Info on the Open Gaming License



WARNING! This is not legal advice. The author is not a lawyer. You are not his client. This represents only one author's personal opinions about the OGL. If you use this information you use it at your own peril.

Keep in mind that I wrote this FAQ from my readings of United States law. Some foreign countries, particularly in Europe, have concepts in copyright, patent, and trademark law (such as a creator's moral rights to intellectual properties) which may not only result in somewhat different interpretations than those presented below, but which may render the OGL partially or wholly incompatible with the laws of some jurisdictions.

Always consult an intellectual properties attorney familiar with the laws of your jurisdiction and international law if you have serious legal concerns about the use or interpretation of the OGL.

 

What is the Open Gaming License (OGL)?

It is a license to let you borrow information from other game developers, information that they have designed to open up to you. If you abide by the terms of the license, you can use the information they have offered you. You can find a copy of the here. You can find the "official" OGL frequently asked questions (FAQ) files here. I do not agree with everything in the "official" OGL FAQs, but you might. Another good source of information is to be found here, a site which includes a wonderful mailing list of industry insiders to help you understand the OGL.

I've heard the OGL is just for RPGs, not board or card games?

Nothing in the license says it can't be applied to board or card games. No, not every single component in a game needs a copy of the OGL in it, as long as the distribution, as a whole, has sufficient information to determine which components are covered, and which aren't.

What are Open Game Content (OGC) and Product Identity (PI)?

OGC is content that you distribute to others using the Open Gaming License (OGL) that you want other people to be able to reprint, reuse, and to be allowed to produce works based on your OGC. OGC is often called "open content". PI is content you don't want others to use. OGC and PI are declared as part of OGL usage on a work-by-work basis. The owner of the OGC and PI writes a declaration statement telling people what is OGC and what is PI. Ideally the declaration statement should be clear enough that a reasonably intelligent person with a highlighting marker could unambiguously highlight all the words and images that you intend to license them as OGC without highlighting a single word that you intend to list as PI and intend to refuse to grant them.

You can protect some types of things under the OGL. They are called "Product Identity" (also known as "PI" or "closed content"). You have to own something to declare it as PI. Therefore you can't declare something as PI which you acquired rights to because you got it as borrowed OGC. If somebody gives you OGC, it must remain OGC.

You have to very clearly distinguish OGC from PI by declaring for the recipients of your work what is and is not open. The definition should be clear enough so that if the recipient owns no other products but yours, the user should be able to figure out for each and every word in your product what is OGC and what is PI. A classic blunder by lazy or inept users of the OGL is to include vague OGC declarations. An example: you want to list something as PI, but you are too lazy to list a really long PI definition, and anything short is so complicated so as to make your brain hurt. So you try to write something vague and say at the end, "if this is too vague, just email me and I'll give permissions on a case-by-case basis." You just blew it. The point of the OGL is so that people should not have to ask you for permission -- the point of the OGL is to give permission, so get it right and make things crystal clear even if it makes your OGC and PI declaration statements a little longish.

 

What happens if I fail to include an OGC and PI declaration statement?

Do not find out. The OGL says that any covered work should, by default, be considered to be 100% OGC except for the parts that you declare as PI. Now if you include no declaration, you are definitely in violation of the license. You have a right to fix that. However, if anyone has since derived content from your work with no guidance from you as to what you intended to protect you may have a lot of hard work ahead of you trying to get them to stop using the content you intended to protect. Basically, you'll create a lot of chaos in everyone's lives, particularly your own.

What is a "work"?

"Work" is a word that is a "term of art", in other words something without a very precise definition that is sort of interpreted via context. It generally means a "commercial unit" something that could reasonably be sold to someone as a stand-alone product. A photo is a work. A drawing is a work. A poem is a work. A logo is a work. An article is a work. A book is a work. A song is a work. A sentence is probably not a work. If something is a paragraph in length, but is a self-contained whole unit (like a poem) then it probably counts as a work, but if it's just a single paragraph out of a larger text, it probably isn't a work.

