Why Free?

One of the things that I’ve had occasional conversations about is why Loreshaper Games is going for a hyper-open copyright licensing scheme for our products.

There are really a few reasons, but it boils down to this: in a market where DRM is stifling and ineffective, you’re almost as well off choosing to make things free, and encouraging the homebrew culture that brings.

Let’s quickly break down the TAL, in case anyone is curious what it entails. I’ll be including the version from velotha’s flock, which is written in free verse, like the rest of the game, but the handful of versions all accomplish the same goals with tweaked and improved wording:

Tabletop Attribution License (Poetic)

you may redistribute freely
you may make any changes
you may use the velotha’s flock brand
• unless we ask you not to
you may publish your own work:
• for fun
• for fame
• for profit
• any way you desire
you must credit Loreshaper Games:
• and so must people who alter your stuff
you don’t need to make your stuff:
• free
• using the Tabletop Attribution License (regular or poetic)

The reason I chose the poetic form of the license is (barring the wonderful pun potential) that it goes incredibly quickly to cover the key points of the license in what I feel to be a very unambiguous way.

First, there is free redistribution. Loreshaper Games depends on word-of-mouth, but there’s also the matter of fact that most gaming groups probably don’t purchase X copies of the book where X is equal to the players in the group. They typically have one or two copies that get passed around (or copied, in the case of digital editions), but are purchased.

While we might publish some supplemental content behind a paywall, I don’t have any plans to restrict the core products of any Loreshaper Games product line at this time.

Second, we allow free alterations, and don’t try to claim influence over derivative works. This enables creators to be free to use and explore our games to their fullest, taking our settings and mechanics and using them pretty much as freely as possible.

While there is a certain degree to which I want to retain control of the work, most of the stuff in the core games is nothing I care too much about.  I am working on writing tie-in books to most of the product lines I’m pursuing in 2018, and those will be traditionally licensed. However, the parts of the universe and world available in the core rulebooks are things that I’m happy to let other people remix and reuse.

Mechanics can’t really be copyrighted anyway, and while there could be suits launched over how people adapted them, I’m not willing to do that both because it seems ill-spirited and legally untenable.

Loreshaper Games doesn’t restrict how people use the names of most of our products, though we occasionally require a separate third-party branding. This allows content creators to advertise for us and from us. It is revocable, but is generally issued ahead of time. This could be a trademark issue, but I think that most sane courts would rule in favor of us if we had to do a nasty enforcement of this (like if someone started publishing smut under our brands).

Allowing people to publish for any reason they desire means that there is an incentive for people to make content. I’ve created more than a hundred thousand words of homebrew content, much of which I’m not even willing to put up on this blog because of how it’s locked out of commercial use. Being able to monetize some of that content—even if it had just been to ask for donations—would have been an incentive to keep working on it.

We also don’t have any restrictions on media type. I don’t know of any other license that has this, but I’ve heard laypeople express incredulity regarding this in the past.

We finally include a clause that affirms that the TAL is non-viral; using the TAL does not force others working with our products to stay under the TAL. While there may be cases where we want a viral license, these licenses already exist in various forms, and we would simply use one of those or make a viral variant of the TAL (ViTAL, anyone?).

I’m not entirely sure how enforceable viral licenses are, but that’s a minutia for copyright scholars. They seem very anti-creator to me, but that’s my deal and it’s probably something that only I care about to any meaningful extent (indeed, many users of viral licenses love the fact that they are viral).

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