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JCR
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Greetings!

Is anyone familiar w/ RPG gaming copyright laws (legal technical terms are very confusing to me)?

Very curious if I can call it a rule set of my own, legally speaking.


After playing for many many years using the same fantasy game system (not D&D in case you are wondering) and collecting a stack of house rules on top of house rules as more and more people I played with became GM's themselves, I ran into another fan's version of the same game system but cosmically condensed, altered, and simplified. I was immediately inspired to attempt the same; this was about 5-6 years ago.

After a wild roller coaster of marriage, divorce, a taste of homelessness, and covid induced isolation I recently dusted off and re-edited my version of said rule set; taking into account the original but replacing around 90-95% of it w/ my collection of house rules (50-55%), that fan's condensed rule set ideas (10%), and custom made on the spot ideas (30%). Thus far I have actually only been able to play test about a good 70% of it a few years back with a group of 4 people.

P.S. I hope am posting this in the correct section of the forums (its been a while since I last posted something).

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30 minutes ago, Pattern Ghost said:

This is a question for a lawyer.

 

 

And for perhaps anyone here with any experience or knowledge regarding the matter. Can't know the answer if the question isn't asked ;)

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am no lawyer but if I am an engineer who is required to take multiple training courses on intellectual property rights every year.  This is probably going to get you into a lot of trouble.  Be prepared to be sued for anything and everything you own.   

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When it comes to game rules, copyrights only exist for a specific written text of rules. So if you completely re-write the rules to any game you are not in copyright violation. Copyrights do not protect ideas or game mechanics. When it comes to game mechanics, the only IP framework that can potentially cover them is a patent, and patents for game systems are extraordinarily rare. I seriously doubt that any of the material you are using was previously patented by anyone.

 

I am confident that you are safe from any legal challenge, at least in terms of how the judgment would go. If you think anyone is litigious enough to take it to court (even though they would lose), you would still have to consider the cost of legally defending your work.

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Wow, so if I completely rewrite the Game of Thrones books in my own words and call it my own work, I would be safe from any legal challenge?

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Awesome! Thanks for the opinions and information everyone!

Perhaps I am at least headed in the right direction it seems because I am not using any of the game's original terminology or mechanics and zero of its setting material. Its more of an amalgam of house rules inspired by different GM's we had in our group which ended up becoming our own rule-set to play the game.

Thanks again!

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On 4/6/2021 at 3:32 PM, Lee said:

Wow, so if I completely rewrite the Game of Thrones books in my own words and call it my own work, I would be safe from any legal challenge?

If you change all the character names and place names, as well as the names of any events then you have a decent chance of getting away with that.  See Fifty Shades of Grey (or don't, if you value your sanity).

 

But it's not really relevant because game mechanics are excluded from copyright by long-established case law. On the other hand, any part of the game beyond pure mechanics may well be subject to copyright, and I don't know of any cases involving RPGS that firmly establish where the line is between mechanics and theme/setting/etc.

 

Further, as mentioned above, just because you might win in the end, all other things being equal, that doesn't mean that you couldn't be bankrupted by a law suit before you could prevail. 

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12 minutes ago, Dr.Device said:

...game mechanics are excluded from copyright by long-established case law.

I wasn't aware of any case law that covered game mechanics. Thanks. Can you point me to any of the cases? I'd love to read the decisions.

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I remember the bad old days when RPG publishers would pretend to own invented game terms through trademark even though none of them were actually registered, and would never receive trademark protection in any case. It was the era of rulebooks filled with Uppercase Terminology and a veritable paragraph at the bottom of the edition notice devoted to convincing the reader that all the terms were trademarks. All in an attempt to prevent anyone else from writing and publishing their own supplements for the game system.

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On 4/8/2021 at 6:49 AM, zslane said:

I remember the bad old days when RPG publishers would pretend to own invented game terms through trademark even though none of them were actually registered, and would never receive trademark protection in any case. It was the era of rulebooks filled with Uppercase Terminology and a veritable paragraph at the bottom of the edition notice devoted to convincing the reader that all the terms were trademarks. All in an attempt to prevent anyone else from writing and publishing their own supplements for the game system.

 

Didn't TSR sue some people who tried to publish supplements for AD&D?  I still have some third-party published adventures with weird game terms ("Hits To Kill", "Armor Rating") as a result.

 

Personally I think that for most game systems that's shooting yourself in the foot, but I've never tried to run a game company.

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The most infamous case of that kind of narrow-minded litigation I can recall is when Kevin Siembieda sued Wizards of the Coast for providing Palladium conversion information in their Primal Order books.

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On 4/11/2021 at 1:30 PM, zslane said:

The most infamous case of that kind of narrow-minded litigation I can recall is when Kevin Siembieda sued Wizards of the Coast for providing Palladium conversion information in their Primal Order books.

 

The most infamous, surely.

 

But my favorite was the Indiana Jones game,where they tried to trademark the word Nazi.

 

 

 

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3 hours ago, Dr.Device said:

Here's one.

 

I think it is worth pointing out that in that particular case, the plaintiff was trying to argue that the "things the characters do in the game" (via game mechanics) are part of the copyrightable "expression" (of the characters), which the court dismissed in its judgment. This was ultimately a copyright infringement case, which the plaintiff lost (as they should have), and not a patent challenge for the game mechanics. The game mechanics only figured into the case tangentially, and ultimately, irrelevantly.

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