Another type of work is a "derivative work". This means that you have produced a work based on another work. If I create a character and license you to use that character, you might produce a new story with my character. That work would be a derivative work. A derivative work can contain parts of that work which are not derivative, parts that are 100% original. Those parts will not be derivative parts even though the work as a whole might be considered to be a derivative work. Now, lots of books in the world contain just a tiny bit of material from another book: a sentence, a paragraph, a reference, etc. That type of use is often called "fair use". You don't need a license for it. However, more extensive uses are not "fair use" and can only be carried out by the permission of the of the original work. Such permission generally takes the form of a license, like the OGL.

Works can contain other works. Works that contain other works can be called "compiled works" or "compilations". A magazine, for instance, is a work by itself. The thought that went into picking and choosing articles makes the collection worthy of being called a "work". However, each article and picture in the magazine may represent a different work.

Who can contribute OGC?

The owner of a trademark or copyright can contribute items as OGC.

Do I give up my rights of ownership when I label something as OGC?

No, you still own it. You are the only one who can license those materials to others outside of the OGL. However, you have given rights to others to produce materials under the OGL. As long as they use the OGL for their products, and act according to the license, you can't take those rights away from them. Once you declare something as OGC you can never take the rights associated with that declaration away from anyone using the OGL. If you have the right to declare something as OGC, you can't later come back and declare that "something" as Product Identity or deny people the right to distribute the content under the OGL.

Who owns parts of a derivative work produced under the OGL, and how does that impact which parts can be declared as Product Identity (PI, or "closed content")?

Each unaltered part of a derivative work contributed by someone else is still owned by the person who contributed it. In sections where new content is thoroughly mixed with borrowed content, if that content can be separated, then the new portions belong to their creator. If they can't be separated or if the supposedly new content is entirely unoriginal and thoroughly based upon a borrowed work, then it is likely that some or all of that mixed content will belong to the person or people from whom you borrowed the materials. This is not that important under the OGL if you intend on opening up all your new content. It is very important if you are trying to prevent some of that content from being reused, because you can only close off certain types of content, and only if you own them entirely. If you are not the owner of the content, you can't close it off. And you have to be able to clearly identify what you own from what others own in such a fashion that others can clearly identify the parts you intend on closing off from the parts which you don't. So, for example, you can't say, "I'm closing off all the stuff I added." That would be insufficient. It would be unclear.

Can I release software under the OGL?

Maybe. People disagree on this. Remember, that there is a requirement that you be able to declare clearly what is and is not open content. Now this is easy if you distribute "source code" or an interpreted scripting language. If, however, you compile your software into binary files you may be in trouble. The user has to be able to identify what is and is not open. Now you might be able to just say, "the whole piece of software is open." That might suffice. The problem is, that unless you wrote your own compiler, your compiled binary may contain some materials owned not by you, but by the manufacturer of your compiler. Now they might have given you a license to distribute compiled binaries, but that's very different than giving you actual ownership of all the content of the binary. In that case, it will probably be impossible for you to be able to clearly identify what is and is not open. So, you might be able to declare compiled software as OGC, but you'd probably want to send a lot of questions to your compiler manufacturer and consult an intellectual properties lawyer if you are going to distribute compiled stuff under the OGL. As for original source code, that's a lot easier to distribute under the OGL and can probably be handled like any other OGL distribution.

If you are licensing software, don't forget that if you are distributing the output of the software (as opposed to simply giving people a way to generate their own output) then some types of output might actually require their own OGL designation.

Some people claim that even if you own your compiler and you declare 100% of your binaries as OGC that you are in violation of the license, because people cannot tell what's inside the binary. I'm not sure I agree with this. I cannot see how "everything is OGC" is at all unclear if nothing in the binary is not OGC. People would have permission to distribute your binary freely, decompile it, etc. Just as the OGL does not expect you to distribute your PDF games in "unlocked", unprotected form, just as the OGL doesn't require you to translate Russian games into English, just as nothing in the OGL requires you to distribute your original computer code if you distribute OGC output from that software, nothing about the OGL suggest that your content must be particularly easy to copy piecemeal by unskilled parties or that they have any rights to see the original code you used to develop the software.

