GSL Update for D&D 4e

So today Wizards of the Coast officially released the new Game System License and System Reference Document for Dungeons & Dragons 4e.  I have two words: not impressed.  I should state that I am not a lawyer, though I did take Intellectual Property (courtesy of IU School of Law) while I was an undergraduate.  My interpretations may be flawed, but I almost guarantee the GSL put the licensee in a position to be screwed.  I’ll go over the sections that turn my stomach:

2. Updates or Revisions to License. …Licensee is responsible for checking the License regularly for changes, and waives any right to receive specific notice of changes…

Yeah, I am not going to bind myself to a license whose terms can change without notification.

3. Licensed Products. The  license  granted  in  Section  4  is  for  use  solely  in  connection  with
Licensee’s publication, distribution, and sale of  roleplaying games and  roleplaying game supplements  that contain  the Licensed Materials and are published  in a hardcover or soft-cover printed book  format or  in a single-download electronic book format (such as .pdf), and accessory products to the foregoing roleplaying games  and  roleplaying  game  supplements  that  are  not  otherwise  listed  as  excluded  in
Section  5.5 (“Licensed Products”).

5.5 Licensed Products. … For the avoidance of doubt, and by way of example only, no Licensed Product will (a) include web sites, interactive products, miniatures, or character creators; (b) describe a process for creating a character or applying the effects of experience to a character; (c) use the terms “Core Rules” or “Core Rulebook” or variations thereof on its cover or title, in self-reference or in advertising or marketing thereof; (d) refer to any artwork, imagery or other depiction contained in a Core Rulebook; (e) reprint any material contained in a Core Rulebook except as explicitly provided in Section 4; or (f) be incorporated into another product that is itself not a Licensed Product (such as, by way of example only, a magazine or book compilation).

I put this section and subsection together, since that is how it makes sense to me.  This means you can only publish books.  Period.  No magazines/periodicals, websites, software, or anything that is not a book.

5.4 First On-Sale Date. Licensee will ensure that no Licensed Product is first on sale to consumers prior to October 1, 2008.

Why do we care?  This date has come and gone and no longer applies.  If they can change the terms whenever they like, as per Section 2, why waste my time?

6. Quality and Content Standards. The nature and quality of all Licensed Products will conform to the quality standards set by Wizards, as may be provided from time to time. At a minimum, the Licensed Products will conform to community standards of decency and appropriateness as determined by Wizards in its discretion. Without limiting the foregoing, no Licensed Products will depict in any text, graphical or other manner:

(a) excessively graphic violence or gore; (b) sexual situations, sexual abuse, pornography, gratuitous nudity of human or humanoid forms, genitalia, or sexual activity; or (c) existing real-world minorities, nationalities, social castes, religious groups or practices, political preferences, genders, lifestyle references, or people with disabilities, as a group inferior to any D&D 4E Game System License ©2008, 2009 Wizards of the Coast page 4 of 7 other group or in a way that promotes disrespect for those groups or practices, or that endorses those groups or practices over another.

Without limiting the foregoing, Licensed Products will not contain any content that is unlawful, defamatory, harassing, threatening, abusive, inflammatory, fraudulent or otherwise objectionable or that would infringe upon or violate the rights of any third party or constitute, encourage, or provide instructions for a criminal offense.

No Book of Erotic Fantasy or Purge the Christian Infidel game!  I totally get rankled at anything that censors any creative (or non-creative) expression of any kind.  Piss off Wizards!

9.3 Protection of Wizards’ Rights. Licensee will assist Wizards to the extent necessary or as requested by Wizards to protect any of Wizards’ rights in and to Wizards Intellectual Property. Wizards will reimburse Licensee for any reasonable out-of-pocket costs incurred as a result of providing such assistance, provided that Wizards has approved such costs in advance. Licensee will not institute any suit or take any action on account of any such infringements or imitations, or otherwise institute any suit or take any action relating to Wizards Intellectual Property. Licensee will take no action that will harm, misuse or bring into disrepute the activities, properties or products of Wizards or Wizards Intellectual Property.

9.4 Remedies. Licensee recognizes and acknowledges that its breach of any of the covenants, agreements or undertakings hereunder with respect to use of the Licensed Materials, including without limitation trademark use requirements or quality standards, will cause Wizards irreparable damage which cannot be readily remedied in damages in an action at law, and may additionally constitute an infringement of Wizards’ rights in Wizards Intellectual Property, thereby entitling Wizards to equitable remedies, costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

If you have an issue with anything Wizards of the Coast is doing, no matter if it is relating to this license (least that is how I read it), you cannot take any action (legal or otherwise).  And if they take you to court, you have to pay for their attorneys’ fees and costs.  This is the you’re screwed if you agree to this clause.

