The Hillfolk licensing decision #1: Potential Licences

Posted on 27 October 2012

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Robin D Laws is a respected and long-time tabletop game designer who is currently funding his RPG Hillfolk on Kickstarter. Two of the stretch goals for that project were open licensing for the DramaSystem (the rule system behind Hillfolk) and the GUMSHOE RPG (a game about investigations).

Laws and his supporters are currently discussing which licence to apply to the DramaSystem and GUMSHOE. The specifications are:

  1. “[L]ow-hassle licenses that encourage uptake by gamers and commercial users alike.”
  2. For GUMSHOE, the ability to stop translations from being published.
  3. Preferably, a share-alike licence which requires downstream creations to be licensed under the same licence as the original work.
  4. A licence which is friendly to creators who want to keep their intellectual property proprietary. So for example, if George Lucas wants to make a Star Wars GUMSHOE RPG, he needs to be able to keep his Star Wars intellectual property all rights reserved.

Five options have been proposed so far:

Creative Commons Zero. CC0 effectively releases a work into the public domain.

How does it measure up?

  1. CC0 is the most publisher- and gamer-friendly licence possible.
  2. The only public copyright licences that would fulfill this clause are the Creative Commons NoDerivatives licences, which don’t meet the other three criteria.
  3. This is not satisfied. There is no share-alike provision in CC0.
  4. Satisfied.

However, there is a problem with CC0:

  • The creators of the DramaSystem and GUMHOE are not guaranteed to get credit for their work.

Creative Commons Attribution. CC BY is the simplest of the six main CC licences.

How does it measure up?

  1. CC BY is publisher- and gamer-friendly.
  2. The only public copyright licences that would fulfill this clause are the Creative Commons NoDerivatives licences, which don’t meet the other three criteria.
  3. This is not satisfied. There is no share-alike provision in CC BY.
  4. Satisfied.

There are no problems with CC BY beyond its lack of a share-alike provision.

Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike. CC BY-SA is the only copyleft licence that CC offers.

How does it measure up?

  1. CC BY-SA is publisher- and gamer-friendly.
  2. The only public copyright licences that would fulfill this clause are the Creative Commons NoDerivatives licences, which don’t meet the other three criteria.
  3. Satisfied.
  4. It is unclear if this is satisfied. If a game qualified as a ‘collection’, then separate works in the collection could be separately licensed. For example, a game with one chapter of rules and one chapter of setting information could presumably have only the setting chapter CC BY-SA-licensed.

There are no problems with CC BY-SA beyond its potential ‘stickiness’, which could lead to some material that publishers want to be proprietary to be released under the licence.

Open Game License. This is the only public copyright licence I can think of that was created by a company rather than an activist organisation. It is a share-alike licence, but users can quarantine certain material which is not licensed. (For example, ‘Open Game Content: All of Chapter 3 except the word “Jedi” and the section on “Phasers”.’)

How does it measure up?

  1. The Open Game License is a well-known public copyright licence in the gaming community. Commercial publishers trust it, and gamers are familiar with it.
  2. The only public copyright licences that would fulfill this clause are the Creative Commons NoDerivatives licences, which don’t meet the other three criteria.
  3. Satisfied.
  4. Satisfied.

However, there are some problems with the Open Game License:

  • Publishers make such vague open game content declarations that it is often impossible to know which content is open under the licence and which content is not.
  • Content under the OGL is incompatible with content under CC BY-SA.
  • The attribution requirements for the OGL are very weak. It is easy to publish a work where the original creators are almost impossible to identify (the OGL’s Section 15 is often bloated and always lacking in context—in fact, that lack of context is a legal requirement!).
  • The OGL is no longer supported by Wizards of the Coast and therefore probably won’t be updated if problems arise with it.
  • The concept and practice of Product Identity is complicated, untested and poorly defined. It may give publishers a lot of power to restrict the use of even common terms, or alternatively give them no power to restrict the use of even very important terms. (Maybe I’ll write a blog post on why this is).
  • The OGL might not be a free culture licence. For example, it restricts licensees from mentioning the original work. <http://freedomdefined.org/Licenses/OGL&gt;

OGL/CC Hybrid: The exact wording of this hybrid has not yet been proposed, but it does pose some problems:

  • It will be incompatible with all CC BY-SA and all OGL material.
  • It will be complicated and untested.
  • Like the OGL, it may not qualify as free culture.

Next blog post, I’ll be discussing potential solutions!

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