I believe that you must only clearly mark what is open content, and that nothing could be clearer than "everything." Since some other major industry folks disagree with this, you would do well to limit your OGL software distribution to source code only or to retain a lawyer if you try to distribute compiled binaries. The originator of the OGL has a FAQ concerning their opinions on this issue. While these opinions are not binding and should not be considered the only way to read them (and I, in fact, disagree with many elements contained therein), you should be well aware of these opinions before you go out and produce compiled software binaries under the OGL.

How do other licenses interact with the OGL, and what's a PI license?

In short, they don't easily work well with the OGL unless they were specifically designed to do so. This is another potential nightmare for software developers. If you are one of those people who think that software shrinkwrap licenses are valid then you want to make sure that your compiler license does not place any restrictions on the programs you distribute, because the OGL says specifically that you can't place any restrictions at all on OGC distributed with it except those restrictions already in the OGL.

Now, one type of license the OGL does work well with is a specifically designed Product Identity license. This is where you draft a license granting permission to use your PI (to those who give you specific credits, pay you money, or do whatever it is you are asking for) so that people can use both your PI and your OGC.

I want to release my stuff under the OGL and the Creative Commons License at the same time, can I?

First, realize that the Creative Commons licenses don't have any PI provisions, and it is meant to license a whole work at a time, so if you want to use the Creative Commons license, either use it on a work that you intend to license away 100% of, or extract those portions that you intend on licensing and put them in a separate document if you can. There are other more complicated ways to mark subworks for Creative Commons licenses, but that's the simplest way.

Now, if you have a work that is 100% your own (i.e., you didn't borrow any OGC material from ANYWHERE else) then you can slap both the OGL and a Creative Commons license on it with notes that licensees can choose to use either (but not both licenses). In general, I think you are better off picking a license and sticking with it, but this gives you some options. Keep in mind that a work can't readily be governed by both licenses simultaneously because the OGL doesn't allow you to attach additional terms to OGC distributed with it (so you can't demand that people using your OGC also publish a copy of the Creative Commons license too).

I just bought a book that borrows from a lot of sources. Do I have to own all those books to borrow content from my new purchase?

Technically, no. If the author of your new purchase did his job, then you are safe to use anything he says is open. If, however, he or anyone he borrowed from didn't do their jobs, they might have declared as open somebody else's closed content. Then you might inadvertently do the same in your works, repeating the previous author's error.

Does this mean that I am responsible for adhering to the product identity statements in every work that anyone I borrowed from also borrowed from?

Maybe. This is unclear. The license doesn't make it entirely clear whether you have to abide by all the works in the chain of derivation, only those works which you reasonably have access to, or only the work you borrow directly from. The very safest thing is to abide by all the PI declaration in all the works in the chain that you have access to.

You might only be contractually bound to obey the PI declarations of the work you borrowed from, but why take the chance?

I have licensed artwork from another party. They haven't distributed the artwork under the OGL. How do I handle this?

Tough, tough question. The OGL technically applies to the entire work which it covers. As noted above, sometimes works contain other works (compilations, etc.). You might be able to declare the OGL to cover just the text of your work (saying that that is one work) and not to cover at all the art in your work (treating them as separate works, wholly outside of the OGL).

Now, a lot of folks in the industry treat this as a simple solution. They simply don't define the licensed artwork as OGC and they don't define it as PI. In fact, they don't say much about it at all (except what's required of them by the separate license). This might be acceptable, except that the OGL explicitly says that the entirety of any licensed work is to be deemed OGC except that which you declare as product identity. However, you are required to declare what is and is not OGC. Maybe this can work. A lot of people will tell you that you can. I suspect primarily that people tell you that you can do this because a lot of people engage in this behavior, but it's not entirely clear from the language of the license that this is acceptable compliance with the terms of the license.

Ideally, if you can talk the licensor of the artwork you are using into declaring the artwork as Product Identity then your life will be a lot easier. Then you can say, "the following pieces of artwork are the Product Identity of [X] and they are used with permission via a separate license."