10.2 Survival. Sections 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19 and 20 (together with all other provisions that reasonably may be interpreted as surviving termination of this License) will survive the termination of this License.

Oh and the you’re screwed if you agree to this clause will continue to apply even if the license is terminated!  Major bullshit!

I didn’t bother reading much of the remainder of the license, as this was enough to convince me it still sucks.  Wizards basically removed the clause that was causing dispute about having product lines published under the GSL as well as its predecessor, the OGL.  They also added a six month window to sell off any stock after YOU terminate the license.  No fan site, periodical, or software policies either.  Not a big improvement.

I’d go over the SRD, but there isn’t much to talk about, literally.  Epic Fail in my book.  My verdict is that you have access to more material and have less risk if you just fair use the elements that are not protected.

Listening to: Corporate Avenger – Freedom is a State of Mind – Taxes are Stealing

18 thoughts on “GSL Update for D&D 4e

  1. I didn’t have much a problem with the last one, the new one…doesn’t seem like it changed much at all. My main gripe with it is the deliberate inability to make page number citations. That’s just…sad.

    Wyatt’s last blog post..Magic In Eden

  2. Thanks for the go through, I didn’t bother really reading it myself as I don’t personally care much about 4ed. I like your assessment of “Epic Fail” on the SRD. Personally, I thought it was basically just a list of things.

    Bonemaster’s last blog post..Randomcon 2009

  3. @Bonemaster: I haven’t placed stock in 4e either, but I wanted to see what took WotC EIGHT MONTHS to revise the GSL. Yeah, they announced plans for the revision on August 11, 2008. Doesn’t look like they got much accomplished.

    @Questing GM: Yeah, I remember it being said that Clark Peterson of Necromancer Games was sort of their bellweather for industry reaction to the GSL. I’d like to hear what he has to say about it (maybe I’ll try to find a point of contact and ask).

    @Wyatt: My gripe is they set a precedence with the OGL. Now they are trying to push this watered down liability trap on publishers, if they want full control of their goddamn game, they should just scrap the entire license and just make deals with people they want producing 3rd party material.

    @Vulcan Stev: I truly wish happy gaming to you on Game Day, but I won’t be participating.

    @Trask: Agreed. I do like how they included the Core II books, if the SRD had actually had any content…

  4. @Zachary: Yeah, just got back from reading your link to his comment on ENWorld… why do I feel like he is just kissing someone’s ass?

  5. I think that Wizards of the Coast realized that they missed out on a lot of good stuff with their initial launch of 4e and now that the fans have started to come up with materials to address those gaps they’re being punished. I think Wizards forgets that in the end this is a game and is supposed to be fun.

    Ameron’s last blog post..Where Are The Familiars?

  6. I agree the SRD seems like wasted space to me. Regarding the updated GSL, I suppose I’m glad they updated it. Though it doesn’t directly effect me. I don’t tend to puchase much 3rd party material. While we do publish adventure’s at Dungeon’s Master, we don’t sell them. Which makes me think I governed by the unpublished fansite policy, but then I’m not a lawyer so I just follow the GSL as best as I can.

    I agree with Wyatt on page numbers though. Since we can’t put monster stat blocks in the adventures we can only list the names. No page number to assist in finding the monster quickly. Seems a little too much to me.

    Wimwick’s last blog post..Where Are The Familiars?

  7. This is the first Game Day in a while I won’t be participating in, just as an aside. Think I might run something different, though.

    It still seems like they hold an awful lot of power in this thing, and it wouldn’t take much for them to exercise it in a way that’s negative towards the 3PP. Court costs, stock destruction, IP competition/swiping–and you’re basically signing away your rights to do anything about it.

    As I mentioned on my site, though, it looks like Clark is satisfied with it.

    Zachary Houghton’s last blog post..New GSL

  8. @Ameron: It seems to me that the current Wizards executives want tight control over what is considered material for their new baby. Which is fine, they own the IP, but they can keep the rubbish they call the GSL.

    @Wimwick: If I were to publish a 4e adventure, and I was smart enough not to sign on with the GSL, I’d put page number references in anyways. I am pretty sure that isn’t protected by any form of IP law.

    @mxyzplk: Yeah its better, like having a knife stuck in my back that is only two inches long instead of four…

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  10. Interesting that the standard haters continue to hate, while the third-party publishers seem pleased and several stated they would be signing the GSL within a couple of hours of it going up…

    I swear, WotC could have had a clause in there stating that once you signed the GSL, they would send a hot Russian girl to your house to fellate you every thursday and your response would have been:

    “What!? Why Thursday and not Tuesday? Why not twice a week. Why Russian? Piss off wizards!!”

    I mean, you call Clark Peterson an ass-kisser for liking the revised GSL, where the hell do you get the stones for that level of condescension? Your mindless nerd rage makes your “opinions” on all things 4e completely worthless.

