Fan-Use and Licensing Q&A
Revised: March 16, 2020.
Q: Copyrights and Trademarks - what are they?
A: Our intellectual property - our text and images - are legally protected by copyright, giving Chaosium/Moon Design Publications exclusive rights for its use and distribution. Our logos, titles and certain content are trademarks, which uniquely identify our products. For example, ‘Call of Cthulhu’ and ‘RuneQuest’, among others, are officially registered as Chaosium/Moon Design Publications trademarks, whereas the written text and artwork in these works are protected by copyright. How others (fans, small publishers, commercial licensees) get to use our copyrights and trademarks is through our Fan-Use and Licensing policies. If our copyrights are violated or trademarks are infringed - for example, someone producing an unauthorised Masks of Nyarlathotep graphic novel - and it comes to our attention, the law requires us to police the violation, otherwise we may lose the right to claim them.
Q: What is the relationship between Chaosium and Moon Design Publications?
A: In 2015 Moon Design Publications became part of the ownership of Chaosium Inc. Although all products are now released under the Chaosium logo, Moon Design Publications retains ownership of the Trademarks, copyrights and intellectual property for RuneQuest, Glorantha, HeroQuest, King Arthur Pendragon, 7th Sea, and various other titles. Chaosium Inc. owns the Trademarks, copyrights and intellectual property for Call of Cthulhu.
Q: Isn’t H.P. Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos in the public domain?
A: Not all aspects of H.P. Lovecraft’s work or the Cthulhu Mythos are in the public domain. Although H.P. Lovecraft was the originator of the Mythos, he generously collaborated with a wide circle of writers, and since his death others have continued to contribute to its ongoing creation. Included in this group are such names as August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell, Sandy Petersen, and Chaosium itself, among others.
Q: So you're not trying to claim you "own" the Mythos?
A: We make no claim that we "own" the Mythos, never have. Because HPL died over 70 years ago, his individual writings are now in the public domain, but the Mythos was/is a shared creation—even in HPL's lifetime ("the Lovecraft Circle"). Many of the writers HPL collaborated with lived on much later into the 20th century, e.g. Clarke Ashton Smith (d.1961), August Derleth (d.1971), Robert Bloch (d.1994), etc. Certain elements of the Mythos are theirs, or have been created by other still-living authors including Brian Lumley, Ramsey Campbell and indeed Chaosium's Sandy Petersen. What these writers created in the Mythos won't enter the public domain until they have been dead for 70 years (or in Sandy's case, maybe never, because he is clearly an Immortal Being). We don't claim to own the Mythos in general, although certain elements of it including storylines, names, creatures, characters, descriptions, and depictions are Chaosium IP. We do own the Call of Cthulhu RPG, and and are obliged to protect it.
Q: Can you advise me on what is and what isn't considered to be in the public domain for H.P. Lovecraft and the Mythos in general?
A: We cannot offer you specific guidance on which elements of the Cthulhu Mythos reside in the public domain and which remain in copyright. The matter is complicated by a number of factors, including the incomplete or contradictory records connected to the copyrights of the original Mythos stories, the divergent and contradictory copyright laws of the various countries in which Mythos works are or have been published, and the sharing of content that went on between the authors in Lovecraft's original circle and some Mythos authors today.
There are a number of sites online that discuss the status of Lovecraft's copyrights. We cannot vouch for the accuracy of these sites, but this is where you might begin your research: search for H.P. Lovecraft + copyright.
On the other Mythos authors, the works of living writers such as Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley clearly remain in copyright, while the status of works by authors who have passed away can vary wildly. You would have to research each author and each individual work from which you would like to draw content. The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin is one good place to begin your research about copyright.
Q: BTW, wasn't H.P. Lovecraft a terrible racist?
A: Yes, he was. Lovecraft was a complex and troubled person in life. He was a wonderful writer with a wondrous imagination, a friend to many, and part of a corresponding group of writers (that included Robert E Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and others) that created the genres of horror and heroic fantasy as we know it. He also wrote things that were racist, and anti-Semitic, and probably misogynistic as well. His fear of the "Other", "infecting" the body of "old stock" definitely influenced his writing, and can be seen in things like Shadows Over Innsmouth, The Horror at Red Hook, and The Thing on the Doorstep. But these were also major anxieties of his time, shared by many others—Lovecraft's horror is many of the deep fears of the modern world (and includes the fear that not only is there no benevolent God but that the "gods" are outright malevolent and hate us). Lovecraft's cosmos is a howling abyss and none dare stare too long into it without becoming a monster.
Q: So how can we esteem or promote the works of such a terrible person?
