I've noticed lots of links to dndtools.eu lately. That site seems to have verbatim text from a lot of non-OGL D&D stuff.

Obviously, that's really useful as a reference! But the site itself is presumably violating copyright, and if it ever gets taken down, all those links become useless.

Is this something that needs to be addressed?

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+1 I noticed this too, didn't think to post a question –  LitheOhm Feb 4 '13 at 20:08
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It is now. WotC issued a C&D order, and dndtools are shut down. Though their database is intact, can be found and can be used, the now-broken links are no longer a handy way to one-click look the references up. –  Jeor Mattan Nov 20 at 10:03

4 Answers 4

I don't offer a position on the ethics or legality of linking to "D&D Tools" – that's amply covered already, and (despite my frequent writing about the legal issues of copyright) my personal feelings about what should be the ethics and legality are complicated and aren't relevant.

There is a practical reason we shouldn't link to that site though. It goes like this:

  1. The site violates the Berne Convention and various narrower international agreements.
  2. Hasbro has a large and active legal department in a country that's party to these agreements.
  3. From (1) and (2), it is therefore inevitable that Hasbro will cause the site or its contents to disappear at some point in the not-too-distant future. They've done it before.
  4. We are mandated to provide answers that will remain relevant over time and won't "rot".
  5. If we keep these links, from (3) we know that inevitably they will become dead links in our answers.
  6. (4) and (5) are in conflict, therefore we have to throw one or the other out.
  7. We're not going to throw out our site mandate, so we therefore must throw out linking to sites that we know are as good as dead already.

So, legally, we could leave these links alone, but we are compromising the quality of our site while doing so. This is a case where legality is not the only relevant concern. I think we should, despite the lack of legal liability, prohibit these links as a matter of maintaining the quality of the answers the site generates.

(This is analogous to "you have the protected right to say what you want, but not the right to not hear me say you're a terrible person for saying it" principle of freedom of speech. What's legal isn't necessarily smart or useful. Focusing on legality can make people miss the obvious a-legal downsides of a choice.)

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+1 I like your use of logic as opposed to an appeal to decency or legality. –  LitheOhm Feb 7 '13 at 2:47
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I think this is the best reason to avoid them. –  Shog9 Feb 7 '13 at 2:57
    
Yeah, when I posted the Q I wasn't really concerned with the legality/morality of it directly (seems like resolving that is outside the scope of SE), just wondering what the practical policy should be. Though Hasbro has yet to crack down on dndwiki, which is also a hotbed of "appropriated" game text and OGL violation. :) –  starwed Feb 8 '13 at 5:07
    
I don't mind us avoiding the links, but per the general SE policy on copyright I'm hesitant to say they are "not allowed" and should be flagged for cause or the like. So encourage people not to use them, and you can propose edits to remove, etc., but it's not a "rule that they can't." –  mxyzplk Oct 17 at 12:02

D&D Tools.eu has been taken down.

They received a cease & desist letter from Wizards of the Coast. That pretty well settles the debate: we shouldn't link to it, because there's nothing there now. SevenSidedDie's predictions came true.

There's some parting words from the owner on the homepage, and an explanation of the situation: http://dndtools.eu/

If that ever goes down too, the same parting words are preserved on the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

Speaking of the Wayback Machine: I suggest we do not link to cached/archived versions of D&D Tools.

Legal or moral issues of whether we should link to cached versions entirely aside: those preserved copies of the site's copyright-violating content are going to go away eventually too, and they're broken links simply waiting to be such.

Internet Archive services requests to remove copyrighted works. See their Wayback Machine FAQ, specifically: What is the Wayback Machine's Copyright Policy?

Google Cache has done similar in the past.

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Note that the Wayback Machine is an archive rather than a cache, so the pages don't expire. But yes, a takedown request from WotC would remove them, so the fundamental point remains. –  SevenSidedDie Nov 25 at 21:20
    
@SevenSidedDie thanks for catching my usage of those terms :) –  doppelgreener Nov 26 at 5:10

I contend yes, addressing it would be worthwhile. Even though posting a link doesn't violate copyrights, the posting of a link does endorse a site. This endorsement flows through to copyright violation (even if not by the letter of the law, I'm no lawyer).

Begin rant.

Legally (again, I'm no lawyer but I do know a tiny bit about copyright) I believe it's not punishable to show people where to find copyrighted information. Ethically is another matter entirely. While the material is not hosted by us or by RPG.SE, it's still essentially the same as directing someone to the former MegaUpload for copies of the books they are requesting rules from, instead of to Amazon or Wikipedia.

