Looking at the question on teleportation, there is this answer that appears to quote a body of text from PHB3. I don't actually own that book, so I couldn't check it out. But that got me thinking about copying text from sources that are not freely available online. How much quotation from published material is too much? Is there a good rule of thumb? Do we need to be on the lookout for it?

Followup question: If we do need to worry about it, is that a good reason to use the flagging system?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note on semantics: since that answer explicitly cites the PHB3 as the source of the information, I don't think this counts as an instance of plagiarism. The unauthorized reproduction of copyrighted material? (ie copyright infringement) Yes, but since they were not trying to take credit for that material it's not plagiarism. \$\endgroup\$
    – LeguRi
    Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 4:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Changed to "copyright infringement." \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam Dray
    Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 19:13

4 Answers 4


I think that we need to do only two things.

  1. In the FAQ or other prominent place, warn people against plagiarism. (and/or copyright infringement, blah blah)

  2. Take down stuff IF a copyright holder complains or issues a DMCA takedown notice.

We as moderators/site people do not need to be engaging in unschooled Lawyer Junior behavior. In fact if we do we become more legally liable for policing the content on the site. Plagiarism is bad, and we should say "don't do it," but should not try to make our own "calls" about it beyond the clear remedy by US law (DMCA).

Edit - this seems to be the general tone of the Stack Overflow legal page. "It's on you the subscriber to not post anything naughty. Report violations using the DMCA."

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. As a site person, I would definitely like some clear direction from the site owners in this regard. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bryant
    Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 0:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree. It is inevitable someone will complain - someone'll post one sentence of Palladium rules and Kevin S. will crawl out and demand it be taken down - I'd like SE and not us to be handling the legal evaluation and decision to take down or to tell them "we're within our rights, blow." \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 14:27
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Would be great if you as moderators could follow your own accepted answer and refrain from playing armchair lawyers, likening any discussion or paraphrasing of private rules to piracy, leaving behind boilerplate comments that express a legal opinion that basically says "don't answer this question", and silently deleting dissenting comments. \$\endgroup\$
    – aroth
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 15:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ In case later readers are confused about the five-year gap in comments above, the context is in Can non-open-license rules be discussed, or not? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 18:50

Previous meta.stackoverflow.com discussion: here, on flagging and appropriate actions.

Stanford has a great explanation of fair use in United States law. The four factors to evaluate:

  1. Are you transforming the source work in some way? Parody is the classic example, but scholarship also counts. Did you add value? Just quoting a chunk of text doesn't add value; adding explanatory material might.
  2. Is the original work fact or fiction? It's more likely to be fair use if it's fact. I am not sure what gaming texts would be in this case.
  3. How much did you take? If you didn't take much, you're safer; if you didn't take key elements, you're safer.
  4. Are you hurting the market for the original work? This is a particularly scary bit, IMHO -- if someone can come here and ask a question about (say) how to make Over the Edge characters, and they get a good answer, we're making it easier for someone not to buy the book.

Now, there's also legal precedent that you can't copyright rules, but how that applies to RPGs is untested to my knowledge. (Again, US only.) See John Kim's page on RPG copyright.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The one thing I would add to this is that, although the four factors are canonical, it's much easier to say "that cannot ever be fair use" than it is to say "a court would certainly find this to be acceptable fair use." I'd say it's impossible to answer the latter when we look at a collaboratively written document like rpg.stackexchange.com as a whole - it's easy to see how a collection of answers, each likely "fair use" on their own, could, when taken together, swamp #3 and #4 when the site as a whole is examined. \$\endgroup\$
    – kodi
    Commented Sep 8, 2010 at 18:29

I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice (even though it sounds like it.)

Really, the Copyright circulars make it pretty clear that small quotes are not infringements, provided they serve some valid purpose. Valid purposes include scholarship, parody, critical examination, and review.

Such valid use requires some additional content aside from the quote; it doesn't require the content be by the same contributor, merely that the quote not be stand-alone. Since, axiomatically, answering a rules question often is best done by quoting the rules, even a bare rules-quote answer is part of a value-added situation - the quote has value because of the non-quote question.


Elaborating on my comment that it wasn't plagiarism, though it would be copyright infringement.

4th edition isn't licensed under the Open Gaming License (OGL) nor considered Open Gaming Content. Instead, 4th edition makes use of the OGL's significantly less-cool cousin, the Game System Liscence (GSL).

Both the OGL and the GSL have System Reference Documents, but the GSL FAQ site explicitly states...

The SRD is a reference document detailing Terms, Tables and Templates that are available for license under the GSL. It is a reference document and not a reprinting of the rules.

It then continues to state...

None of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons product line is considered Open Game Content made available to third parties through the Open Gaming License (OGL). Certain content from 4th Edition is available royalty-free for specified uses subject to the GSL.

So while 4th edition has an SRD, unlike 3.5th edition, the 4th edition SRD only contains a list of terms which may only be referenced, as opposed to content which can be used, modified and distributed.

If they had cited the PHP3.5, what was posted could be passed off as OGL and consequently reproducible, but reproducing rules from a 4th edition rulebook is a no-no.

There is a Fan Site Kit but it's just a bunch of pictures (cover art and stuff) which one can post on a web site. (Big whoop; thanks a lot WotC :P)

Other instances (such as the tables I copied from some rulebooks while answering Beyond Hit Points: Injury in DnD) are - as I understand it - acceptable; the first table was from Mutants and Masterminds - OGL - and the second was an optional side panel, from an out-of-print book, for a product which Wizards no longer has the license to sell... which I feel falls within Bryant's definition of Fair Use ;)

But I'm not a lawyer... so don't take my word for it ;)


So Bryant pointed out some interesting points about conflicts about the OGL and the Creative Commons license... I don't fully understand those.

He also brought up the fact that OGL content has to include the OGL legal-jargon. However, in the OGL FAQ It states...

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.

... so CC versus OGL aside, linking to the OGL would be enough, were it not for incompatibility between the OGL and CC licenses.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Heh. OGL doesn't help unless you include a full OGL declaration in your post, and even if you did the entire SO site is licensed under Creative Commons anyhow, which is incompatible with the OGL, so you can't use an OGL license here. Mind you, I am also not a lawyer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bryant
    Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 12:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bryant - This is true... but I remember an exception for web sites that if you include a hyperlink to the OGL it is considered adequate. See edit. \$\endgroup\$
    – LeguRi
    Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Bryant - Feel fee to edit my post and add a blurb on "CC versus OGL", and likewise to tell me "I won't do it until this is CW!" ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – LeguRi
    Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 12:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is exactly what I'm talking about when I say let's not become Junior Lawyers. IP law is complicated and should be stayed away from. Putting in/linking the OGL means we are now complying with that license, which let me guarantee you we do not want to do. Every company has its own license and its own attitudes. We need to not get embroiled on that but to stand upon everyone's rights under law. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 14:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I recall the 4E license saying that it didn't apply at all to websites. Really, OGL (for 3E) is the least of our worries. There are other games that aren't license at all and we'll have the same copyright infringement concerns about those. \$\endgroup\$
    – Adam Dray
    Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 19:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adam Dray, @mxyzplk - @mxyzplk is definitely right on this one. \$\endgroup\$
    – LeguRi
    Commented Sep 5, 2010 at 20:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, we don't want to mix licenses here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 7, 2010 at 19:21

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