Now, you might be able to do this without their permission, because, although product identity can only be declared by its owner, it might be inferred that you have been granted sufficient authority to declare it as unusable. However, this might be a violation of the license. Consult a lawyer if you are going to do something like this.

If the license has default assumptions about OGC and PI, why do I have to declare what is OGC and PI?

Because you are allowed to declare some things as PI that would otherwise be OGC. Also, nothing forces you to make something PI if you'd rather declare it as OGC. Because you have discretion you can use, you are expected to say how and where you are using that discretion.

What can I declare as PI?

Anything that's on the list of items eligible to be declared as PI can be declared as PI if you own them. You can't declare something as PI that was licensed to you as OGC.

Can I declare my game rules as PI?

This is a gray area. The definition of OGC says that rules are by default OGC (except the parts that are declared as PI). The definition of PI says that "ideas" and "language" can be declared as Product Identity. That's pretty broad. Some of the larger publishers using the OGL have used these types of PI to lock down some rules or rules-related phrases. The bulk of the industry does not believe that it is acceptable.

A close reading of the OGL says that by default everything in a covered work is OGC except that which is PI. It also says that rules are OGC except where they embody PI. Do rules embody PI? They are certainly the intersection of "ideas" and "language". So it seems like you might be able to declare rules and rules-related phrases as PI, but things get a little more complicated.

However, the PI declaration implies that one may need to be the "owner" of some or all types of items to be declared as PI. If only I were a lawyer or the license had a clearer grammatical structure. I refer you to Section 1(e) of the OGL itself for the definition of PI. It may be that only trademarks need to be owned. If no traditional ownership is required for PI'd items other than trademarks, PI would have wide reaching protections. It seems to me, however, in context, that the requirement of ownership was meant to apply to all the items on the PI list.

Certainly one can own a copyright or a trademark. But rules can't be copyrighted or trademarked. They can be patented. You might be able to own a patent, but there's no other way to really own a rule under normal intellectual property law. You can own a copyright on the verbatim expression of a rule, but only insofar as that form of expression is unique enough to be considered different from the rule itself.

"Ownership" is not defined in the license. Since the product identity list includes things which cannot be owned under normal intellectual property law (like poses), it may be possible that we should infer a definition of "ownership" that is broader than normal intellectual property law. This is unclear.

The only thing that is obvious that you definitely can do is to open up the rules themselves and to close off their verbatim expression. You would have to declare the OGC and PI declarations very clearly, however, and that might be difficult. Now the OGL seems to suggest that you could otherwise lock down all sorts of things as PI, but the "ownership" requirement seems to be an extremely gray area. Get a lawyer if you are planning on trying to declare your rules as closed content.

If you declare your rules as open content, then you won't really be any worse off than you are if you don't have a patent on those rules. Outside of the OGL, without a patent, most of your rules wouldn't be protected by copyright anyway, according to the U.S. Copyright Office, nor are other ideas, methods, and systems, nor are some types of blank forms (e.g., very simple character sheets) unless they contain content and design elements that are not primarily utilitarian in nature.

Does Product Identity provide protection for things which aren't copyrightable?

Again, the question of ownership arises as a gray area for me. The OGL lists all sorts of things as protectable that are not normally protectable under copyright law. For example, names themselves are not normally copyrightable, but they are eligible for PI protection. Does one have to own a spell name as a trademark to declare it as PI? Who knows. Certainly collections of spell names are copyrightable in the same way that a recipe collection is copyrightable even though a single recipe is not. So, you can clearly declare a collection of names as PI, as you clearly own them. Whether you can declare an individual, untrademarked phrase or name as PI is something somewhat controversial regarding the OGL.

What is an SRD?