While the presence of some dead links could be remedied by an hour or two of volunteer work editing (yay for search features) at any time, it's a matter of social responsibility. I paid cash to have my books. I supported the company who published my books. I paid for the right to reference them whenever I'd like. Sites like DnDTools.Eu sidestep this and ultimately detract from the RPG community as a whole. If you like what's in a book, support the friggin' author.

/Rant.

I'm not sure precisely how this should be addressed, but it ought to be. The mods probably have a way for handling links to download illegal content? Things of this nature should fall in line with that. Even if we're not doing the copyright infringing ourselves, gaining unfair/free benefit from another entity doing so isn't right.

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+1 I couldn't agree more. By allowing links in content on this site you are implicitly validating other sites that might be violating copyright, and even if they are not then it is still a ethically very grey –  Phil Feb 5 '13 at 0:56
    
So, having a nice index to look things up instead of digging in a ton of books you've already paid for is ethically unacceptable? –  Jeor Mattan Feb 5 '13 at 6:16
    
@JeorMattan An index is highly unlikely to violate copyright. Quoting a creative work verbatim is likely a violation of copyright unless an exception such as fair use applies. In this case, it looks to my (uneducated about OGL vs non-OGL) eye like the site being linked to is quoting verbatim, not just providing an index into rule books. –  Simon Withers Feb 5 '13 at 6:29
    
@JeorMattan And if you are suggesting that RPG.SE is acting like an index, that is consistent with the observation of a few other posters here, that RPG.SE is probably not violating copyright. –  Simon Withers Feb 5 '13 at 6:31
    
@LitheOhm I'm pretty sure that your post changed since I've commented it. My point is that I've already paid the money for the books, so I don't feel like I don't have the right to take a look at any quote (even full one) from the content I've already paid for. And I suppose people here own the books they ask questions about, so the point is applicable to them. Where is this (uneducated on copyright matters) opinion incorrect? –  Jeor Mattan Feb 5 '13 at 11:40
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@JeorMattan the question here isn't about the ethics of looking at unauthorized intellectual property, the question is should RPG.SE be suggesting that people do so. –  Simon Withers Feb 5 '13 at 17:02
    
@SimonWithers doesn't RPG.SE presume that people actually own the books containing the material they are asking about? For example, if user A asks about rule X, he supposedly has access to the book B, containing said rule, and therefore is authorized to access the information contained there. –  Jeor Mattan Feb 5 '13 at 17:56
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@JeorMattan Asking questions about rules in a book is only one way that site might get linked to. Asking a question not about a book can be answered with a link on that site to applicable rules in a book the asker may not own. Further, other users reading the answer and clicking the link (who are also a relevant party beyond the asker and answerer) are not presumed to own the books in either case. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 6 '13 at 18:35

NO, unless the presence of the link is a copyright violation by itself.

Having a reference on hand is way better than having to look everything up in a book, so it's either a plain quote from the rulebook (supposedly violating copyright) or a link to a plain quote (which is also violating copyright, but rpg.stackexchange.com is not to be blamed).

In the light of ability to look anything up in the physical book, the potential inaccessibility of the site hosting the plain quote is also a non-issue.

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A quote is fair use, and therefore not a copyvio. –  starwed Feb 4 '13 at 16:59
    
Why is dndtool violating copyright, then? Looks like they are just quoting the books. –  Jeor Mattan Feb 4 '13 at 17:28
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I'd suggest reading about fair use. There are several factors that determine whether it applies; most damningly for dndtools, they reproduce large (complete) portions of the rules, and do so in a way that affects the market for the original material. –  starwed Feb 4 '13 at 17:55
    
And to compare the quoting of rules text here to there, here rules text is often quoted with annotation in the form "I believe [X] because [Rules quote Y] and [Rules quote Z] when combined produce outcomes [A], [B], and [C]" as opposed to [Complete Rule 1], [Complete Rule 2] ... –  Simon Withers Feb 5 '13 at 6:35
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@starwed To be precise, a quote for the purpose of commentary or critique is fair use. A quote for the purpose of providing access to the quoted text is not fair use. It's not the size, but the purpose of the quote, that matters. Large quotes are merely more obvious in their non-fair use-ness, but large quotes are not inherently non-fair use. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 6 '13 at 18:27
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@SevenSidedDie The portion of the material reproduced affects fair use. While you can quote a small passage in a critique, you certainly can't reproduce the entire work. (It's the third prong of the standard fair use test.) –  starwed Feb 7 '13 at 6:09
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@starwed Yes, that's true. I mean only that the inverse isn't true: a small quote isn't automatically fair use due to size. –  SevenSidedDie Feb 7 '13 at 6:25

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