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TransmissionsFromTheEnd

Licensing Status of Hero System Fifth Edition (Revised)

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Forgive me if this has been asked before, asked before frequently, asked RIGHT ON THIS PAGE, etcetera.

Now, that said, some games have (end-user) licenses. The OGL 1.0 license created the d20 boom in the 2000s. I myself authored and published a game whose SRD is released under the Creative Commons License. Creative commons is also the same route that Eclipse Phase famously took. 

 

Most games, though, don't have licenses. They full into a weird gray area where you might be able to assume the same things about them you would about software, but maybe not. That's where things get sticky and tricky.

 

Is HERO System Fifth Edition (Revised, if it matters) effectively considered abandonware by the greater RPG community? My basis for assuming that it is abandonware is that it is strictly speaking "unsupported".

If a representative of DOJ Inc. personally wants to step in and clarify the licensing status of FRED, that would be BEYOND AWESOME. However, just to clarify, and no disrespect to any parties involved, the answer of whether DOJ Inc. considers FRED to fall under the broad definition of abandonware is distinct from the answer of what the general gaming community at large thinks.

Disclosure: because I plan to publish a product including HERO System stats (along with several other systems: it will be an adventure with stats for four systems, one of which hopefully will be FRED), the "official" answer is undeniably more important.

Thanks,

- Devon

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The more relevant fact is that you only need a license from Hero Games if you plan to use any of their trademarks, such as the Hero System name and logo. If all you plan to do is provide stats, you aren't violating any IP laws and do not need a license. However, pursuing one in this case--even though you don't legally need one--would put you in the "good guy" category with Hero Games. Given how easy (and inexpensive) they make it, there is really no reason not to in any case.

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zslane, first off, thanks for the quick and insightful response! My response definitely won't be as quick because all my posts are still being manually moderator-approved, though faster than I would have guessed!

My specific approach to this will depend on who the stakeholders in HERO Games currently are. If Steven S. Long is still one of the owners of HERO Games, I'd be more than happy to give him $X Dollars, use the logo, and play nice. That man wrote my favorite edition of my favorite game and nearly all supplementary materials almost-single-handedly: he is the bomg diggety and I personally desire to be in his good guy category. On the other hand, I have had less than positive experiences with other stakeholders in DOJ Inc./HERO Games sadly in situations where I felt like they dealt with me less than honestly (this was unrelated to HERO System or any related products, and that's all I'm willing to say publicly). I'm not gonna talk about this here obviously because I don't want my second ever post on these forums to be a DRAMA BOMB but I can PM you about it if you're overwhelmingly curious.

The tl;dr version is that if Steve Long is still one of the guys that still owns HERO Games, I would be more than happy to give him $XXX, use the logo, and be in the "good guy" category with DOJ Inc.

For anyone who's even slightly curious:

The adventure is called No Country For Great Old Ones and two of the other systems it will be statted in are Savage Worlds (I need to get a nod from Shane Hensley) and Delta Green (I will need to get a nod from Shane Ivey). The fourth (main?) system it will be in is my own/my company's own homebrew system, DicePunk. So the HERO Games/DOJ Inc. licensing situation for FRED was by far the most "complicated gray area" one.

Edited by TransmissionsFromTheEnd

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Oh, I would definitely describe many games as functionally abandonware. I mean, I could list 10 RPGs you've never heard off the top of my head, or 100 RPGs with two hour's research, that are definitely abandonware by any reasonable definition. And that would be just restricting myself to TTRPGs, too. Unsupported = probably abandonware. Released by a company that is now dead = probably abandonware. Unsupported and released by a dead company = definitely abandonware.

I agree it's an awkward definition to apply a "book", but ultimately a pen and paper RPG is just more like a piece of software than it is like a book. It is a kind of program (written instructions, in this case) that can be run on a kind of platform (a table with your friends, in this case).

 

AD&D 2nd Edition is almost certainly abandonware, for instance, as are some earlier editions of D&D. The fact that TSR, the company which published them, is no longer extant has helped fuel the OSR (Old School Renaissance) in the same way that the Open Gaming License fueled the early-2000s d20 boom.

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Unless something has changed in the last few years, it is free to get a Hero license. They're available by filling out a simple form. 

 

I don't know where the form is online, but selecting the "Contact Us" tab and then selecting "Licensing Opportunities" from the drop-down menu will get your request to them quickest. I don't know if Jason reads the forums much, but I believe he would answer your Contact Us message in just a few days.

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Devon
 

If a representative of DOJ Inc. personally wants to step in and clarify the licensing status of FRED, that would be BEYOND AWESOME. However, just to clarify, and no disrespect to any parties involved, the answer of whether DOJ Inc. considers FRED to fall under the broad definition of abandonware is distinct from the answer of what the general gaming community at large thinks.


You are right there is a distinction.  One entity has a legal right and the other does not unless it was granted that right. 
 

Disclosure: because I plan to publish a product including HERO System stats (along with several other systems: it will be an adventure with stats for four systems, one of which hopefully will be FRED), the "official" answer is undeniably more important.

That is excellent news.  My recommendation fill out the Hero Licensing form and submit it.  (as someone who publishes software using that license).  Go to the Contact Us and select the Licensing Opportunities from the Dept. option.  No cost.  No fees.  You have to put some information in your product pointing out the parts that are licensed under the Hero agreement.

