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Old 03-28-2006, 04:38 PM   #1
tehScarecrow
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The story I was writing for my mud (which will be up and running in an alpha stage soon thanks to mudmaker.com making it really easy to do ) involves having Drow as a race. A friend told me though that the D&D people jealously copyright this, and that it can't be used even in a free MUD. I ran a google search but couldn't find anything on the matter so I was wondering if anyone here knows?
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Old 03-29-2006, 12:12 AM   #2
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I'm not surprised that it could be copyrighted but I have seen the Drow sub-race available on quite a few muds that are out there... (None that I have tried have been able to code up their abilities very decently, but they are using that subrace). I've also seen some muds simply call them 'dark elves' or 'deep elves'. I'm sure not sure what the legality of that solution is, but I can tell you that a lot of muds are using Drow.
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Old 03-29-2006, 12:27 AM   #3
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TSR jealously guards its copyrights. It's, in fact, insane. Many of TSR's copyrights are bullcookies, but it's doubtful you'd have the power to fight them.

So, first, the word drow derives from Gaellic. Its use predates TSR, and dictionaries before Gygax's work do reference the word as referring to troll-like monsters. I've heard that some even define them as cave-dwelling elves (unconfirmed).

If you use the word drow in the most general way, to describe some dark elves or troll-type creatures, they shouldn't be able to win a lawsuit. They might still threaten one (I don't know), but you'd likely win.

On the other extreme, you could use their spider goddess... that will probably get your arse stuck over the flame, and you'd probably lose.

As far as somewhere in between, I don't know what would happen.

I also don't know what it'd take to avoid TSR's interest. It may be that, just by being a mud, you'd slip under their radar. On the other hand, you might pop up on some copyright guy's Google queries, in which case, you'd have to make him or her fairly convinced the suit would be entirely frivolous.

*shrugs* I'm not a legal guy, this is just the information I have available. This is not, and should not be construed as, legal advice.

P.S. Information on this subject abounds online. Many a budding law student thought it was interesting enough to give them many hours of procrastination.
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Old 03-29-2006, 09:48 AM   #4
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TSR hasn't seemed to be very vigilant about free muds. Don't try to make any money off their stuff, though, or they will come after you sooner or later.

I've noticed that there are many Dragonlance themed muds and muds with kenders. Some muds are even using copyrighted Dragonlance art on their webpage. I'm pretty sure that none of them have heard from TSR.

Anytime you're not using originaly work, though, you risk the owners of that work having a problem with how you're using their intellectual property. So, it's probably a "do so at your own risk" type of situation.
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Old 03-29-2006, 10:44 AM   #5
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Keep in mind that for many many years, the running joke is that TSR stands for 'They Sue Regularly."

They do. Keep your head down.

---Brett
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Old 03-29-2006, 11:46 AM   #6
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I'm not a legal expert that can talk to you about what the law says or doesn't, but at Carrion Fields we decided long ago to go about removing all copyrighted material from our game.

Just because you could likely get away with it doesn't make it ethical.

I know there are MUDs in this community don't adhere to that concept at all, but I'm happy to work at one that does. We removed all reference to "drow" from our game some time ago, although I wouldn't be surprised to hear players still using the phrase, which is beyond our control. We're not 100% done with removing all copyrighted material - it's amazing how many TSR, LoTR and WoT references you can build up over the years without even trying - but we're whittling it down.

So in short, you could probably get away with using "drow" on a free MUD. We did for years. But that doesn't mean you should.
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Old 03-29-2006, 12:34 PM   #7
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So in short, you could probably get away with using "drow" on a free MUD. We did for years. But that doesn't mean you should.
I gather you mean using 'drow' and all its D&D connotations. There's simply no reason you can't use 'drow' if you design the race yourself.

It would be shortsighted to abandon a good old word like drow with all its cultural/linguistic resonance just because someboy staked out their turf in the 80s. Should we not use elf, dwarf, and 'channeling'? Should we devise increasingly convoluted terms to be more 'original'? If I see one more mud with fantasy races called the 'illrithmilin', the 'vorloxis', and the 'sifrifinin' I'm going to puke.
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Old 03-29-2006, 12:51 PM   #8
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Why not call them 'dark elves' or something like that? I had no idea 'drow' was copyright, but if I were you I'd keep the rename simple.

Honestly, I can't even get my friends to consider looking at MUDs, so who knows if a lawyer will ever see it.
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Old 03-29-2006, 01:40 PM   #9
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I don't think they'd take any significant action, if I had a nickel for everytime I've seen "Dark Elves" or a similar race in a MUD, I'd certainly have a better car, that's for sure. But anyways, I wish MUD's would stop using these racial archetypes, but there're certain things people are used to and like, and people probably won't change it for a long time.
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Old 03-29-2006, 03:23 PM   #10
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Ok, thanks for the feedback everyone, some good points in there Maybe I could call them Dokkalfar, that's one of the possible roots of the word (dtrow, evil cave elves/trolls) according to wikkipedia and I think it sounds good.
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Old 03-29-2006, 06:59 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by
Honestly, I can't even get my friends to consider looking at MUDs, so who knows if a lawyer will ever see it.
It's happened before.

