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I had planned on creating a Twitch/YouTube channel. My username on PS4 and other places contains the name of a D&D monster (the bugbear.) Would my channel ever be in danger of action against it from WotC for using the name?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the stack Sarah_Bates! Take the tour when you have a moment, and feel free to peruse the help center for more in-depth info about the site. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Apr 19 at 20:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KerrAvon2055 That's a good point! I'm just wary of the changes to copyright laws, especially if I want to create a bugbear-esque character for an avatar. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 19 at 20:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SarahBates I'm not a lawyer and have no significant knowledge of laws, codes or terms and conditions for Twitch / YouTube / WoTC. That said, are you thinking of a D&D anthropomorphic bugbear-esque avatar, or some savage-looking bear (as per the ancient definition)? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 19 at 20:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KerrAvon Not in itself a clincher. "Space marine" dates back to 1932 (component words much earlier) but Games Workshop still managed to get "Spots the Space Marine" pulled from Amazon on a highly spurious trademark claim. Looks like Hogarth eventually won that one, but nobody wants that kind of annoyance in their lives. AFAIK WotC haven't trademarked "bugbear", so it should be safe. But were one to use "beholder", the fact that it's cited to 1374 might not prevent legal harassment. \$\endgroup\$
    – G_B
    Apr 22 at 9:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ This question was cross-posted to the Law Stack, for the record. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 22 at 13:19

1 Answer 1

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“Bugbear” is completely safe to use as a username

“Bugbear” is an English word for a creature from English folklore that’s over 400 years old; Wizards of the Coast not only does not, but cannot, have exclusive rights to it. As long as you use the word, and not something Wizards of the Coast does have exclusive rights to, such as a piece of artwork they paid for or text their staff wrote, they couldn’t and wouldn’t touch you.

“Safe” means you won’t get sued, but…

If Wizards of the Coast objected to you using “bugbear,” they’d have no legal recourse. If they tried to bring it to court, they’d probably get slapped on the wrist for wasting the court’s time. But to be honest, the courts probably wouldn’t even get involved—instead, it would go something like this:

  1. You use “bugbear” in your username.

  2. Wizards of the Coast at some point notices, and decides they don’t like that.

  3. Wizards of the Coast calls up their sales rep for the advertising they do on the service where you have the username, and says “We don’t like this username. Fix it.”

  4. That sales rep calls up their own user management team and says “My biggest client has a problem with this username. Fix it.”

  5. The user management team suspends your username and tells you to choose a new one. If you ask why, they might (assuming they don’t just ignore you) vaguely say it violated the terms of service, but without specifying exactly what the violation is. You never get another answer on the subject.

  6. You choose a new username, or you choose a new service.

Realistically, I’d be shocked if Wizards of the Coast cares about anyone using “bugbear” in a username—but if they did, they can stop you. It just won’t be via a lawsuit. They could never sue you—but they also don’t have to.

WotC material about bugbears may not be safe at all

If your avatar included a portion of their artwork, or you quoted a portion of their text, they might have some claim of copyright infringement where they could actually sue you. They probably won’t—it’d be a waste of their time and money when they could just call up the service and have them take down the offending material—but they might have a case, where they’d claim your use of their property cost them money somehow and demand you pay them back for it. Brands are really good at documenting what the value of someone using their brand is.

However, that depends on how and why the copyrighted material is used, and in many cases a limited quotation from their text would be protected. If it was “hey, here’s what the book says so you don’t have to buy it,” a judge would probably say that’s infringement. If it was “hey, here’s some of what the book says so you understand the context as I critique it,” a judge would probably protect you. Likewise, “I put some cool art on my channel to get people’s attention,” is probably not protected; “here’s some cool art I want to talk about as part of my review of the book,” probably is.

(I use “probably” a lot here because until you actually go to court and a judge actually rules, we can’t be certain about anything in this field. These are pretty basic cases that are fairly certain if they are as literal and simple as I’ve presented them, but ultimately the devil’s always in the details.)

Your own art based on WotC art may not be safe either

One of the things copyright does is give one exclusive rights to derivative content. So if you take their art, and then change some things, that’s a derivative and they can still stop you from using it. (Technically, you also have copyright, to the things you added or changed, and could stop them from using your derived work—in this case, it’s in limbo and neither of you can use it. But since they can still use the original, they probably don’t care, while you have nothing you can use.)

