I ran across an article at Porky’s Expanse called “How Much of that IP Could We Own?“. Essentially, Porky is asking if the gamers, who expand upon and further develop an intellectual property, held by another, have any right to the work they have added.
I believe that the short answer is no. However, it is an interesting idea.
TSR produced the World of Greyhawk setting. They have published quite a number of modules, boxed sets, magazine articles, and books. But all that is dwarfed by the volume of Greyhawk-related material produced by the gaming community.
It is very clear that WotC, having bought the rights from TSR, is the legal owner of the World of Greyhawk setting (the IP). But shouldn’t the millions who have enjoyed this world (lived in it, and in return given it life) have some partially ownership of it too? Clearly they don’t, but shouldn’t they have?
Whenever I see someone on the forums suggesting that WotC should start publishing Greyhawk material again, I cringe. I hate to imagine how they would defile that beloved world (I still haven’t gotten over “Greyhawk Wars” and “From the Ashes” – not that they were bad products, but how dare some company make such sweeping changes to “our” world, without our permission). That little voice in my head asks “What right do they have to change our world? It’s ours!”.
Clearly, that’s all completely irrational. But, at least subconsciously, I apparently believe we should have some rights. After all, we are the ones responsible for it growing into what it has become.
Let’s take a detour for a minute. Every home owner is the legal owner of their property. If the city determines that the road in front of their house needs to be widened to accommodate increased traffic, they will take some of the home owner’s property, pay them what they choose, and the home owner has nothing to say about it. In this case, the city, acting on behalf of the people, is taking an asset out of private hands and making it available to the public.
Isn’t there a similarity there? The question becomes, “Is there ever a point at which the needs of the people outweigh the rights of the legal owner”? And, if so, how is that owner to be compensated?
Unfortunately, I can’t imagine any situation where I could see it being fair or just to require a legal owner of an IP to relinquish it to the public. In this particular case, I would love to see it happen. But once the precedence was set, the law would be extended to all sorts of other applications that would cause endless problems.
I guess reading that other article got me all revved up and stuck in rant mode. Sadly, there’s not really anyone to rant at. It would be nice if WotC would release Greyhawk into the public domain. But just because we’ve contributed to it, doesn’t make it “ours” by any argument I can come up with.
Time to add this to “The world would be better if…” list.