Quote:
Originally Posted by
I had no idea 'drow' was copyright, but if I were you I'd keep the rename simple.
The word 'drow' is not copyrighted. That would be very impossible. However, the AD&D drows are... Lloth or whatever, for example, is entirely a TSR baby, and if your drows worship Lloth, you're probably in violation.

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Maybe I could call them Dokkalfar, that's one of the possible roots of the word (dtrow, evil cave elves/trolls) according to wikkipedia and I think it sounds good.
You should call them trolls and then include, in the helpfile, an explanation about "dtrow". Then you could describe your mud as educational. ^_^
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Old 03-29-2006, 07:16 PM   #12
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Sorry to get slightly off topic... so TSR still owns copyrights on AD&D stuff? I thought Wizards of the Coast owned everything now?
Just curious.
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Old 03-29-2006, 08:14 PM   #13
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Yeah, anything resembling Drizzt Do'Urden or any of his magical friends in any way shape or form is probably copyrighted D&D.
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Old 03-30-2006, 09:22 AM   #14
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The word "drow" is not copyrighted and cannot be so since its origins trace from Scots/Celt mythology.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drow

All of the proper names created by TSR's authors, however, are copyrighted. Some could very possibly be trademarked. If they are trademarked, TSR must defend them rigorously or else the trademark becomes meaningless. Thus, you could use "drow" to be a catch-all term for dark skinned elves, since that is the picture that will be evoked for most people playing fantasy muds. You couldn't use 'Lloth' or 'Mezzowhateverthatcity'snameis'.

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Sorry to get slightly off topic... so TSR still owns copyrights on AD&D stuff? I thought Wizards of the Coast owned everything now?
The stuff is still technically owned by TSR which is a subsidiary of WoTC which was bought out by Hasbro. So! It's a bit convoluted. Ultimately, Hasbro now owns the TSR licences as its parent company, but TSR holds the copyrights. (I think this is right.) Hasbro bought WoTC to get their hands on the Pokemon card game.
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Old 03-30-2006, 02:42 PM   #15
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Well, the name Drow could be used, but the D&D image of a blue or black-skinned tall elf is probably going to be a copyright violation, seeing as none of those mythological origins point to something resembling Drizzt.

You could probably make some subterranean trolls and call them Drow, but probably not the traditional D&D image.
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Old 03-31-2006, 12:10 AM   #16
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First let me say "I am not a lawyer and this is not to be construed as legal advice. Consult a lawyer in your state for information".

Heh.

Now then...

From the US Copyright Office
"WHAT IS NOT PROTECTED BY COPYRIGHT
Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration"

So the concept of drow should not be protected. This is especially so since the origin of the word predates TSR's usage, and did stand for underground/cave-dwelling elves before Gygax used it.

If it was me I would use "drow" as a race with little to no belief that I would face successful legal action against me. I do agree, however, with the poster that stated that using specific names (ie LLoth etc.) with the race may constitute infringement.
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Old 03-31-2006, 08:34 AM   #17
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I don't get it.

If you pay for the books, how is using AD&D material in a free online game different than using AD&D material in a tabletop game, except that your table is a little bigger?
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Old 03-31-2006, 02:36 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by (Mabus @ Mar. 31 2006,01:10)
So the concept of drow should not be protected. This is especially so since the origin of the word predates TSR's usage, and did stand for underground/cave-dwelling elves before Gygax used it.

If it was me I would use "drow" as a race with little to no belief that I would face successful legal action against me. I do agree, however, with the poster that stated that using specific names (ie LLoth etc.) with the race may constitute infringement.
But in my mind, the concept of drow as white-haired, tall, black-skinned elves may be viewed as a copyright violation, simply because this image of drow did not exist before Greyhawk.  In mythology, the image of a dwarf and elf were interchangeable, so the image we have come to typefy as the "Drow" thanks to D&D is, aside from concept of evil cave-dwellers, purely a construct of the Greyhawk campaign.
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Old 04-01-2006, 04:02 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by (Ilkidarios @ Mar. 31 2006,15:36)
But in my mind, the concept of drow as white-haired, tall, black-skinned elves may be viewed as a copyright violation
In your mind, possibly, but the concept is not able to be copywritten according to the paragraph I quoted from the US Copyright Office's own website.

Legally only the law and precedent matters. If the law states that a concept (white-haired, dark-skinned elves named "drow" in this case) cannot be copywritten and no cases exist where a legal action was won for infringement do to use of a concept then it cannot be illegal, or infringement, under the law.
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Old 04-01-2006, 05:58 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by (Mabus @ April 01 2006,11:02)
Quote:
Originally Posted by (Ilkidarios @ Mar. 31 2006,15:36)
But in my mind, the concept of drow as white-haired, tall, black-skinned elves may be viewed as a copyright violation
In your mind, possibly, but the concept is not able to be copywritten according to the paragraph I quoted from the US Copyright Office's own website.
The concept..."as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration".

A description of the drow, or a picture, or an explanation...these things would fall under copyright law. And copyright also extends to non-literal elements, using the "abstraction-filtration-comparison" test to analyze non-literal infringement.

Whether copying the drow would be an infringement or not really depends on what exactly you copy. If you create a race which is exactly like the D&D drow (including the identical culture, religion, physical and magical traits, etc), then you could potentially run into problems. You'd also have to be very careful to avoid infringing trademarks, which do protect names.

And please note it's copyright - the right to make copies - not copywrite.
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