"SRD" means System Reference Document. Typically, but not always, its a rules extract from a print product. Generally the rules extract is 100% Open Game Content (and no Product Identity or other things that you can't publish without permissions other than the OGL). Different gaming systems have them. However, if someone refers to "THE SRD" (as if there were only one), then people normally are referring to the so-called "main SRD" or "fantasy SRD" of the world's largest manufacturer of role-playing games (although they have a modern role-playing SRD too). You can find a few SRDs here. They are normally developed to encourage other people to reprint parts of the SRD in question in the process of making compatible products.

RPGNet has a good thread on different kinds of free and professional PDF versions of the "main SRD".

The OGL says I have to clearly identify what is OGC. Who gets to determine what is clear?

In the end, the answer would be "the courts". They haven't decided that yet. I think the clearest answer is probably that everybody should declare their OGC in such a fashion that it is clear to a reasonable, intelligent person of the intended target audience who owns no other works other than the one being distributed to him by the person using the OGL. So, if your target audience is "people who speak Russian", then the OGC declaration has to be clear only to people who read Russian.

You should probably avoid statements like "everything that is derivative of the SRD is OGC and everything else is PI". That's wildly vague and would require the person to have a specific the SRD in question, plus make entirely subjective decisions about what is and is not derivative.

Similarly, if you cannot find a clean way to filter out parts of a section which involves some new work of yours and some pre-existing OGC, you should definitely declare as much of that section as possible as OGC, declaring only those parts as PI which are readily identifiable (such as trademarks which you have declared by name).

Do not assume that the recipient of your products will know what you own and don't own. Don't say, "all my trademarks are PI." Tell the end user what those trademarks are.

There's an old joke that will help you think about mixed content that you don't adequately provide information on how to separate one thing from another.

What do you call it when put an ounce of wine in a vat of sewage? A vat of sewage.

What do you call it when you put an ounce of sewage in a vat of wine? A vat of sewage.

The moral is, "separate the stuff yourself or find a way to tell people how to easily separate it or you could be in trouble."

Can I say that my game is compatible with another game?

Not if the name of that other game is a trademark. The OGL prohibits this without a separate license. A number of vendors have such separate licenses. If you are a small self publisher, particularly of PDFs, etc., you may actually get a little extra business and build up some good karma if you make a simple 2-3 sentence license allowing people to declare compatibility with your products under certain circumstances of your choosing. If such licenses require people to contact you, then don't draft something that appears to be a license to make a compatibility declaration, and instead just tell people to contact you on a case-by-case basis but note that you are open to the idea.

My friend's friend declared something as PI in some book I don't own and haven't read, but I've heard about. Do I have to obey that PI restrictions? What happens if some guy in a basement in Kansas independently invents something I did, but I declare it as OGC and he PI's it? Did I just violate his PI rights?

First, realize that there's no all-encompassing, hive-mind-like, universal pool of PI. You are responsible, at most, for the PI declarations of products in the chain of derivative products you are borrowing from, not the PI declarations of products you have never seen and which the people you are borrowing from have not borrowed from.

The gaming community is divided on the nature of PI. Some people believe that if something is PI'd but you can find a non-PI'd source of the same phrases, ideas, etc. that you can ignore the PI declaration. Other people think that PI represents a "forbidden list", things you must avoid even if you can find them elsewhere, that you are giving up rights you normally have outside the license if you want to borrow the OGC of the person who made the PI declaration. There's no clear answer. Clearly treating PI in books you are borrowing from as "forbidden" is 100% safe. While trying to find alternate sources may give rise to a lawsuit, even though you might eventually win such a suit.

What is this thing called Section 15?

Read through the OGL start to finish. Section 15 is the only part of the OGL you are allowed to change, and only in the fashion the license tells you to. Effectively, Section 15 is an ever-growing chain of OGL licensed resources that granted some type of OGC to the author of whatever book you are currently reading. Every time you borrow from a work, take all the items listed in the Section 15 of that work and add them to the Section 15 of your own work.