We don't think it is possible to formulate answer to this more eloquently than the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has already done:
It is true that Lovecraft wrote some offensively racist things and held some very regrettably racist views. It is also true that his opinions changed over the course of his life, and the ugly things he said in his youth were somewhat mellowed by age and experience. But he's been dead a long time, and there's nothing we can do to change him. We can only recognize his flaws, and enjoy those parts of his work that do appeal to us: his fantastical imagination and worlds of ancient mystery. The HPLHS does not subscribe to Lovecraft's racial, political or sociological views, and does not support or promote them in any way.
We are in full agreement with the HPLHS (who are great folk and do amazing work—check them out!: http://www.hplhs.org). To reiterate, Chaosium and the Call of Cthulhu RPG does not subscribe to Lovecraft's racial, political or sociological views, and does not support or promote them in any way.
Q: Can I use material from a Chaosium release in my own game/story/film?
A: Note that even where the original Mythos works have entered the public domain, Chaosium's roleplaying game books constitute original expressions protected by copyright. In other words, if you want to create a Cthulhu Mythos game, story, or film, you cannot just copy our published text or use our material without permission. If you wish to quote from or license material from any Chaosium title, refer to our Fan Use and Licensing pages for more information. In any licensing application you will need to outline the specific Chaosium material sought, as well as information on projected formats, territories, and print runs of the intended licensed work, among other details.
Q: Can I make my own version of one of your stories, or scenarios or campaigns?
A: No, those are our intellectual property, and you’d need our permission first. You would be welcome to do a campaign log though, or create your own props or handouts for use in play. We’d have no issue with you and your friends playing through a scenario for viewing on Twitch TV or Youtube either. However, an unauthorised web comic or computer game of one of our scenarios (for example) would infringe our copyright.
Q. I am writing my own novel/comic/script and want to use certain elements from your IP (e.g. a character/setting/artefact etc) Is this allowed?
A: For the protection of our copyrights and trademarks, and to adhere to the terms of licenses we have signed with third parties, we cannot authorise this kind of casual use. We can only grant those kinds of permission as part of a formal license.
Q: Are there some creative activities that don’t come under the Fan Materials policy or licensing guidelines?
A: Such things as product reviews, commentary, criticism and news reporting about our products are already covered under the general provisions of Fair Use. A license is not necessary to make and broadcast Live/Recorded Play sessions (e.g. Twitch TV, Youtube, podcasts).
Q: How much of a book can I show in a review?
A: In a review, you are welcome to show the covers and several internal pages of the work. Please not reveal more and be careful about revealing spoilers! While you are free to show whichever pages you want, we will provide images from our new releases for use in reviews on Chaosium.com.
Q: Can I create my own character sheets, or a character generator as an app or website?
A: Under our Fan Material Policy you may create your own versions of our character sheets, including web-based character sheets that autofill or calculate numerical values. If you wish to monetise this, or produce an app that creates characters, you will require a Small Publisher Limited License or Commercial License.
Q: Can I create props and handouts from your scenarios?
A: Yes, we know game masters love to make their own versions of in-game handouts (especially for Call of Cthulhu) and share them online. Under the Fan Materials policy you are welcome to do so—as long as you don’t charge for it. If you want to sell your work or charge for access, that’s fine too, but you’ll need at least to secure a Small Publisher Limited License first. Handouts from Chaosium scenarios bear our copyrighted text, so ensure you properly credit Chaosium.
Q: Can I create a Call of Cthulhu computer game?
A: Chaosium currently has an exclusive license agreement for Call of Cthulhu computer games with Focus Home Interactive. Consequently, while this agreement is in place, new licenses of any kind for “Call of Cthulhu” computer games (PC, Mac, Xbox, PS, mobiles etc) are not available.
Q: Can I create a RuneQuest computer game?
A: Chaosium currently has an exclusive license agreement for RuneQuest computer games with Black Shamrock. Consequently, while this agreement is in place, new licenses of any kind for “RuneQuest” computer games (PC, Mac, Xbox, PS, mobiles etc) are not available.
Q: I would like a license to produce stuff for an earlier edition of one of your games, e.g. Call of Cthulhu editions 1-6, or one of the previous editions of RuneQuest.
A: Commercial licensees must use the most current edition of the rules. For Call of Cthulhu that is 7th Edition. For RuneQuest that is RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. Small Publisher Limited License publishers should use the most recent edition too: we are far more likely to look favorably on your license request if you do. Note, for RuneQuest we do not grant licenses for products that use the former Design Mechanism or Mongoose versions of the rules.
Q: Does Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, Magic World, Pendragon, or 7th Sea come under the provisions of an Open Game License (OGL)?
A: No. However, we have created an Open Game License for the BRP Rules system, which underlies most of our RPGs. The BRP - System Reference Document page has more information, including what is permitted and what is not under the BRP OGL.
