Monday, February 19, 2018

OBS Content Program is terrible and it is now not just an opinion.

My first post of 2018 was about how the One Bookshelf community content were a terrible deal for authors ... with one exception.In the discussion here and elsewhere commentors noted that much of what I said was opinion regarding a technical area of IP law.

So I submitted a series of question to One Bookshelf. The answers were all I suspected, and not favorable to the independent creator.


If I created a 5e supplement about Daggerford in the Forgotten Realms. And in had some original magic items of my own creation (for example the Spear of Night). Does the DM's Guild license preclude me from using that Item in a product outside of the DM's Guild.
One Bookshelf response
Yes, if you released that content on DMsguild then you cannot release it again as part of an OGL product. You could theoretically put that same magic item repeated in another DMsguild product.

Suppose several years ago I released the Spear of Night in a d20 product and then later incorporate a variant of it in a DM's Guild product.

One Bookshelf response
If you've done that then you should not put the Spear of Night in a DMsguild product.

Slightly more broad, say I release Mongoose Traveller 2nd edition product based on an original setting of my own creation (for example of Majestic Stars). Then I turn around later and release the same material for a different system. Not using any Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition. Does the Traveller Aid Society license prevent me from doing that?

One Bookshelf response
Yes, the Traveller's Aid Society does prevent you from doing so.

What if I released the Majestic Stars under another set of rules and then released a Mongoose Traveller 2e version under the TAS?

One Bookshelf response
No, you cannot do that.

Understand I am talking solely about reuse of control original to me. I am concerned as the Community Content licenses grant rights to derived  works. If I released a hypothetical Daggerford supplement I am fine with that product as a whole remains on the DM's Guild for the duration of its copyright. What I am not fine with is not being able to reuse original concept and elements that are original to me and not based on publisher's IP.

One Bookshelf response
I understand your concern here. If you want to maintain control of the content you should not make it part of any Community Content program. 

Final Comments
What makes this bad are the consequences it implies for being successful. If somebody is successful with any of these community content programs, and has built a body of work that in part original to them, the license preclude not only ever use it elsewhere but also forbids preparing derivative works.

This is particularly problematic with programs like the DM's Guild and Traveller Aid Society, as they are not just about a specific setting, but also define much of what is fantasy roleplaying and science fiction roleplaying through their culture impact. The derivative works clause comes close to being literally shackled to a specific factory floor.

It understandable that publishers want to maintain control over their own IP. These community content programs are innovative in the IP holders giving up some of the traditional control over one's IP.

Incorporating a no derivative content clause into these agreements to the third-party creator or original content is unjust. The use of a publisher's IP and the publicity behind the program does not make this a fair deal, and Wizards, Cypher, Mongoose, and the rest should ashamed for including this as part of the IP agreement being used.

This is even more so when you consider that under current US Law there is a specific provision for author to regain the rights to the works they created between 35 and 40 years after publication. Steve Jackson used this recently to regain the rights to the Fantasy Trip, Melee, and Wizard.

This exists because Congress, in a rare moment of sanity, recognized that publishers all too frequently take advantage of new authors. The newbie authors are forced to sign draconian contracts that effectively surrender lucrative rights to the work they create. It not some theoretical or ephemeral problem, but something that currently exists throughout creative industries.

Shame on the publishers for doing this, and shame on One Bookshelf for enabling it. Don't force authors to wait 35 to 40 years to get back rights that are theirs. Change the agreements to eliminate the claim to derivative content, and until then, spell out ALL of the rights the authors will be giving up front and center of the agreement and FAQ.

Note: Thanks to Douglas Cole of Gaming Ballistic taking the time to edit my post.


Konsumterra said...

i agree with everything you have said

if i did anything for these programs It would be my second best
any good ideas I had I would save for something else on my own later
id consider these programs just to build a new audience and try direct them to my other works

faoladh said...

Well, there you go then. Too bad. I'd thought that they were interested in having interesting content from a wide designer base, but apparently they only want to skim off of the mass of desperate wannabes.

Anders H said...

In fairness to DMs guild, I don't think they make any effort to hide this.

If you value your work as your own and envision it as potentially greater in scope than DMs guild, you should not publish through it.

Troy said...

Could be worse, like Palladium’s agreement. You make something wholly original for their systems (kinda hard with Rifts but maybe...), they retain all rights to it. It’s why a lot of 3pp websites for Rifts and Robotech have died off.

neuronphaser said...

They are up front about all of this in their agreement. Furthermore, think of it like writing freelance (which is effectively, in many ways, what this is, right down to how taxes work if you make over $600 on the Guild): you're writing for someone else. If Marvel hires me to write an X-Men comic, and I create a new character for that comic...that's not my character any more, and for good reason. Theoretically, when they hired me to write that thing, I agreed to the pay up front with full knowledge that they'd take my creations, my plotline, my ideas, and I'm okay with that.

DMsGuild is the same in that respect. More importantly, your DMsGuild account automatically syncs with OBS' other platform(s), including DriveThruRPG, where you can sell anything OGL/SRD-based, and not give WOTC any royalties at all, plus gain access to selling tools that aren't locked down by WOTC's agreement (true bundles, timed sales, contacting previous purchasers, etc.). You can also sell such projects through any channel you want, and thus not even have to pay OBS any royalties for their sales/marketing/infrastructure. In fact, folks can legally sell directly D&D 5E-compatible stuff very easily, such as the tactics guide Live to Tell the Tale (see, because it doesn't reproduce game rules, but works instead as a discussion and review of game play. (Obviously that wouldn't allow for you to create new rules content and have the D&D name on it, but I think that's entirely the point of what I'm saying.)

