Tech & Sourcing @ Morgan Lewis


Until early 2023, a public disagreement regarding open intellectual property licenses was ongoing between the owner of a significant piece of popular content—the roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D)—and the individuals and corporates that engage with it for free.

Since 2000, the publisher of D&D, Wizards of the Coast (Wizards), has allowed third-party content creators to freely use D&D materials and intellectual property to create content compatible with D&D’s unique gameplay mechanics through version 1.0a of its open gaming license (OGL 1.0a). OGL 1.0a was considered a game changer in the tabletop gaming community, as it granted content creators a perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide, and nonexclusive license to use the D&D intellectual property to, among other things, create content for profit without a requirement to compensate Wizards.

OGL 1.1 – Not-So-Open Gaming License?

In August 2022, as part of its wider plans to update the fifth edition of the D&D handbook, codenamed One D&D, Wizards announced plans to release version 1.1 of the open gaming license (OGL 1.1). The intention was for the new license to (1) address the way large corporations “exploit” D&D intellectual property and (2) prevent the use and commercialization of D&D content in Web3, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), and blockchain games.

Some of the key changes proposed by OGL 1.1 included the following:

  • Deauthorization of OGL 1.0a: Licensors would not be able to create new content under the original OGL 1.0a license.
  • License Back to Wizards: Licensors would be required to grant a broad irrevocable, worldwide, sub-licensable, royalty-free license to Wizards to use all third-party content developed using the D&D intellectual property for any purpose.
  • Separate Terms for Commercial Use: Different terms would apply to “OGL commercial use” content produced and provided in exchange for money (or equivalent) than content provided for free.
  • Royalty Payments to Wizards: Content creators making $750,000 or more annually would be required to pay 25% to Wizard in royalties, with this obligation to pay royalties surviving termination of the license.
  • Share-Alike and Mutual Use Provisions: In a similar approach to copyleft licenses in open-source software, noncommercial use terms require free content to be provided by content creators on the same license terms as under the OGL 1.1.

Following the announcement of OGL 1.1, there was immediate backlash from within the D&D community, who felt this represented a significant departure from the truly open license approach of OGL 1.0a. Wizards suffered mass cancellations of subscriptions to D&D Beyond— its digital suite of D&D tools and content—as many sought alternative routes to exploit similar content without the need to rely on D&D-specific intellectual property (e.g., by replacing a “Beholder”—a monster specific to D&D—with an “Onlooker”).

The public response was such that Wizards released a statement confirming that OGL 1.1 had been leaked in draft form, was only ever intended as a draft to encourage feedback from content creators, and that they would be revisiting the license terms.

Where Are We Now?

After some back and forth regarding a potential OGL 1.2 (which rolled back the requirement to pay royalties or license any developed content back to Wizards), on January 27, 2023, Wizards announced that, not only would the original OGL 1.0a be left in place unrevised, but that the entire System Resource Document (the gaming mechanics behind D&D) would be made freely available for any use under a Creative Commons license (specifically CC-BY-4.0).

With D&D being more prevalent in media than ever before, thanks in no small part to television shows such as Stranger Things and The Legend of Vox Machina, as well as the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons movie, capitalizing on this potentially huge income stream would seem understandable. This is particularly true when coupled with the fact that content creators, and even competitors to D&D, are profiting from intellectual property that Wizards is making available to the public for free.

D&D content was historically made available on an open gaming license basis to make it easier for new players to get into the game. Perhaps there could have been an approach that balanced this idea with an ability to commercialize the revenue streams generated by third-party content. However, once the System Resource Document is made available under the Creative Commons license, this will no longer be on the table—unlike the game itself.