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Re: Rules for submitting licenses for review

On Saturday 27 August 2005 11:38 am, Ricardo Gladwell wrote:
> On Sat, 2005-08-27 at 11:11 -0700, Sean Kellogg wrote:
> > but aside from that, you would need a license if you intend to just copy
> > the d20 system (or create a derivative thereof).
> I think there is a miscommunication here: I think Ken is not talking
> about copying the d20 system but, for example, making a game system that
> is compatible with the d20 system rules. Of course, copying the d20
> system, text and all, would clearly be copyright violation, but would
> using the d20 mechanic, the d20 attributes or some other mechanical
> aspect of the d20 system be copyright infringement.

But the text is an embodiment of the expression of the game...  and the 
expression is what copyright law protects.  The operative question is whether 
d20 is a pure idea (and thus only protectable under patent law) or 
idea/expression, which means it can be covered under both.  I'm really 
uncertain about that...  But if it's idea/expression, then using d20 as a 
reference to create compatible rules violates the copyright in the 

> I would argue not.
> > If you still think that game mechanics are not copyrightable, can you
> > point me to some authority to support your claim.  I'd be interested to
> > see how they are distinguished from things like cookbooks (which are
> > copyrighted).
> AFAIK, there is no pre-existing case law that demonstrates that game
> mechanics are or are not copyrightable. There have been cases of people
> being brought to court for making compatible rules (Palladium I believe
> did this) but I think the case was settled out of court. I would also
> note that there is a long history in the RPG industry of publishing
> games with mechanics that are identical if not the same as Dungeons and
> Dragons.

Well, the industry is very much of the opinion that it is copyrightable...  so 
absent case law or clear statutory language to the contrary, I'm having a 
tough time believing they are not copyrightable.  In these instances, 
industry custom carries a lot of weight.

> That said, I would argue that, in the same way you cannot copyright
> mathematical formula, you cannot copyright game mechanics, only their
> representations. For example, you can copyright cookbooks, but I don't
> think you can copyright the mere recipes themselves.

But a math formula is not original expression, nor is it an original idea 
(which is why it's not protectable under patent law either).  As for recipes, 
yes, they are copyrighted.  The copyright cannot prevent you from using the 
recipes to prepare delicious foods...  but you are not permitted under 
copyright law to write down someone else's recipe and share it with someone 
else.  Of course, recipes are strange because most food has been around since 
the dawn of time, so the public domain is so thoroughly infused with recipes 
that it's near impossible to distinguish original expression from PD 

As a broader point...  the line that distinguishes ideas from expression (and 
thus copyright law from patent law) is anything but clear.  The two are very 
interwoven, and although there is a RIGHT answer (in the sense that the law 
should mean one, and only one, thing), the chances that the courts will 
settle on a single meaning is unlikely.

Sean Kellogg
3rd Year - University of Washington School of Law
Graduate & Professional Student Senate Treasurer
UW Service & Activities Committee Interim Chair 
w: http://www.probonogeek.org

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