Burning the Library

In response to the community revolt over changes to the #OGL WotC have released an updated OGL1.2 draft. There are various changes to the terms of the proposed 1.1 but I wish to focus on those that affect the existing body of Open Game Content developed over 20 years.

The OGL1.0 and 1.0a create a contract between “the contributors”, meaning anyone who has contributed to a bucket full of shared resources called “the Open Game Content”, and the publisher making a derivative work using material from the bucket.

It allows anyone to put any part of their work into the bucket, and take whatever they want to use out of the bucket, as long as they otherwise abide by the terms of the license.

With 1.1, WotC tried to steal the bucket. They claimed the right to “de-authorize” earlier versions of the contract – a term as meaningful as “de-publish” or “de-sign” – which effectively meant they could dictate the license terms for all OGC content, regardless of who originally contributed it.

Edit: It also contained conflicting definitions of the content being shared.

Licensed Content (what used to be called “Open Game Content”)

i. Usable D&D Content (“Licensed Content”) – This is Dungeons & Dragons content that is included in the SRD v. 5.1, including basic game mechanics and a curated selection of classes, monsters, spells, and items that allow You to make content compatible with Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition.

So it both says that 'Licensed Content' includes the content previously defined as OGC, and that it doesn't.

1.2 removes this ambiguity. It is not an open license, creating a commons to which anyone can contribute. It is purely a third party publishing license for the SRD5.1.

And they still claim it replaces the “de-authorized” 1.0a. So where 1.1 left you to use OGC except under the draconian terms of 1.1, 1.2 leaves you unable to re-use this work at all. There is simply, by their claim, no “authorized” OGL contract capable of licensing it.

Instead of stealing the bucket, they are now simply kicking it over so nobody else can have it.

They also claim that work published previously under 1.0a will still be licensed, but this isn’t in the contract. Instead, they put new terms in a legally dubious “Notice of Deauthorization”:

NOTICE OF DEAUTHORIZATION OF OGL 1.0a. The Open Game License 1.0a is no longer an authorized license. This means that you may not use that version of the OGL, or any prior version, to publish SRD content after (effective date). It does not mean that any content previously published under that version needs to update to this license. Any previously published content remains licensed under whichever version of the OGL was in effect when you published that content.

Saying they have “de-authorized” the contract is, as I have said, like saying they have “de-signed” an agreement, so it seems very unlikely they actually have the legal power to do this; but let us accept for the sake of argument that they do.

1.0a is either an authorized agreement or it is not. If it is not, then by its own wording it cannot be used for publication. Here they say that 1.0a is no longer authorized. A “Notice of Deauthorization” is not a legal contract. It cannot apply new terms to the contract it has just invalidated.

So when they say

It does not mean that any content previously published under that version needs to update to this license.

that is not a legally binding contract clause: It is just ‘a thing they said’, like when they said

if Wizards made a change you disagreed with, you could continue to use an earlier, acceptable version at your option. In other words, there’s no reason for Wizards to ever make a change that the community of people using the Open Gaming License would object to, because the community would just ignore the change anyway.

and we all know how that turned out.

So the effect of 1.2 along with “de-authorization” of 1.0a, is to make 1.0a content unlicensed and unpublishable, with a non-binding claim that it actually is licensed and publishable, but only for old content.

Even if this is honored, the library of freely usable material represented by the OGC, created by hundreds of contributors over 23 years, will be locked away and unlicensed for use in any further works.

Some of those contributors will re-release their work under Creative Commons or the upcoming ORC license, but for some – who are no longer with us, busy with other things, or whose work relies on WotC material such as the D20 SRD – that work will not be recoverable.

If WotC are allowed to burn the OGC library it will be salvaged, and placed on a firmer footing, but it will never be recovered in its entirety.

And if there’s one thing D&D fans don’t like, it’s book-burners.