with Ema’s? That they charged for storage? That they had a “software” component? That they used Wizards IP? No one knows, and so no one can avoid that. As one poster on ENWorld pointed out, “My avatar here is Wizards IP [it's a pic of Tanis Half-Elven's face from DragonLance]. Can they come after ENWorld?”
The answer, legally, is yes. Their IP is their IP in our insanely corp-friendly legal system. Whether it’s charged for or whatnot is immaterial except in whether the company decides in its own mind whether you’re worth the effort to crush or not. This is why people put out real licenses and policies to create an understanding with the community that has to use some of their IP to do anything meaningful.
So for everyone who’s been taking Wizards at its word, that “Oh, you’re safe unless you’re a pirate” – it’s not true any more. And until they deliver a revised GSL and fan site policy, you can’t know if you’ll be safe. But don’t worry, they’re working on it. Real hard. Because one day soon, they will change their ways and decide to value rather than just shit on you, the online gaming community. Seriously, they say they will! How could you not believe them?
[Thanks to ENWorld for breaking the news - here's the whole long forum thread if you're interested. I'll note that ENWorld charges for community supporter accounts and has 4e character sheets and power cards for download too (including Forgottten Realms IP). And where do forums/wikis end and "software" begin? Not sure they are really all that far from Ema's site on this one.]