Don't get creative here. Copy what you see. Feel free to sort things a little bit (alphabetize them, get rid of duplication, etc.), but whatever you do, don't change the text of those individual Section 15 entries. Section 15 functions like an ever-growing research bibliography, allowing people to go and seek out original sources. Don't forget to add your own work's copyright notice to Section 15. Now, the OGL actually requires you to copy the exact text of everyone's Section 15, but that would get you with 10 copies of certain SRD's, etc. Nobody in the interest has an interest in that. It benefits nobody. So you are probably quite safe to mention each work once and only once in your Section 15. It might be a violation of the facial text of the license, but it's not a violation of the spirit of the license, and it causes no real damage. Check with your lawyer if you are worried about this.

Don't get cute here. Some people are trying to put mini-advertisements into their Section 15 to force people to carry an ad for their products in the OGL itself. Foolish. Don't do this. Not only is it a questionable usage that may end up putting you in a position where you are violating the OGL, but you won't make any friends doing this. If you want additional credit, just ask, and some people may give it to you.

Can the author of the OGL change it on me spontaneously and ruin my fun?

No, once something is licensed under the OGL you can continue to use it under the version of the license you got it under even if a subsequent change in the OGL is ever made. The same is not true of some trademark licenses in the gaming industry, which may be subject to change without notice.

Can I tell people where I borrowed certain things from?

Avoid this, except as allowed for by modifying Section 15, or as required by outside licenses. The OGL prohibits you from referring to the authors of works in your Section 15, as well as prohibiting you from making statements of compatibility to those products. The names of those products were also likely declared as Product Identity, and so you are also prohibited from using PI. If you want to give somebody extra credit, ask them for permission. Don't try cute tricks with your Section 15 and don't try to circumvent the OGL. The OGL doesn't care whether you are a "nice guy trying to give somebody credit." It prohibits certain behavior, including some types of credits and references unless you have additional permissions from a license other than the OGL.


What's the safest way to use the OGL?

Publish only your original work and publish 100% Open Game Content. If you do that, and you avoid infringing other people's property in the process nobody will likely ever complain, even if you have minor problems with your application of the OGL.

Ideally, if you can afford a lawyer, you should have one review your use of the OGL for anything more complicated that involves anybody's intellectual property other than your own.

If you want to protect something, try to protect a very specific list of items that are easily identifiable. The terms "thematic elements" is a lot more vague than "the Elvish Songs of Piety on pages 23-30, and all text regarding Elvish battles against the forces of darkness included on pages 31-32."

Try to keep your OGC as separate as possible from your PI. Put it in different chapters or on different parts of the page. So, for example, if the game mechanics associated with a character are 100% OGC and everything about the character is PI, consider putting the OGC on one side of the page in a rectangle

Do I have to publish my game under the OGL?

If you borrow nothing from anyone, then the answer is, "no". If you borrow just rules from an OGL-covered work you can probably get away with that, but you have to do the equivalent of passing those rules by a hazardous materials team, because if you take anything that's not pure rules you could be legally "toast". The OGL sets up a legal "safe harbor" allowing you specific rights while enforcing some restrictions on you. If you use it, you can borrow not only rules, but then you can borrow anything that's listed as OGC and reproduce it word-for-word. To do that safely you have to use the OGL or you will end up violating somebody's copyright and end up in court.

You should definitely get a lawyer if you want to produce a game that is compatible to an OGL product, but you don't want to use the OGL. Game rules need to be patented to protect them, and most aren't. Copyrighting them protects the verbatim expression of the rules, but not the rules themselves. You can make a game compatible with another game that is not patented, and, if you are willing to accept a minimum amount of risk, do so completely legally without a license. To do so you must not appropriate any of the verbatim text of the original game. You may express compatibility with the original game under the following restrictions:

This unlicensed option will likely get you a cease & desist notice if you have a big selling product, but a court case against you probably wouldn't prevail (although it's possible that you could lose depending on the circumstances). People send the C&D notice to any high profile product just to scare them, and also because unlike copyrights, trademarks MUST be defended. For this reason, even when people can't prevail they'll send out a C&D involving trademarks in case you later _do_ blunder and give them a case -- they can then say that they forewarned you in advance. Without such a notice the trademark can occasionally be threatened with falling into the public domain, so people issue C&Ds as a preventative measure even when they have no real chance of winning in a court case. However, the threat of a lawsuit is not insubstantial. Why? Just because you may not lose in court doesn't mean that you may utterly avoid having to employ a lawyer to draft responses or to respond to any losing case the other side may file.

