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.
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.
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?