Wizards Fan Site Policy – What It’s Good For

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they turn.  At long last, some six months after a little spate of shutting down Web sites, and a year after they were supposed to come out with one, Wizards of the Coast has published an official fansite policy and you can see it here.  Here’s some analysis for you.

The Bottom Line

Basically, if you follow some guidelines you get to use some images they provide you in a zip file. That’s it.

Is/Is Not

The guidelines aren’t too bad (though you have to have long copyright stuff on every single page), but in the end the payoff is a little pointless – you just get to use some (38, mostly product covers) of their images to use while worshiping them online.  But what it most crucially does NOT allow is any kind of original work or use of the actual content of the D&D game (in my opinion, graphics are incidental content).  I quote:

Please note that this Fan Site Policy does not allow you to publish, distribute or sell your own free-to-use games, modules or applications for any of Wizards’ brands including, but not limited to, Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. If you want to engage in any of these activities related to Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, such use is subject to the Game System License.

So all it lets you do is add graphics to your site, but not meaningfully develop content.  You can then use the GSL, which allows you to develop certain content as long as it’s in PDF (HTML and plaintext are NOT ok).  Here’s more analysis of the GSL to help navigate those waters.  Technically you have to use the GSL to refer to their trademarked terms, rules, etc.

From the GSL:

Licensee may reprint the proprietary 4E reference terms, tables, and templates (each, a “4E Reference”) described in the 4E System Reference Document…

If you want to make a D&D adventure, or new class/race, or variant rules, or whatnot and put it on your Web site, this fansite policy does not help you.  You have to either follow the GSL or do a really good job of knowing your rights to use their content under existing copyright/trademark/trade dress law, which is tricky.  (But doable – Kobold Quarterly and other products have published for 4e without a license.)

(NB: I am assuming that clause could be construed to “override” the GSL clause that “For the avoidance of doubt, and by way of
example only, no Licensed Product will (a) include web sites, interactive products,…”  Otherwise the fansite thing says “See the GSL” and the GSL says “see a cold day in hell.”)

Comparison – Pathfinder

Compare the Pathfinder fan site policy, which allows such use as part of itself -

• You may descriptively reference trademarks, proper names (characters, deities, artifacts, places, etc.), locations and characters from products listed in Section 1 of our Community Use Approved Product List at paizo.com/communityuse/products, provided it is clear that these are our marks.

• You may descriptively reference dialogue, plots, storylines, language, and incidents from products listed in Section 1 of our Community Use Approved Product List at paizo.com/communityuse/products in campaign journals and play-by-post or play-by-email games.

And of course the rules are OGL in the first place, which is why they don’t mention rules terms in that quote.

Comparison – White Wolf

Hmmm, even the quite objectionable White Wolf fansite policy allows  use of copyright/trademarked stuff:

White Wolf trademarked and copyrighted material may be used in the presentation of standard nonprofit, nonrevenue generating HTML World Wide Web Pages, non-graphical MUSHes, MUDs, MOOs, IRC and all similar Chat environments as per the Requirements and Restrictions listed below. If, for some reason, you do not wish to participate in Dark Pack, please understand and acknowledge that you and your site must still fulfill all of the other requirements listed on this page. The same goes for fan projects. They must be nonprofit and nonrevenue producing. No money. You cannot make any kind of money off of White Wolf intellectual property.

Your site should not have Google Adwords. Your site cannot be hosted by a company that inserts banner advertisements or Adwords, even if you do not get the revenue.

Of course that banner/AdWords stuff is pure hateful crap but at least in general you can use the material.

Conclusion

This new fansite policy doesn’t explicitly have any “evil” statements in it, which is a step up for WotC in their first passes at new licenses.  But it is telling in what it leaves out – any “safe” ability to use the 4e rules and content itself.  Is this deliberate?  Or do they think of D&D as a “brand” exclusively now so mentioning what us old timers think of as the “real” part of the game is passe?

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12 responses to “Wizards Fan Site Policy – What It’s Good For

  1. So…. basically….. the fansite allows you to mention 4ED and use a couple of covers, but only if you don’t use your fansite to post any new adventures/characters.contents for said game? Because all of that has to be done via the OGL, which ONLY allows you to create said content in PDF form?

    Well…. if that’s an accurate reading… that is COMPLETELY assinine.

  2. Replace OGL with GSL (WotC does not believe in the OGL any more) but otherwise, yes. It’s kinda odd to even bother with it.

  3. Pingback: Wizards’ Fan Site Kit is not a fan site policy - The Seven-Sided Die

  4. Actually, I found the “evil” in this “policy”. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, in that it purports to be a policy (i.e., something that applies to everyone because it’s a statement of company policy) while it is actually a legal license (i.e., something that only applies to people who choose to enter into the license).

    Evilly, WotC is now pretending that they have a fan site policy when they don’t, and they’re misleading people into believing that everyone has to abide by this contract because most people understand that things called “fan site policies” work that way. Since they still haven’t released a statement of policy on how they plan to handle fan sites in general, only a license that people can accept or not, they have actually increased the uncertainty among fans and increased the amount of guesswork people will do when deciding to write about D&D.

    However, I do believe that the evil is due to WotC Legal, not all of WotC. They’re managers and designers, so I don’t expect them to be able to make the distinction or see how deliberately misleading it is to conflate such different documents.

    (Why yes, I did just finish writing a 2000+ word post about this. Does it show?)

  5. Pingback: Wizards: Regras de fansite e se preparem para mais quebra-quebra « Ponei Riders Blog

  6. I wonder, does anyone who games/likes the fans at WotC like their legal department at all?

  7. Pingback: WotC Fan Site Policy Reactions | Matt M McElroy | Flames Rising Horror & Dark Fantasy Webzine

  8. @Zachary: More importantly I wonder if they have any clue about the value of connecting with fans as a way to increase revenues. It’s always fun to see which mega-corps (and Hasbro is one, don’t kid yourself) understand how to connect with fans as opposed to those who ignore them or (much worse) try to use them (get the appearance but not the heart of connecting).

  9. For those keeping score, here’s some other fansite policies to compare.

    Steve Jackson Games
    Pinnacle Entertainment Group
    Traveller
    Palladium Games

  10. Kevin Siembieda’s Internet Use Policy.

    Pure comedy gold.

  11. You’ll be happy to know I dialed it back from the much more grotesque options available.

  12. Pingback: WotC’s Releases Fan Site Kit to Widespread Ridicule « Worlds in a Handful of Dice

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