Do I need to restrict users of my site from contributing RPG content that is copyrighted (non-OGL)? Or is there some way to allow the reproduction of such content by users (or even by the whole site) -- such as by a disclaimer or copyright statements -- without endangering the site? As it now stands, the site itself only provides OGL content, but has no restrictions on user-contributed content. How does a site like D&D Tools not get shut down?
(Note from the future: At the time of this question, D&D Tools was a site that comprehensively republished D&D 3.5e's material without license to do so. Ironically, it was shut down in 2014 following legal action by Wizards of the Coast.)
I am designing a website that will offer tools to RPG players. The site will be community-driven, allowing users to share characters, homebrewed classes, and the like. One of the official site features will be OGL-content. The website itself will not provide content that is copyrighted, nor will it have any hand in approving such content that is contributed by users or promote/encourage such activity. But people being people, some users may not think about it while others may not care.
That is, the website will provide things like the D&D 3.5 Core Classes, Pathfinder content, and the like. But some unthinking user may decide to reproduce the Tome of Battle classes (not OGL), and make it publicly accessible (I assume that any user content that is kept private wouldn't even be an issue....).
My questions being:
- What ramifications for the website may such user-contributed content have? If WotC (or whoever) decides to take action, would they be able to threaten to have the entire site shut down? or just force that specific user's content to be removed?
- Is it actually a non-issue? I have seen many Wiki pages, forum posts, and the like that reproduce copyrighted material from D&D, in full or in part. Is that medium of reproduction and distribution more "forgiveable", or just not an issue to big companies like WotC?
How do sites like D&D Tools get away with providing all that content? Or is it just a matter of time before they DO get shut down? All I can find on their site is a disclaimer which reads:
If you, by any chance, wonder [sic] on a page from a rulebook you do not OWN (the source material is always referred both in url and in page contents), please, leave that page, buy the book and then return.
Is that enough to absolve them? Or are they safe because they hail from Europe? because they gain no profits? In an era when a YouTube user can post full-length movies and full albums, and only has to state something along the lines of "This is not my original content", it's becoming unclear to me what can and can't be done.
- Perhaps reproducing the content without qualification would be an issue, but could users simply provide some form of copyright notice / citation (as the D&D Tools site and YouTube users do)? If this is the case, could the website as a whole consider doing the same (thus better ensuring accuracy of content)?
I ask because if the entire site community has to limit itself to OGL content and homebrewed content, then there's really no point in creating the site. I would like to allow users to share what they will, without official endorsement but also without official restriction, and not be afraid that I'll have to start booting users or shut aspects of the site down -- goodbye user base!
Considering that, I'm also willing to consider the likelihood of such a site becoming an issue to WotC and friends, and meeting with unfriendly action. While it may technically be crossing the line, if the likelihood is low for such a site to anger the RPG gods, then it may still be worthwhile....
What say you?
I am well aware that no answers or comments on this site constitute qualified legal advice, nor do I have any intentions of treating it as such. I merely want to get a general sense of things, in order to decide whether it's even worth my time and money to consult an actual lawyer.