Copyright Issues

edited November 2007 in General Discussion


  • Jennifer
    Posts: 78
    I've been trying to avoid this with my game, but I've noticed that several people are posting portraits and maps that CLEARLY come from other published works (as in, I can identify the source). Is this a copyright infringement? Fair use? I'm just asking because this is the sort of issue you want to take care of before you get big and get sued.
  • dungeoncrawlers
    Posts: 32
    Note that this isn’t legal advise, nor is it in direct response to you Jennifer, it's just my take on the situation, since I am one individual partaking in the use of images that I do not own a coprygiht for as NPC portraits.

    Obsidian Portal isn't legally liable for the content placed on the site since they have no control over user content. However, a copyright owner can request that the item be removed, and if they can prove legal copyright (registered with the Copyright Office), then all Obsidian Portal is legally bound to do is request the user to remove it. If the user doesn't remove it within a justifiable amount of time, then Obsidian Portal can either remove it themselves or they can remove the user completely. Additionally, "intellectual" copyrights have absolutely not legal power, are not legally binding and are nothing more than a way to say "I made this".

    Personally, I believe none of the artwork I use is legally copyright (none of them indicated this in any way, which is a requirement by copyright law to enforce a copyright) - All were found in *wide* use from multiple sources on the internet (in many cases thousands of different sources). However, should I be mistaken and one of the images I've used is a legal copyright, and the owner were to request that I remove one of their images I would happily do so.

    I believe that to be the legal side of the issue based on past cases against sites such as: Craigslist, YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook.

    Ethically, I don't really have an issue with using images that I did not create since it's for personal use, provides absolutely no gain, and provides no loss to the artists. Trying to prevent people from sharing non-copyright/non-trademark digital information makes about as much since to me as trying to enforce who can or cannot print an image at home on their own printer. My personal opinion (for whatever it's worth) is that information on the internet that is not legally copyright or trademarked, or is not clearly labeled as such has a reasonable expectation to be considered public domain until proven otherwise. Additionally, I would be more than happy to add the name and link to the artists if that information were available and requested.

    Then there is the issue of good faith: Such as in the trademarked term “Dungeon Master” which is legally trademarked by Wizards of the Coast, Inc. It cannot be used in public documentation (even including the d20 OGL) which must refer to the publicly available term “Game Master”. But since this is personal information being posted by the users of Obsidian Portal and in the personal reference for the users, and is done in good faith we use the Term Dungeon Master, unless Wizards of the Coast, Inc. were to request that we could not.

    Images are no more protected by copyright/trademark than is text, so one would have to conclude that the same good-faith observation would apply to the images as well. Granted that Copyright and Trademark laws do differ, but I’m not a lawyer, just someone who spent a few minutes researching.

    Personally, and not legally, with the advent of the internet, and since it within the top five methods of communication between modern human beings, I feel we must also take Freedom of Speech to mean Freedom of Content, since in actuality they are both one and the same. Copyright and Trademarks were created to protect the creator of the material by preventing the theft of materials that would result in harm to the creator. They were not intended to silence the public at large when the owner decides they might not want communication about their material to take place.

    That’s my two cents worth, anyway. :)
  • Micah
    Posts: 894
    Take a look at the terms of service at the bottom of the every page on the site. We used a freely-available template from, a site that deals with similar issues.

    Specifically, subsection 5 details with copyright issues and how copyright holders can make requests for offending material to be removed.

    We're not lawyers, and this is a tricky issue. By their nature, pretty much all RPG campaigns are derivative works. If I talk about Elminster or Drizzt or Eberron, I'm dealing with copyrighted material. How far can I go and be covered by fair-use? Honestly, I don't know.

    We do take the issue seriously, and should it ever come to a cease-and-desist request, we would seek legal advice on how to proceed. For now, we'll rely on the terms of service and the users to make the right choices.

    Thanks for thinking about these issues.
  • viz
    Posts: 19
    I've posted a Q'barra Eberron map that I've altered to include places in my campaign that are not part of the official material. If asked to remove it, I certainly would. But, if anyone reads my campaign material, they will need the map to make sense of it, so I hope it doesn't come to that.

    On the other hand, all the writing is done by me or the players.
  • AidanDark
    Posts: 56
    I'm in the same boat as dungeoncrawlers on this one.
  • Charsen
    Posts: 85
    Any time i use an image that has a clear author then I link back to the author. If you look at my campaign, each image has a link back to the source, and I always tried to use sources that had no public stipulations on usage. I did this for everything that I felt required a copyright acknowledgment... Which of course may not be sufficient for some authors, but they can request removal in the ways already mentioned here.

    I guess my stance is: I link as much back to credit (and also to respect and to expose new people to the original authors) and if that's not enough then I will find a different image or source work.
  • DarthKrzysztof
    Posts: 132
    I've been concerned about this, as well. I'm running a Planescape game, and I'm usually content to sketch my own NPCs (although I'm certainly not very good, and my wife has been helping me keep up as the characters proliferate), as well as the published ones that aren't illustrated in the texts. However, if I introduce a "celebrity" NPC, _nothing_ I can draw is going to capture that character like an existing DiTerlizzi illustration. I suppose I could ask him, since I know he has a web presence, but who _owns_ D&D art - the artists, or WotC?

    I haven't posted a map for the same reason. I have no ability with Campaign Cartographer or similar programs, and nothing I can do is going to look as good as the existing Planescape maps.

    Since most of my campaign to date has been based on published adventures, I've been crediting sources where I've felt it necessary. If I use any extant artwork, I'll be sure to do the same.
  • FemmeLegion
    Posts: 521
    My DM asked if he could upload pictures for his NPCs, and I immediately had to think about copyright 'cause he loves to find pictures by folks like Nene Thomas or Jonathon Earl Bowser and use those. And I've done similar for a couple of my characters, mostly 'cause other folks in the campaign were sharing pictures of "themselves".

    What I suggested he do, and what I will do if I ever feel it important enough, is create a link to the image (or, ideally, to the full website page containing the image) in the "fluff" section of the NPC's file rather than uploading it here. This also has the side benefit of not subjecting large pictures to the caprices of automatic resizing.

    On the plus side, he did draw all his own maps. Now I just need to pry the notebook out of his hands long enough to get to a scanner. =)
  • allinonemove
    Posts: 3
    there hasn't been any activity on this topic in while, but i have a burning question about copyright. as a DM, i'm out of shape - it's been 10+ years since i've run a game. my confidence is low and i'm lazy, so i'm gonna use an off-the-shelf game. put that together with the fact that i want to play my game entirely by post (my players are spread across the continent), this means that i'm looking to post copyright material on whatever site i use (and i'm hoping it'll be OP).

    how quickly can i expect the real-life rules lawyers to crack down on me? if i were to use a secure site (i.e., OP premium) thus limiting the copyright material to my players only, will i circumvent any copyright issues?
  • Bathlarper
    Posts: 41
    If the material is limited to you and your players and you own a legal copy of everything that you post on-line then you should be in the clear as long as you include footnotes or an acknoledgements page which credits everything you post to its original creators.
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