The issues you bring up are only issues when framed from a perspective that the DMsGuild Community Agreement specifically tells you not to take, right up front.

IMHO YMMV of course.

MTB said...

The DMs Guild is very clear on these points. You are giving up substantial control of your IP in return for access to D&D IP and a massive marketing base.

Is it a "terrible deal"? That is a value judgment, and YMMV. For me, it's been an excellent deal. Would I have done as well writing generic 5e fantasy content for rpgnow? It's impossible to know. But, at the moment, I want to write Dungeons & Dragons material. It's been a lifelong dream fulfilled!

JetstreamGW said...

No, it really is just an opinion. See, the thing is, the entire point of these programs -- the only point of these programs -- is the fact that being part of them provides you with some manner or another of legitimacy or marketing help. They're upfront about their expectations of people publishing using their name, their trademarks, and their IP. They expect and demand exclusivity, and it's part of the agreement you make when you sign up for it.

If that isn't to your liking? Don't use it. That's super simple. You can either have the whatever piggyback their name gives you, or you can not.

You must only decide which of those two things is more important to you.

Anonymous said...

I'd be fine with only being able to sell that specific content on dmsguild - abiding by a certain amount of exclusivity in order to have access to aspects of their IP and trademarks I otherwise wouldn't be able to use. There is a benefit to that. Especially if you are a nobody who wants to test the water, build an audience, etc.

The problem is, while this seems like a nice thing to do for content creators, it absolute is not. They are essentially stealing the IP of content creators, and then denying them the ability to profit from it in any other way. In "Rights you grant to OBS" it states that YOU are not allowed to create derivative works of your own work, further expand on your IP, create merchandise to sell for YOUR creations that would have nothing to do with any WoTC trademarks or IP and profit from it BUT they are allowed to. In any way they see fit. They could take it, make a Netflix series of an adventure you wrote, sell tshirts with a funny line of dialogue you wrote an NPC saying, and you wouldn't see a dime of it. But hey, you made $50 in sales on DMSGuild.

I know the odds are better of winning the lottery than a netflix series being made from an adventure you published on there, but it's the principle. You would not be able to independently go and shop around a work with your characters or even your setting for something like that, or make a movie, or write a book using that IP that YOU created ever again. Because you are expressly forbidden from creating derivative works of your own material while granting them the ability to do so.

I'm not going to write something that I'm actually going to care about, create characters or use characters and settings that I have created and developed and continue to develop in my own campaign - that I would like to share with people - if the cost to publishing means I have to sacrifice my ability to ever be able to potentially profit from it, while another company(s) are free to do whatever they so choose to do with it and dictate what I may or may not be able to do with it. If it was a specific piece of content I created being exclusive to that platform, fine. But saying I could never reuse the NPCs I may have put in that adventure, or that specific village where all of the adventures I wrote is set, or even write works of fiction about those NPCs or expanding on a location in that adventure I did, then that's a problem.

Because here's the thing - OBS isn't paying me to do this. WoTC isn't paying me to do this. I'm not a freelancer for them. You can't draw a comparison between content created and sold on DMSGuild and a work-for-hire contract writing for X-Men and the like, because in those cases the creators get paid for their work. If I write something and put it up for sale on OBS/DMSG I'm not getting paid for it and then having my rights taken away. I wouldn't have nearly as much of an issue if I was to write a 17-Page adventure, get paid $2-500 for it to be on DMSG and that was it, and it became a runaway success that made them hundreds of thousands of dollars, it would suck but that would be the deal that I agreed to. By their language of "you can get paid by selling the content you create on here" they are ignoring the fact that you actually lose the most valuable parts of your IP. And I don't think a lot of people are completely aware of that. They aren't hiring you to create content, they are merely hosting a marketplace - a marketplace that many people feel they have no other choice but to use to get their work visible - and therefore aside from a host-exclusivity agreement, should not have the extensive rights that they attempt to claim over creators IP. That's objectively wrong and an abuse of their position of power.

TL;DR - OBS/DMSGuild/WoTC and others content programs are the RPG equivalent of Harvey Weinstein inviting you to his hotel room and offering to make you a star if you watch him jerk off into a ficus.

Anders H said...

Here is what you get from the DM's Guild: Getting to piggy-back on ´the most valuable roleplaying IP in the world by a country mile, use their branding and their platform to broadcast.

There are no traps here. If you value your IP, don't use DM's guild. I don't see the unfairness that they are somehow robbing you of a right to use their IP, branding and sales platform because you want to keep your own IP.

I doubt I would ever use DM guild myself for many of the same reasons already stated, but this sense of entitlement that WotC should be more generous in providing access to their IP, brand and sales platform so you will have an easier time selling your own stuff does not sit right with me.

The SRD gives you plenty of freedom to publish on your own terms. Lots of people have been successful with this. OBS provides a strong platform for this as well.

Jon Bupp said...

Here's my question on the matter...

I have a few products that I've put on the Guild. I've had some sales, but nothing fantastic.

If I were to delete them and remove them from the Guild, would I be able to use them elsewhere?

neuronphaser said...

Not without significant changes. It's in the agreement and FAQ.

Robert Conley said...

@Jon Bupp, no you agreed for the duration of the copyright to keep them within the DMs Guild. Moreso the derivative content clause means that you can't repurpose the specifics in a product outside of the guild even if it doesn't use anything from D&D 5th edition, Forgotten Realms, or Ravenloft.

Looking over your releases which ones would you repurpose outside of the Guild?

Jon Bupp said...

I was just wanting to move away from the DMs Guild for future releases, and was wanting to keep everything under one umbrella, so to speak.