Another kind of derivative work is using characters from a copyrighted work in a new work. You can’t do that either. This gets tricky, though—“a bugbear” isn’t really a “character” per se, and it’s not clear how much Wizards of the Coast’s depictions of a bugbear are just interpretations of the folklore, versus something they invented themselves. You see this kind of problem a lot around stuff where an original work is public domain, but later famous derivative works are not—the most famous example probably being The Wizard of Oz. The 1900 book by Frank L. Baum is public domain, and anyone can use any of it for anything they like. The 1939 film with Judy Garland et al. is not public domain, and remains copyrighted (until 2035). So if you want to use something from The Wizard of Oz, you have to be very careful it was in the original book, rather than something introduced by the film—such as, say, the ruby slippers, which were invented for the film and aren’t in the book.

Bugbear stuff is in a similar situation. Anything based on the original folklore is totally safe. Anything that’s clearly based on specific pieces of art owned by Wizards of the Coast is definitely going to be trouble. Artwork that’s original, but kind of looks like the D&D take on bugbears, or inspired by, etc., is murky and potentially dangerous, though probably safe unless it’s really blatant. (This “probably” is much less strong than those used above, though.)

A username referencing WotC property could be a problem too

“Bugbear” is safe because it’s an English word that Wizards of the Coast has no rights to. Another username might not be, if it’s something Wizards of the Coast does own. In that case, they could sue you for copyright infringement and/or trademark violation. Just because it’s a username doesn’t necessarily make it safe. For instance, they could argue in court that your username tricks viewers into thinking you were an official WotC channel, or affiliated with them, or endorsed by them, or otherwise traded on their reputation, and this hurts them because people usually pay money for that kind of thing, and anyway they don’t want anything you might say or do to make them look bad.

In reality, though, again, they’d send you and/or the service you’re using a letter alleging something along those lines, and you’d just change your username or have it changed for you, because that lawsuit would be ruinous even if you managed to win it.

You also could license some D&D bugbear content

Wizards of the Coast licensed the entire 5e SRD under the Creative Commons license (CC-BY-4.0). That means that, as long as you abide by the license—which requires that you include a copy of it and note what Wizards of the Coast work you’re using—you don’t have to worry about copyright, Wizards has said it’s OK.

That includes a bunch of things, but not any art:

Deck of Illusions

[…]

Playing Card Illusion
[…] […]
Eight of hearts Bugbear
[…] […]

Almost as numerous [as the most common player character races] but far more savage and brutal, and almost uniformly evil, are the races of goblinoids (goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears), orcs, gnolls, lizardfolk, and kobolds.

Bugbear

Medium humanoid (goblinoid), chaotic evil
Armor Class 16 (hide armor, shield)
Hit Points 27 (5d8 + 5)
Speed 30 ft.

STR DEX CON INT WIS CHA
15 (+2) 14 (+2) 13 (+1) 8 (−1) 11 (+0) 9 (−1)

Skills Stealth +6, Survival +2
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 10
Languages Common, Goblin
Challenge 1 (200 XP)

Brute. A melee weapon deals one extra die of its damage when the bugbear hits with it (included in the attack).
Surprise Attack. If the bugbear surprises a creature and hits it with an attack during the first round of combat, the target takes an extra 7 (2d6) damage from the attack.

Actions

Morningstar. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 11 (2d8 + 2) piercing damage.
Javelin. Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/120 ft., one target. Hit: 9 (2d6 + 2) piercing damage in melee or 5 (1d6 + 2) piercing damage at range.

None of this is particularly likely to help your use-case, but it is good to know.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can sign this position with my username. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 19 at 20:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, how are they going to come after you for "Nobody"? \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    Apr 19 at 22:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent answer. It would be slightly improved if you gave a specific example in the "actual WotC property" section, such as "illithid." \$\endgroup\$
    – DLosc
    Apr 20 at 17:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Most of what WotC open-licenses isn't even copyrightable. They provide such a permissive license that there's nothing to go to court over, and thus no risk that the court decides the scope of their IP to be much smaller than it seems. Anything truly original to D&D like the Gith and Illithids is excluded from open licenses. \$\endgroup\$
    – Therac
    Apr 20 at 20:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @falsedot Ultimately, the question only asks about username, not anything else. So the top line answer that—and then there are lots of other big, bold caveats on that. Seems appropriate to me? \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 21 at 0:26

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