 

This is how I was able to develop and sell Hero Combat Manager.

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"I can make 10 more posts today. This restriction is in place until I have 7 more approved posts."

@LouisGoncey: Me too!

I'mma get tangential for a second:

Also, the post I make here will not appear until a moderator manually approves it. This is...vexing, and I bet a lot of people have whined and/or complained about it. It makes it hard to have a discussion when my responses have a "rate of fire" determined by someone else's schedule and cue. I have trawled the internet a lot in my 30 years on this Earth and I have never encountered quite such a probation system such as this on any forum elsewhere on the net. It is probably the most restrictive I have ever seen. Yet it does other things that more restrictive sites don't do, like allowing me to have an avatar and edit my existing posts while in my probation period.

The activity level here at herogames dot com seems manageable at best. Did/does the site REALLY have such a problem with spammers and other malicious posters that such measures are strictly speaking necessary?
 

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I'm prepared to take Simon's word that the probation period, if not essential, is valuable. A lot of sites moderate their content (not generally fan-driven sites like this one, but a lot of media sites) on an overall basis.

 

You note they appear " though faster than I would have guessed", and I think that is Simon's compromise - he considers the moderation important to the site's continued value, and he makes the effort to ensure posts get moderated with limited delay.

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Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I think how I'm going to proceed is to finish writing this adventure in DicePunk and in Savage Worlds (I already wrote it--well, the characters, anyway, and they're about 90% of it--in Delta Green), then figure out the licensing deal with HERO Games Inc. and assuming that nothing about it is completely unacceptable, I will then stat it up for FRED (I hope some of you guys still play FRED/still buy things so you can check it out).

If for some bizarre hypothetical reason (I can't even think of one off the top of my head) the official HERO Games license is unacceptable, i.e. requires my first born child, or something, then I'll just release the adventure for the other three systems with art and production values for money, and release the FRED version as "freeware". 

There was another piece of "freeware" for FRED I was planning on pumping out anyway (stats for every character from the incredibly hilarious 1985 movie Clue as Skilled Normals or Competent Normals, haven't decided yet.)

 

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Re: GIANT SIGNATURE.

Yeah, I noticed that, I hope it's at least slightly smaller now.

My hands are kind of tied in that I can't figure out how to upload pics (I mean I can see a button that says "My Media" right there but I can't figure out how to work it) so I'm copying image URLs from my website and apparently those images are actually pretty big!

That said, I'm not trying to "rules lawyer" the website, but these are the current signature rules I'm seeing in my User CP, lol:

 

 

 

Your signature may contain:
  • • Any number images
  •  
  • • Images of any size
  •  
  • • Any number of URLs
  •  
  • • Any number of lines

 

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5th Edition is still available for sale in Hero's online store; I would think that alone would prevent it from being considered Abandonware. And certainly it's not like OS/hardware has evolved past the point where you can't "run" 5ed anymore. IANAL, nor have I ever worked in the bidness, but it seems to me like applying the concept of Abandonware to RPGs is...problematic at best.

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To my mind, abandonware in the tabletop RPG marketplace means that the company owning the rights to the brand is no longer supporting it. As long as Hero Games continues to keep this website running, and Steve Long continues to answer questions in an official capacity, then the Hero System must be deemed supported, even if only nominally. Therefore it isn't abandonware.

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Is 5e abandoned because 6e is out there, or is it the system as a whole which is supported?

 

IP law is pretty complex. If the owner of the brand is out of business, they may not enforce any claim. They may not see enough value in doing so to justify the legal costs, or they may just not notice, or not have any funds to chase the legal issue. That doesn't mean the usage was legal, just that it was not challenged.

 

Just like not getting a ticket for speeding, running a red light or jaywalking means you did not get caught, not that the law was adhered to.

 

Of course, the more successful your own product is, the greater the incentive of the brand owner to finance a claim - if you make $5,000 from selling your abandonware-based project, that won't pay for the initial consult with the IP lawyer, even if the case is ironclad. If you make $5 million, maybe he'll take the case on contingency.

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Is 5e abandoned because 6e is out there, or is it the system as a whole which is supported?

Exactly. Microsoft is longer supporting Windows 97, but if you use some of their code from that version I'm willing to bet you'll hear from their lawyers. Especially if much of that code is still very similar to that used in the current edition.

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Copyrights do not need active enforcement to remain actionable. Trademarks (and patents) are a different matter. A company must pursue all trademark infringements or relinquish the ability to bring legal action against infringers.

 

So, the text of the rulebooks is protected no matter how active Hero Games is as a company or as the IP holder. However, the Hero Games/Hero System trademarks must be actively defended or they lose their proprietary status in the marketplace.

 

Note that the trademark exists on the overall Hero System name (i.e., brand), not just specific editions. Copyrights exist on each edition of the rules text, but the trademark covers all editions that ever fell under the Hero System brand (which may not include the earliest editions of Champions, for instance). So in effect, we talk about support for the Hero System as a whole, not just this edition or that.

 

When it comes to third party products that provide Hero System renditions of original characters, only the Hero System trademark is being potentially employed, and usually only when mentioned by name in the text or in marketing literature. Copyright infringement doesn't come into play unless the third party product copies "significant" portions of rules text (or rulebook art) owned by Hero Games.

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