Friday, June 19, 2015

A Comparison & Some Kerflufflily Thoughts

So, the whole White Star OGL kerfluffle.

Let's look at something. This is in no way an indictment of +Mark Hunt; in fact, he has already deleted this one page adventure I'm using here as an example and two others like it from the White Star Google+ Community. I don't know if he removed them or if the community mods did. But they were up anywhere from a few days to a few hours before they disappeared.

Anyway, here is a one-page adventure he posted. It is gorgeous:

click to embiggen
Let's see what's going on here:
  1. Slick, cool looking, appropriated artwork that might be transformed somehow from the original, uncredited.
  2. Use of White Star Compatibility Logo.
  3. No declaration of any kind of use license: no CC, no OGL, nada nothing zilch.
  4. No specific mention of White Star IP (at least as far as I can tell).
Now, here is my one-pager that caused the kerfluffle. This is v3, which corrected a few typos:

click to embiggen
Let's see:
  1. Slick, cool looking appropriated artwork, cropped, stretched, and color-shifted, credited with links in the corner.
  2. Use of White Star Compatibility Logo.
  3. A declaration of use license, including a link to the OGL. Perhaps incorrectly used, but an attempt was made.
  4. No specific mention of White Star IP.
Why was Mark lauded with positive comments for his post and why was I pilloried as a bad actor? Based on the two screenshots above, I actually did more to credit the appropriated work and make an attempt to give others freedom to use my original content than Mark did.

As far as I can, tell, it's four things.
  1. Mark is a cool dude who has promoted the hell out of White Star. He posts a lot of stuff in the forum and wrote & published one of the best selling supplements for White Star, Drongo: Planet of Peril (which is currently a best seller at RPGNow -- buy it NOW by clicking the link); today he released Drongo: Ruins of the Witch Kingdoms for Dungeon Crawl Classics, too. He is a very creative, friendly guy and one of the top posters in the White Star G+ community, too.
  2. The White Star guys freaked when they saw people using the WSCL and not doing it the way they want it done. But, as several posters have pointed out in this thread right over here: https://plus.google.com/+ErikTenkar/posts/2zxC8oA9mhS , they didn't implement the OGL correctly in their own damn product and might possibly not understand the OGL as well as they think they do. They retroactively fixed some of the problems in White Star, but they have doubled-down on their "our way or the highway" attitude. And now they are going around trying to make other people abide by their possible misunderstandings of the OGL, copyright, fair use, and nominative use in fan works. Quite frankly, they got caught with their pants down, people took pictures, and now they are trying to get ahold of everybody's negatives. But that is a losing job. Here's an example. Here's another. And here's another. All use or are based on White Star IP and lack the OGL. Good luck with getting people to comply.
  3. My thumbing-my-nose at their sacred cows. True, I did. As Tenkar said over in a comment on this post, I "came off as an ass". But so what? Taken in context of the entire PDF I created (read it again -- retrieving a stuffed animal as a mission hook? Interplanet Janets as a random encounter? J. Crew Cabins? "An unsuitable adventure for any level"?), my flippant side comment about the OGL in the credits corner fits in with the whole silly, gonzo, thumb-nosing vibe.
  4. Private messages between me and Teh Bagder were tense and downright hostile. He was down-his-nose-finger-wagging, I was up-yours-middle-finger-wagging. It was not pretty. I accused him of something he did not do in private, and he hauled that out in a comment on a post in a different forum. And I apologized for it (the accusation, not the attitude) in private before he brought it out in the public forum post. (Quite frankly, I think that was kinda gauche--info in private conversations should remain private unless both people agree to take them public.)
People in the White Star G+ Community are claiming that I wasn't "playing by the rules" and spoiling things for people.  People who are now posting in the blogosphere about how to use the OGL properly, what options are available for publishers, why you'd want to consult a lawyer before ever publishing something game-related, etc. are missing one very small but important point: THIS WASN'T ABOUT PUBLISHING SOMETHING FOR SALE.

