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What I'm interested in is the prevalent practices for licensing art within the tabletop games industry:

How is most art commissioned for tabletop games licensed to the creator of the tabletop game itself? For example, how would Wizards of the Coast treat an illustration created for Dungeons and Dragons? What about releasing art into public domain/Creative Commons licensing?

In short, what I'm interested in are answers that look at prior knowledge, industry insights, and legal concerns related to the licensing of external work for a tabletop game.

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What makes you think that CC licenses are iffy when commissioned? That's the normal way of doing this. Typically, an artist will simply charge more for giving the commissioner more license rights; that's true whether it's CC, signing over copyright entirely, or some other agreement. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 14 '13 at 20:13
    
The only issue is that they can potentially be terminated. That is to say, if I didn't get a WMFH then release it to CC myself, I'd be in potential trouble 35 years down the line when the termination right comes up against CC, which is something that we've never seen and I don't want to leave in the air. –  Kyle Willey Oct 14 '13 at 20:21
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You way want to talk to the folks at Posthuman Studios. Eclipse Phase is distributed under a CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 license, and they spell out how the license applies to the art in the books. –  Erik Schmidt Oct 14 '13 at 20:45
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As I understand it, termination rights are only for reclaiming copyright that has been signed away. That doesn't apply to licensing, since no transfer of copyright ownership is involved. AFAIK, a perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide license is irrevocable except under its own termination clause. –  SevenSidedDie Oct 14 '13 at 21:27
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Comments are not for chatting. Please incorporate these into your question. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Oct 16 '13 at 1:36

2 Answers 2

No one will care about your game in 35 years. You will be lucky if they care about it in 3 years. If they do care about it in 35 years, doubtless you will have a new version with new art. D&D isn't still using the same illustrations from 35 years ago now are they?

Many people, and I see this in the tech startup world all the time, get wrapped around the axle of "well but what if..." and it causes them to never actually deliver anything; it becomes a risk-averse excuse for inaction. Which is fine - for the other people who are going to do something instead.

The legal, compliance, competitive, etc. landscape will not be the same in 35 years just as it's not the same now as it was 35 years ago.

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Ouch! That said, you're probably correct, but I'm worried about the "what if" as a theoretical exercise and a guide to best practices. –  Kyle Willey Oct 16 '13 at 3:07
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Best practices include being realistic. :) –  doppelgreener Oct 16 '13 at 4:08

It would seem that Posthuman Studios gets works made as a "work made for hire" then releases them under CC licenses. It wouldn't surprise me overly if other games used a similar system; the copyright licenses in the most recent Earthdawn, Shadowrun, and Legend of the 5 Rings (just what I happened to have) don't mention any distinctions between licensed art and the text of the work; this implies that the copyright is indeed held, not licensed, by the producers of these works, which would typically mean that they were produced as a work made for hire.

So, in short, the common trend seems to be that tabletop roleplaying games are considered a collective work for the sake of qualifying commissioned art as a work made for hire, and to my knowledge no precedent has been established to counteract this general notion.

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I suspect that Posthuman does it this way specifically so they can put the entire game under CC licensing with assurance. Adam Jury just made a comment on a Fate Core Google+ page about the Fate Core conversion kit (in development) for EP being possible only because Fate Core is available under a compatible CC license –  Erik Schmidt Oct 15 '13 at 23:25
    
For Posthuman, that's likely a large part of it; however, for companies that want a closed-license work under traditional copyright, it's still likely the best solution. –  Kyle Willey Oct 15 '13 at 23:28
    
Agreed. People sometimes treat Creative Commons as something distinct from the copyright regime, forgetting that CC relies on copyright. Without copyright there could be no Creative Commons licensing, because it would be unclear who had the legal standing to license the specific rights covered under a Creative Commons license. So the business requirements when commissioning art are similar for closed and CC-licensed collective works. You want to be sure you control the rights, regardless of whether you keep them proprietary or assign them using a permissive license. –  Erik Schmidt Oct 15 '13 at 23:50

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