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One of the Site Mods has an issue with this question I asked about a specific spell. They have stated that it is not right to quote the whole spell due to "fair use". I disagree and feel that keeping the spell as a whole is better for people who are researching the spell and might have questions about it in the future.

Is there any legal reason not to put the full spell given the definition of "fair use"?

Quote Per Google link

fair use
noun
noun: fair use; plural noun: fair uses

(in US copyright law) the doctrine that brief excerpts of copyright material may, under certain circumstances, be quoted verbatim for purposes such as criticism, news reporting, teaching, and research, without the need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder. "whether or not six seconds of the song in a user-generated video constitutes fair use is something for a court to decide"

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    \$\begingroup\$ possibly worth keeping in mind that the spell in question (Mold Earth) is from the EEPC so though it is freely available it is not part of the SRD/licensed under the OGL. \$\endgroup\$ – Carcer Jan 25 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Closely related: including an entire stat block \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jan 25 at 13:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Carcer, while true "fair use" applies to fully copyrighted works the same as it would to Open Source \$\endgroup\$ – CaffeineAddiction Jan 25 at 14:17
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Just FYI, a normal user was the one who revised your post using their edit privilege. “Site mods” usually refers to the diamond moderators, none of which have revised your post prior to this meta. Each of the diamond moderators will always have a diamond (♦) appear after their names.

On Fair Use in this situation

Stanford University has an excellent overview of Fair Use here. The most relevant pages are What Is Fair Use? and Measuring Fair Use: The Four Factors. As KRyan mentions, mainly we have to be quoting the work for a legitimate purpose and not quote more than really necessary so as to avoid depriving the copyright owner of potential income.

Given the entire spell is being provided publicly for free in D&D Beyond, we're not doing any harm to the original product.

It would be different if that spell was behind the D&D Beyond paywall: we would very strongly require you not to reproduce the whole thing, and we would expect people must own the book or pass the D&D Beyond paywall to fully understand the spell. In this scenario the only reason to reproduce the spell in full would be to remove the need for people to buy the book, which is an exact scenario of depriving the copyright owner of potential income.

But there's other reasons to edit the post

There's something else to consider: what's the signal-to-noise ratio of your post? It's pretty high on the side of noise, mainly because you are reproducing six paragraphs of a spell when only two of them matter. (That means just about half the full vertical height of the post is entirely skippable for the purpose of the question!) Your post will be more legible if it doesn't include a lot of additional unnecessary text. Others can look it up if they need to know additional stuff—you did give them a link to the full spell definition right there in the post. For the same reason we wouldn't quote an entire chapter of a novel if we only needed to ask about one line of dialog.

On this basis, not on the basis of fair use, I've edited your post to slim it down.

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    \$\begingroup\$ yah, sorry saw the 50k rep and made a poor assumption that it was a mod ... might as well be in most cases \$\endgroup\$ – CaffeineAddiction Jan 25 at 15:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Totally. Highly privileged users are pretty close to being diamonds themselves; we're just entrusted with more sensitive information (like seeing deleted comments), some more nuclear tools, and a megaphone. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 25 at 15:52
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I am not a lawyer, but I have been dealing with Fair Use and its local variations in the media a few times.

You are correct that there is no fundamental reason a full spell definition couldn't be Fair Use. RPG.stackexchange doesn't have a policy in place that full stat blocks, spell descriptions or such should be necessarily removed from the site. However, Fair Use is not just about the amount of copyrighted content used, but its purpose: analysis, parody, criticism, among others.

To put it briefly, the amount and nature of the copyrighted content used needs be justified by the purpose. If you intend to write a long treatise on DnD 5e mechanics, you can wind up quoting far more rules than a single spell block and can still reasonably claim Fair Use. Users can and should make judgment calls when encountering copyrighted work to decide whether they're looking at Fair Use or not. There is no clear objective test we could apply --- ultimately, it's up to the courts to decide, and that's a way we don't like to use.

The question you're referring to considers a single two-word definition in a single bullet of a longer spell's description. It's not egregious, but still way more copyrighted material the question needs to make sense. Since the question doesn't need all that copyrighted material, the right of Fair Use becomes rather tenuous. Given that, I think removing it was a smart thing to do and I would uphold the decision to do so.

In this case, the spell's full definition is freely available from the copyright holder anyway, so the issue is not that serious. However, in the future, refrain from pasting excerpts of copyrighted material that go significantly beyond the scope of the question unless the license of the work permits it.

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Up front: I am not a lawyer; my knowledge comes solely from reading about this topic in for-a-lay-audience sources. The following is my understanding, and in any event I think a reasonable way to handle things here.

Fair Use protects certain forms of copyright infringement, for particular purposes. One of those is educational, which this site can reasonably lay a claim to providing.

But Fair Use covers only using as much of the copyrighted material as you need in order to accomplish whatever protected goal you are seeking. So it is only Fair Use if your use of the material is necessary to accomplish your protected goal.

Ultimately, the only real way to test any particular claim of Fair Use is to get sued, go to court, and argue the use before a judge. There are a number of criteria that have to be weighed and considered, for example the length of your quotation vs. the length of the publication quoted from, the importance of every aspect of the quotation to your stated goals, and so on. Some of this is heavily subjective and comes down a lot to how well the respective lawyers argue their cases.

So in general, we should generally strive to keep quotations to a minimum for their goal. On the other hand, Fair Use is protected, and for a reason—we should not harm any question or answer for the sake of being over-stringent about this. If you have a real reason to quote the entire spell, then the entire spell should stay. Ultimately, a single spell is a very small portion of a given publication, which would make it easier to defend in court if it came to that, but obviously it won’t. Really blatant cases of copyright infringement that exceed any Fair Use rationale would have long since violated our own site guidelines on scope and question or answer length—such a massive quote suggests that the question is well past Too Broad.

The only real concern I would have for copyright infringement—linking to infringing sites, which do reproduce all or nearly-all of publications—is already handled by another Meta discussion, and is not allowed.

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