The one instance where a compatible product was used per these terms and challenged, the original trademark owner (Paramount motion picture studios) sent a C&D notice to Companion Games about a compatible product for Star Fleet Battles but which otherwise made no use of Star Trek characters, etc. Paramount backed down when Companion Games told them that they had no legal case and they could go stuff it.

This means of production is generally legal but offers no "legal safe harbor". Since there is no formal relationship between you and the owner of the compatible product any court case will consider all aspects of your usage, its impact on the owner of the other trademark, and any applicable case law.

If you use this method you'll get burned to a crisp in a lawsuit if you use the verbatim text from the other vendor. Get a lawyer before you consider this. Before then, however, a quick review of the basics of copyright law, trademark law, and patent law are probably in order, so that you ask the right questions.

Can you provide me a simple example of how people declare their OGC and PI?

I can, but you'll need to modify it for you own uses. It won't be a perfect match for your work. You may feel like a real fool if you don't edit this.

This work is distributed under the terms of the Open Gaming License. This work contains Product Identity and Open Game Content as defined by that license. The Product Identity in this work includes all artwork and graphic design elements (including text captions for art and graphic elements as well as text elements which are part of these images), the layout and trade dress of this work, all logos, all items expressly designated here or elsewhere in this work as my trademarks, all character names, all place names, the text of all stories and events, and all other content not otherwise declared as Open Game Content. My trademarks include, but are not limited to, GNORP Industries (TM) and SNAFU Games (TM), the website addresses of these organizations, and their corporate logos, all rights reserved. All the text of this work, except those parts previously declared as Product Identity, is Open Game Content. The Open Game Content distributed here may only be distributed and used under and in terms of the Open Gaming License.

Why would I want to declare the layout of my work as Product Identity?

If you don't, it makes it easy for people to simply photocopy your work, deleting a handful of drawings and marking out your few uses of PI. In short, if you have a professional interest in publishing, what would normally be "piracy" would be absolutely legal under the OGL. If you want 100% of your work declared as OGC and you want it distributed then there's no need to protect your layout or anything else. Honestly, unless your formatting is no mind-numbingly simple that it's not really worth protecting, then unless you fully intend to give people 100% rights to redistribute your stuff, then PI the layout (unless your layout is made up of some OGC layout elements from another product, in which case don't). I see many young PDF publishers put out a great work and then try to sell it online. Yet they don't PI their layout. Frequently with those works you can redo the title page (which often has certain PI in it) and then attach all the rest of it into a new PDF and distribute it. This can sometimes be perfectly legal if there's no PI in a specific work except on the title page. The end result is that people can cheat you out of your sales but do so perfectly legally instead of going to someplace that distributes pirated files. A dedicated person can extract your OGC, reformat it, and then resell it, but that's enough work that most people don't bother.

www.RPGNOW.com is the leading distributor of PDF products with Open Game Content. It is their policy not to sell products that are all but identical to one of the other products they carry, so that protects you against people going to the hub of PDF sales and selling a substantially similar product 2 days after you release yours, so in general, PI'ing your layout is a good way to provide a minimal obstacle to widespread distribution of your work by folks out their trying to sink your product the week it is released.

If you think that for some reason you can't PI your layout (because you borrowed some OGC'd layout from some other source), then for PDFs that you intend to sell just embed your company logo on each page as a graphic and declare that as PI. That won't stop dedicated people from getting a PDF editor and stripping out that graphic, but again, it's a low enough hurdle to distributing your document lock, stock, and barrel that most people will get the clue that that's not what you intended.

