24
\$\begingroup\$

Okay, this might be a stupid question (sorry about that) and possibly even a duplicate, but is it okay legally to blog a D&D 5e story, that is, to publish a kind of "actual play" publicly?

Sure I know I can publish any story of mine... but what if it contains stuff Wizards have copyrighted / trademarked? (Like, I don't know, certain names, items, monsters, whatever.)

I acknowledge this is not binding legal advice and none of you are lawyers and all of that jazz.

\$\endgroup\$
35
\$\begingroup\$

TL;DR If thousands of other people are doing exactly the same thing for years on the net and the current employees of the firm are endorsing it (by participating, streaming, tweeting, linking-to, it) you are in the clear.

There are literally tens-of-thousands of blog posts, wikis, podcasts, and vlogs of actual-play including by D&D employees past and present.

You don't need a lawyer to know that they aren't going to start suing and issuing DCMA takedown orders of anything in any of their modules that is published as a session-summary.

You don't have to be a lawyer to know that a typical real-play posting contains more original work than the copyrighted source (module.) Which, if you don't sell it as another work, is clearly a derivative work.

If I were Wizards/Hasbro, I wouldn't publish an explicit exception/license for this purpose, as it draws another fuzzy line in the legal sand that is redundant and might further confuse their IP history around this product.

{BTW, Though I am not a lawyer - I've been an executive, including CEO, in several gaming start-ups and dealt personally with the creation and protection of copyrights and patents. Massive Real-Play postings are a dream come true for us.}

\$\endgroup\$
13
\$\begingroup\$

Short terms can't be copyrighted, and your actual play is highly unlikely to contain reproductions of passages of WotC-copyrighted material unless you're cutting and pasting material from the adventures or books for some odd reason.

There is one common misstep that you might need to deliberately avoid though: it is a widespread practice to decorate blog posts with official art. That is copyright violation (and has never qualified as fair use), and should always be avoided, in Actual Plays or otherwise. (Officially-released promo images are a special case, but should still be avoided for mere decoration unless you're clear on their terms of use.)

Others' trademarks are legal to use so long as there is no chance that what you are publishing could be confused for official product. Trademark law exists to prevent people from profiting from pretending they are a different company. Since the very essence of a 5e Actual Play is saying that you are players of 5e, and presumably you're not going to claim to be or imply you are owners or employees of WotC acting in an official capacity, there is an astronomically minuscule chance that even one person would be confused—and it takes the possibility of widespread confusion to be anywhere near a possible improper use of another's trademarks.

As has been pointed out, many people are already blogging and posting Actual Plays. That isn't complete evidence that a practice is legal even if a company endorses it—things like writing Harry Potter fanfiction is widespread but still not technically legal even if the IP owner unofficially endorses or tolerates it, for one counterexample to that logic—but the fact that it's widespread combined with the way that copyright and trademark law isn't even relevant does provide a substantial weight of evidence for a pretty confident lay interpretation of the status of Actual Plays as legal.

As always, I continue to not be a lawyer or give legal advice, being only a lay person intensely interested in IP law for years and desirous of spreading better understanding of these issues that are integral to our daily use of the wonder that is the Internet.

\$\endgroup\$
10
\$\begingroup\$

The simple answer is that it's legal but if Hasbro decide to sue you it won't matter because you won't have the cash to argue and anyway they'll lean on your hosting service who will cut you off in a moment.

This is exactly the state things got to in the dying days of TSR (when they became known as They Sue Regularly); they never got anywhere near a court but it didn't matter. Of course, they lost a ton of free publicity and goodwill which helped to sink the company, but that's the legal world for you.

d7 has an archive of the sorry mess that was the TSR legal fiasco so you can go and watch a company commit suicide if you like. Stand out quote: '"They don't have to. All they have to do is threaten legal action and the administrators will back down. I mean... who really cares about a bunch of gamers?"'

TSR didn't, for one.

It is amazing what people think is covered by copyright despite all the relevant law being available online. Characters is a classic; they're not. This has been tested in US and UK courts many times. They may be covered by trademark, but that only really matters when you're, well, using the name to trade with. Having James Bond in a book is not (and has never been) a problem if you keep his name of the cover and the publicity material. The same applies to words like "Greyhawk", let alone stuff like "Orcus" or "Fireball".

There is the possibility of odd exceptions, though. In the UK it is dangerous to do anything with Peter Pan as the work is specifically and individually legislated for in this country, so a "Peter Pan" module might actually attract some trouble even though copyright has technically expired, if you quote chunks of text. But, again, all the written law is online so you can check yourself and decide.

Remember: every court case has two lawyers who generally have opposing opinions based on the same laws; don't blindly trust them any more than you blindly trust anyone else you'll be paying by the hour.

Also note that copyright and trademark law has moved on since the 1990s, so don't take the arguments in d7's archive as gospel. The idea of trademark "domains" has been greatly blurred in the US and other countries since then, for example.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ In the early days of the web (1993-200x) people were very confused about intellectual property - Paramount (Star Trek) originally tried to shut-down fan stories and images on the web. People eventually got less stupid when they figured out how to sell-to and via that market. \$\endgroup\$ – F. Randall Farmer Nov 30 '14 at 1:01
0
\$\begingroup\$

To echo @adriano above: I am not a lawyer, so don't think what I'm about to say has weight in a court of law.

But I will mention that there are precedents for this sort of thing in the past:

So lawsuit seems unlikely, but you never know when some corporation is going to get needlessly litigious. But if it were me I'd take the chance.

\$\endgroup\$
-2
\$\begingroup\$

Copyright is quite complex and can be confusing when it comes to copyrighting novels or rpg materials or computer programs. Many of the rules are logical but some are completely defying logic. Also a problem there is that laws depend on the appropriate country and how the companies and their lawyers (try to) interpret them.

The main problem is always to find out what is acceptable/legal and what is not. You can go the way to first look what the company seems to permit by looking around what their employees do, ... . As a few have already stated there are similar things that you plan to do posted and also helped with by employees of wizard. Even though that is a very good indication you have to keep in mind though that an employees stand on things is not necessarily the companies.

Another point I've seen brought up time and again is that: There were no problems for years so its legit. I'll take games workshop here as an example: After a long while they suddenly sued fansites of theirs for using materials from them without approval. Other companies did the same in the past .... suing fansites, cost free fan computer programs, .... all of a sudden.


What is the essence: If you look around and look what seems to be acceptable for a company it only works partially as it does not say anything about the stand the company takes. So what else can be done? Reading the general business terms (hope that is the correct translation) of the company. They are bloated up and quite a few pages with juristic terms and phrases.....if you are not a lawyer and expert at reading those....good luck interpreting them correctly.

So that also does not bring one far.

So in reality only 1 real option remains for non lawyer fans. Contact the support of the company and ask if what you plan on doing would be acceptable for them.

There are some companies who don't react, but normally companies tend to answer such a question. The main advantage of doing that is: If you keep the message saved you have it in hands that the company approved of your actions which is the only way to be 100% that what you are doing can't have any precursions (or if they suddenly change mind you can tell them "you said differently to the concrete question so stay off my back").

Also one thing to always keep in mind: Even if a company has a positive stance on something it only takes 1 change in management for it to change completely. The only thing that is binding is if you get a direct message of them saying that you can do what you want to do.

\$\endgroup\$
-4
\$\begingroup\$

As long as you are not posting stat blocks of monsters or NPCs (other than of your own creation) it is fine.

\$\endgroup\$

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.