Monday, January 8, 2018

OBS Community Content Program is terrible (with one exception).

While I talked about the issue of One Bookshelf's Community Content before, +James Raggi's reminded me to that people still are largely unaware of what going on.

A few years ago Wizards and One Bookshelf (DrivethruRPG and RPGNow) got together and created a community content program that on the surface offered the following deal

We will allow you

  • To use anything from Forgotten Realms 
  • The published DnD 5e Book 
  • Use any content posted to this program including templates and art.

Provided that

  • You give additional 20% cut of the revenue over what you would get for an OBS listed product.
  • that you can only post the content you create for this on this site, 
  • that the only rules you use are DnD 5th edition
  • that the only setting used is Forgotten Realms
  • That you adhere to some content guidelines.

Now most folks zeroed in on the additional 20% cut. But I never cared about that. If I really wanted to release a Forgotten Realms products for profit my chances of securing a license from Wizards was effectively zero. So the cut seem reasonable especially I don't have to go through any lengthy approval process.

But there is a huge downside that really kills this for anything but a very narrow range of products.

From the license you agree to when posting a work to the DM's Guild or any other community content program.

5. Rights You Grant to OBS
(a) No Reversion. Due to our licensing arrangement with the Owner and the collaborative nature of the Program, you are granting us broad licenses in your Work and your User Generated Content included in your Work, and the rights to your Work will not be reverted once it is published in the Program. You will have the ability through online tools at OBS websites to stop public display and sale of your Work on OBS marketplaces, but not to stop the sale of works of other authors in the Program even when such works use your User Generated Content that you originally created in your Work and thereby became part of the Program IP for other authors to use.
(b) Exclusive License to your Work. Effective as of the date you setup your Work through the Program on OBS’s website, you grant us the exclusive, irrevocable license for the full term of copyright protection available (including renewals), to develop,
license, reproduce, print, publish, distribute, translate, display, publicly perform and transmit your Work, in whole and in part, in each country in the world, in all languages and formats, and by all means now known or later developed, and the right to prepare derivative works of your Work.
(c) Exclusive License to all User Generated Content in your Work. Effective as of the date we first make your Work available through the Program, you grant us the exclusive, irrevocable license for the full term of copyright protection available (including renewals), to all User Generated Content included in your Work. You agree that the User Generated Content is available for unrestricted use by us without any additional compensation, notification or attribution, including that we may allow other Program authors, the Owner and other third parties to use the User Generated Content.
So pretty scary right? But I still think it fair for something based on another person's IP but then this one phrase.
and the right to prepare derivative works of your Work.
This in conjunction with the use of Exclusive license kills the use of Community Content for any original settings or content. If I had released Scourge of the Demon Wolf on the DM' Guild first, by the terms of this I couldn't prepare a Swords and Wizardry version with different art, layout, and trade dress. Because that would be a derivative work of the 5e release.

Granted I am not sure what would happen if I did the reverse. Release the Swords and Wizardry version first and then the 5e version on the DM's Guild. Likely I would just kicked off and the product listing dropped. Anyway by that point you need the advice of a IP attorney anyway.

The prudent course is to avoid the use of any Community Content unless your work only makes sense for what they offer.

The One Exception.

The Community Content program vary in what they share. Broadly they all offer access to a set of rules. Some also have setting. The one expection is if you want to write something for a setting. For example if you want to write something for the Third Imperium then the TAS program will work for that. Unless you know Marc Miller well enough to secure your own 3PP license for the Third Imperium or get a work approved at Mongoose or another 3PP licensee this is the way to go get Third Imperium material published. The same for the DM's Guild and Forgotten Realms or Ravenloft.

Some, like Cortex Plus are rules only. My view that these are bad deals taking advantage of their fanbase.

As mentioned in my previous post on the topic, the problem is bad enough that for the first time the Traveller 3PP community felt the need to make the first Traveller retro-clone, Cepheus. Unfortunately fans of Cypher, Cortex and other don't have that option. My opinion is that OBS and the publishers are unjustly enriching themselves for the community content programs that only offer access to rules. That the no derivative content clause is predatory especially for novice authors and that publishers and OBS should be ashamed for including it.


Konsumterra said...

I guess ppl dont read FB or most social media fine print too
I think the community stuff has it's uses but I would be wary of using my best ideas. Probably Id still give it a go to get a new audience

I still find it weird everyone is so slavish to the OGL when nobody cared much in the early years of the hobby

Ivan Sorensen said...

“This in conjunction with the use of Exclusive license kills the use of Community Content for any original settings or content”

But isn’t that the whole point? WOTC wants people to make 5e Forgotten Realms material.

Rob Conley said...

@Ivan it not just Wizards but also the other dozen or so companies that are offering community content programs.

faoladh said...

I think that you may be misreading that. From what I see, you grant exclusive licenses for a bunch of listed things (specifically, "to develop, license, reproduce, print, publish, distribute, translate, display, publicly perform and transmit your Work"; by the way, after a recent legal matter hinging on it gained some publicity you'd think that they'd be careful to include the serial comma there, but they didn't), and also you grant them (or other people taking advantage of the program) the right to create derivative works from your original. You don't give up your right to do so from what I see there.

Rob Conley said...


Can I release the same products on both DMs Guild and on DriveThruRPG?

Any content created for the DMs Guild, which is completely separate from your other publishing efforts, must remain exclusive to DMs Guild. It cannot be listed anywhere else, not even on, and will not be considered part of your publisher account (though it will be part of your “My Content” on the new site).

You won’t be able to cross-list other 5th Edition content (i.e., your other published OGL products) on the new site as they are not created for the DMs Guild program.

faoladh said...

OK, but the previous FAQ answer reads:

Can I release 5th Edition products for the DMs Guild, and then separately release different 5E products under the OGL?

Yes. Again, they are two separate programs. You can manage your DMs Guild content from your Account page on and then also use that same OneBookShelf customer account to create a publisher account on DriveThruRPG, separately managing your OGL products from your Publisher Hub there. Please do not use your normal Publisher Hub to set up new DMs Guild titles.

So it seems to me that the only time you'd want to use the DMs Guild would be in cases where you have to use protected IP (Forgotten Realms material, the randomly-chosen protected monsters like Mind Flayers, and so forth). The wording of the answer I posted above implies that there is a way to produce 5E material under the OGL, and the SRD page confirms that. Your Wilderlands material wouldn't need to use the DMs Guild, even if converted to 5E in that case. Scourge of the Demon Wolf doesn't rely on anything that you'd need to use the DMs Guild for.

Douglas Cole said...

One slight complication for SRD use under the OGL is that there's a lot of pruning that happened in places. There's only one archetype for each character class, only one Feat is listed, and there is zero fluff text for any monster. Formatting challenges in getting the document from the PDF to your own layout are non-trivial but can be worked through. Not a show-stopper, but definitely a barrier to entry.

Rob Conley said...

Markdown version of the SRD

The word version