Some people lock down their PDFs to prohibit text extraction. That might be useful in early days of distributing your work, but realize that locking down the PDF security doesn't disallow people from using your OGC, it just makes it a little harder for people to get access to. Since some legitimate uses exist for OGC that don't involve republishing your entire document, I tend to favor not locking down PDF, or to lock them down only if:

a) you have a print version of the product in the stores and you want an added hurdle to people extracting your OGC too quickly and spreading it around on the net

b) you lock it down with a promise to send out an unlocked version say, 6 months later, making it clear that you want a narrow window to make some money and that you only want really dedicated individuals re-using your OGC during that time period

 

Do I need to ask personal permission of people to use their OGC?

No, no, no. Some people oddly expect you to ask permission to use their stuff. Newsflash: when they used the OGL and declared something as OGC they already gave you permission. So, legally, and I think even morally there's no real obligation to ask for permission. If people don't want you using their OGC then they shouldn't declare something as OGC, they should grow a brain and learn to PI more stuff or learn not to use the OGL. At the same time, however, if you are planning on reprinting or repackaging a lot of OGC from one source you might want to ask as a courtesy. It's not really a legal obligation, but it is an acknowledgment that if somebody spends a lot of time drafting an OGC document for sale and then you turn around and give it all away for free the next day, then you've just created a massive disincentive for that person to give away his OGC so liberally. That said, sooner or later, anyone producing something that has a ton of OGC in it you should just suck it up and deal and realize that you gave permission to reuse it and so somebody will (if your OGC is any good) eventually reuse your stuff. I think you probably shouldn't exhaustively reuse somebody else's OGC within the first 6 months of a product's release to give them a chance to make some money on their sales. However, I think that even if people are still making money years after a product's release that's no excuse to cry, "no fair, you are stealing my OGC" if someone reprints a big chunk of it. If you don't want something reused, then declare it as PI and come up with a PI license. That signals to people that you will share on a case-by-case basis. Don't license something and then relent and try to blame your bad decision on somebody else by claiming that they are of low character. At the same time, have an ounce of courtesy and don't drive somebody out of business by sifting out all their OGC and giving it away for free. If you are going to do a major OGC extract then to be on the moral high ground add some value to it. Do it better or differently than the first guy did. That's a perfectly legitimate use of OGC, and that's how we see evolution in the OGL-related portion of the gaming industry, but constantly adding to, refining, and developing OGC for each other to use. More OGC is good for everyone. Just don't be afraid to PI things. Some people are foolishly afraid to do this. They think it makes them look like Scrooge if they PI something instead of OGC'ing 100% of everything. I'd rather have you tell me that I can't use something than to tell me I can use something and then smear me as immoral for using your OGC. I sometimes tend to ask for permission to use some OGC. That's just me. I do it as a courtesy, because I want people to profit from their creations, but don't confuse courtesy with your right. Make good decisions about your OGC and PI declarations and stand by them. People will respect you for good decisions, even if it means you give away a little less OGC. Blessed are those who give away 100% of their stuff as OGC and actively encourage creative repackaging and reuse -- they are really helping some neophytes become the next wave of game designers, and that's one of the coolest things about the OGL movement.

Some companies now include "OGL" in the title of their works. What's that about?

Some companies don't want to use the PI licenses required to declare their work as being compatible with the world's most popular fantasy role-playing game. However, they know that an increasingly large number of consumers now have enough awareness of the OGL that they can advertise their product as an OGL product which is a creative way of advertising that compatibility indirectly. The problem is, the OGL is a license, not a system, and their are multiple very dissimilar games out their right now which are published under the OGL, and each is an OGL'd game. No one game is really, technically, the OGL system, however this shorthand is becoming increasingly popular in some corners of the world, particularly with one publisher. The end result is that, now, if you call your game an OGL game on the cover, people may wrongly assume that your game is compatible with the world's most popular fantasy role-playing game even if it's not. If you do want to declare your game as compatible with the 3rd edition or 4th edition of the super popular fantasy game, you can no longer do so in conjunction with the OGL. Wizards of the Coast now has a Game System License is now available to declare limited compatibility with the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons, but the limits one use are far more substantial and use of the new GSL may interfere with your use of the OGL on other products.

Other Links of Potential Interest

I'm not in any way responsible for the content in these links, but they may interest you.