Good riddance to the Open Gaming License

Hasbro accidentally gives us more freedom.

Cory Doctorow

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A remixed version of David Trampier’s ‘Eye of Moloch,’ the cover of the first edition of the AD&D Player’s Handbook. It has been altered so the title reads ‘Advanced Copyright Fuckery. Unclear on the Concept. That’s Just Not How Licenses Work. No, Seriously.’ The eyes of the idol have been replaced by D20s displaying a critical fail ‘1.’ Its chest bears another D20 whose showing face is a copyright symbol.

Last week, Gizmodo’s Linda Codega caught a fantastic scoop — a leaked report of Hasbro’s plan to revoke the decades-old Open Gaming License, which subsidiary Wizards Of the Coast promulgated as an allegedly open sandbox for people seeking to extend, remix or improve Dungeons and Dragons:

https://gizmodo.com/dnd-wizards-of-the-coast-ogl-1-1-open-gaming-license-1849950634

The report set off a shitstorm among D&D fans and the broader TTRPG community — not just because it was evidence of yet more enshittification of D&D by a faceless corporate monopolist, but because Hasbro was seemingly poised to take back the commons that RPG players and designers had built over decades, having taken WOTC and the OGL at their word.

Gamers were right to be worried. Giant companies love to rugpull their fans, tempting them into a commons with lofty promises of a system that we will all have a stake in, using the fans for unpaid creative labor, then enclosing the fans’ work and selling it back to them. It’s a tale as old as CDDB and Disgracenote:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CDDB#History

(Disclosure: I am a long-serving volunteer board-member for MetaBrainz, which maintains MusicBrainz, a free, open, community-managed and transparent alternative to Gracenote, explicitly designed to resist the kind of commons-stealing enclosure that led to the CDDB debacle.)

https://musicbrainz.org/

Free/open licenses were invented specifically to prevent this kind of fuckery. First there was the GPL and its successor software licenses, then Creative Commons and its own successors. One important factor in these licenses: they contain the word “irrevocable.” That means that if you build on licensed content, you don’t have to worry about having the license yanked out from under you later. It’s rugproof.

Now, the OGL does not contain the word “irrevocable.” Rather, the OGL is “perpetual.” To a layperson, these two terms may seem interchangeable, but this is one of those fine lawerly distinctions that trip up normies all the time. In lawyerspeak, a “perpetual” license is one whose revocation doesn’t come automatically after a…

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