  11. @Thasmodious: Well, I call it how I see it. Over half a year ago, Peterson said the following about the GSL:

    “Right now, in my view, the GSL needs some major reworking or clarification to be usable. The bottom line, in my view, is that the GSL is a total unmitigated failure. And that is a shame..

    Do you think the mere exclusion of the clause that made it difficult (but not impossible) to publish OGL and GSL products at the same time is “some major reworking”? Has adding a very strict (as in obtaining it) six month window to sell of stock in addition to the removal of the previously mentioned OGL clause raise the GSL from the status of “a total unmitigated failure”?

    I think not. So of course his current opinion of the GSL mystifies me… Why would someone who spoke so adamantly against the GSL quickly change his mind over, what many consider, minor changes?

    This is not a 4e hate thing, I play 4e (spent ALL last GenCon playing), it is a decent game, but not my preferred game. Hell I even write material for 4e. This is soley about the Game System License and Wizards and other proponents claiming it is now “awesome” or “significantly better.” I don’t think it is. Coming from a creative standpoint, the License is too stifling. Coming from a legal standpoint, it is a minefield.

    The GSL is a collar and leash that Wizards would like to put on potential third party support so 1) it forces customers of most 3rd party products to purchase WotC core 2) forces WotC moral values on content 3) helps maintain WotC’s chokehold on market by giving them plenty of legal option.

    And as I said in my previous comment, if Wizards wants tight contorl over their IP, that is perfectly fine. I just think the GSL is sugar-coated pile of dung that Wizards hopes to control 3rd party supplements through. What I am saying, if you read the very last sentence of my article is you would have less liability and more freedom if you published compatible material under Fair Use.

    I think what puts the fear into most publishers is they may not understand exactly what is fair game under fair use and would rather wear Wizard’s GSL yoke than face that uncertainty.

    So maybe you are just suffering from nerd-blindness coupled with a little nerd-rage of your own. Why shouldn’t I question whether or not to drink the same nerd kool-aid you, Clark, and the pleased third-party publishers have drank?

    Bottom line: if you don’t like my arguement, please propose a counter point on why I am wrong instead of railing on about some moronic bullshit like how I would turn down a hot Russian girl… which by the way would have to deal with my wife first.

  12. The argument is that the same things you are bitching about, like they are some great evil unleashed by WotC are the same things that comprised the d20 STL, which was used for many years by many companies without a problem. The only real “incident” from its use was WotC amending it “at will” to include a quality standard as a means to block publication of the Book of Erotic Fantasy under their license. That’s it. The main difference between the GSL and the d20 STL was the GSL’s clause about having to abandon all OGL or d20 STL product lines when signing the GSL. Removing that is very much a major change. The d20 STL had no self-termination clause, no sell off period, and could also be changed at will by Wizards, and was.

    Your post reads like you are completely unaware of the STL. At no point do you mention that the very clauses you are freaking out over where a part of the d20 license which many 3PPs operated under for years. This is either from a lack of knowledge, which seriously brings into question the validity of your opinions, or a disingenuous attempt to color the discussion and mislead readers who are less informed on these issues. I’m curious to which this is?

    In case its the former, I’ll summarize – the removal of clause 6 (in the original) leaves the 4e GSL extremely similar to the d20 STL, only with more rights for those who sign the license, such as a right to self-terminate and sell off inventory.

  13. @Thasmodious: I didn’t like the d20 System Trademark License either. However, the d20 STL is no longer valid and has not been valid since the inception of this blog. So I guess I could write on about historical dung Wizards has put out there, but I’d like to keep things like this current. But it is important to know the history, so we can continue…

    Until Version 5 (there were 6 versions!), there were no content resrictions, and the STL was engineered to work with the OGL and SRD. The STL was used if you wanted to use the official trademarks on your product, while the OGL/SRD was there for content development. There obviously isn’t a 4th Edition version of the OGL and the SRD is lacking, to put it mildly.

    Up to an including d20STLv4, if you didn’t like the extra restrictions on the new version of the STL: “For a period of 90 days You may continue to distribute any pre-existing material that complies with a previous version of the License. Thereafter written consent should be obtained from Wizards of the Coast. Subsequent versions of this License will bear a different version number.” (as per Section 9). There wasn’t a self-terminate clause, but if you didn’t want to use it, you could just remove the logo and keep trucking because you had the OGL.

    With version 5 & 6 (~Semptember ’03) they took out the provision to sell off for 90 days as well as introduced the content restrictions.

    So, in my opinion the STL was superior because it had the OGL and a decent SRD. The STL still wasn’t the greatest, but the new GSL is a pale comparison because it does not have an OGL and has a very, very weak SRD.

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