It was about sharing stuff among friends -- a "here, look what I created, let me share it with you" sort of thing. This was originally a casual, one-page adventure contest. It was a "post your cool stuff in the forum and I'll award a prize to what I think is the coolest" kind of thing.

But people started freaking out (maybe "expressing concern" is a better way to say it) about the lack of "rules." +Stan Shinn asked about copyrights.  +Dyson Logos was concerned because someone wanted to include one of his maps in an entry and asked about graphic design copyrights.  +Bill Logan was concerned about re-publication in a collection. Then +Stan Shinn asked about use licenses and Mark said he didn't care -- OGL or CC or whatever. And then the mod stepped in and insisted that entrants include the whole text of the OGL. And when I protested and said that all these things really didn't matter for a nice little contest among friends, the shit hit the fan. +Dyson Logos disagreed with me. I responded and went of on a tangential rant about copyrights and casual internet infringement and how folks shouldn't worry about those things. Then the owner came in and started shame fingering me (don't worry, the link is safe!). So I basically said screw that and left the group.

Essentially, this was a shit storm because I said NO to the White Star guys when they started insisting on people using the OGL for a silly little contest among fans. And because things were tense and hostile, I left the group -- it was clear that I am never going to see eye to eye with the owners and mods of the forum, so why should I stick around? They clearly wanted me off their lawn. So I left.

And after I left the community, I even took down the files and removed the WSCL and other references to White Star from the PDF and posted a new one.

And then the character assassination began. The White Star community owner/mod held me up as an example and strongly implied I was a thief. +Erik Tenkar waded in late in the game and accused me of "locking all my threads" (in fact I removed download links and locked all of two posts) and started pontificating as he usually does.

And so yesterday's two posts (one of which was also posted as a Google+ post that you'd have only seen it if I am in one of your circles).

To be fair, Barrel Rider Games was burned by the OGL before when someone legally re-used material they released under the OGL, taking their hard work and repackaging it with cheesy stock art and graphics from Battle for Wesnoth. So I totally understand why they are hyper-protective of their IP. But there was no White Star IP in my PDF other than the WSCL. And the OGL? I did what hundreds of people do -- slap on an OGL notice and a link to the OGL. Even WotC says this might be sufficient in their FAQ:


Q: What if I'm writing an email message or using a very small amount of Open Game Content?
A: Technically, you are still required to include a copy of the License text. In the real world however, you are unlikely to be sued by someone over the use of Open Game Content in an email message or other trivial use if you fail to do so.
Q: I want to create a website that contains many different pages with Open Game Content. Do I have to include a copy of the License on every page?
A: It will be sufficient to include a link on every page containing Open Game Content to one centralized copy of the License.

Notice: My PDF was hosted on my blog via GoogleDrive and DropBox and linked to my G+post. I did contain a link to a centralized copy of the license, it just wasn't to one hosted on my website. That, if anything, is where I erred in the one-page PDF.

Also: Ain't nothing more trivial than a contest between friends for a retro-clone ruleset adaptation of another retro-clone ruleset adaptation based on a simulacrum of the first edition of the world's most popular fantasy roleplaying game that's played by a few hundred people (the 3rd-removed adaptation, that is). That's pretty damn trivial in the big scheme of things if you ask me.

Here's the bottom line: I did more to credit the people I appropriated material from than most people who had previously posted material to freely share in that forum (note I said freely share -- not sell), including the guy who proposed the contest (no offense intended, Mark!).

And while I might have incorrectly tried to apply the OGL to my original content, the use of all the other appropriated material clearly meets three of the four factors of the fair use doctrine -- even the use of the WSCL, to a certain extent. Instead of nicely asking me to remove the White Star logo from the file, the owner/mods got all pompously self-righteous about the OGL and started shaming me in public. And that got my hackles up.

For the record, I am not a victim. I do not feel victimized in any way and I harbor no ill will to anyone I plussed in this message. I just want to get my version of events on the record.

Finally, let me put it this way: I won't be buying any Barrel Rider Games stuff anytime soon.

Now, I'm gonna go roll some dice just to hear how they sound.