Q: Can I rely on the Mongoose RQ SRD to publish material?
A: No. Mongoose’s license for RuneQuest was terminated in April 2011. At that point, Mongoose lost all rights to continue using the RuneQuest trademark, or to create and publish material derivative from the previous copywritten material, or to issue any sublicenses based on that agreement. Since Mongoose no longer had any rights to RuneQuest, it has no ability to issue a third-party license to that material (which is all an OGL is).
Q: I would like a license to produce stuff for the Magic World RPG.
A: While Chaosium won’t be publishing anything further for Magic World ourselves, we will continue to sell the Magic World core rulebooks for the foreseeable future. License requests should only be for supplements, sourcebooks and accessories.
Q: I would like a license to produce stuff for Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion/ Larry Niven’s Ringworld/ Wendy & Richard Pini’s ElfQuest.
A: Chaosium does not currently have the rights to produce new materials in these settings; consequently, we do not offer licenses either.
Q: What does YGWV (“Your Glorantha Will Vary”) mean? How does this apply to fan and licensed products?
A: “Your Glorantha Will Vary” is long-established principle in Gloranthan fandom. First espoused by the creator of the setting himself, Greg Stafford, in a nutshell what it means is you are free and welcome to take what you want from the incredibly rich tapestry of myth, magic, history and wonder of Glorantha for use in your own games. We work closely with our Commercial licensees to ensure what they publish is in alignment with our published products, but Fan and Small Publisher Limited License content creators have no such obligation. The “official” canon for the world is found in material published by Chaosium/Moon Design Publications, with what is presented in The Guide to Glorantha and The Glorantha Sourcebook as definitive.
Q: Can I pay my royalties in product instead of cash?
A: Chaosium once commonly asked to receive royalties in the form of product. We no longer do that. Your license will stipulate how many samples of your finished product you need to send us, but all royalties and license fees are strictly paid in cash.
Q: How is the USD$2000 annual limit for the Small Publisher Limited License calculated? What happens if I go over it?
A: You should calculate your USD$2000 annual limit based on gross sales, minus any retailer fees. For example, if you sell your product on DriveThruRPG for $10, their 30% fee means you make $7. The limit is calculated on what you make. If you go over that limit, or think you are going to, get in touch with us and we can discuss issuing a full Commercial License.
Q: If the license is for three years, can I make an average of USD$2000 per annum, that is to say $4000 in year one, $1500 in year two and $500 in year three?
A: No, the Small Publisher Limited License is capped at $2000 per annum. It is not averaged out over the term of the license. If you exceed the annual cap, or think you are going to, you need to get in touch with us.
Q: Will you sell my licensee products on chaosium.com and at your booth at conventions?
A: While we are happy to support and promote our licensees, unfortunately due to the complexities of such situations from a warehousing, inventory, tax and accounting point of view we do not sell licensee products.
Q: I want to produce a fund-raiser book for a worthy cause (e.g. a charity, a convention, a campaign) - can we get a license in support of that, and under what terms?
A: We receive requests from charitable causes frequently, and cannot support them all. We review all such requests carefully, and would want to see that the charitable activity you are undertaking is properly registered where it is taking place, and that we are broadly simpatico with its aims. Under certain circumstances and at our discretion, our license fees may be discounted or waived, and the USD$2000 p.a. cap on a Small Publisher Limited License may be lifted, or we might even host an item on our website.
Q: I want to see the Milton Bradley HeroQuest board game back in print - what is happening with that?
A: We know there are a LOT of fans of the Milton Bradley HeroQuest board game that is now owned by Hasbro. We have absolutely nothing against that boardgame. We would be pleased to see it back in print, and under the right circumstances we would be very happy to discuss licensing our HeroQuest trademark to the company that produces it.
If you are keen to be that company, please be aware that there is one issue beyond our control: while we (Moon Design Publications) own the Trademark for the name "HeroQuest", Hasbro owns the copyright for the game "HeroQuest".
We do not own the copyright to the original boardgame, its rulebook, its miniatures, the board, etc: Hasbro does, and (as far as we know) Hasbro has shown no interest in reprinting it, or allowing another company to do so.
We are not going to do anything in terms of licensing our Trademark for the name "HeroQuest" unless Hasbro gives their permission to use their HeroQuest related copyrighted material. Thus far, Hasbro has NOT given anyone permission to reprint their game. By permission, we mean in writing, via a contract. Licensing intellectual property isn't done via a phone call or some quick chat. It is done via legally binding contracts if it is to be done professionally and according to the law. As soon as any game company has a license from Hasbro to use their HeroQuest game related intellectual property we will be very happy to enter discussions with that company about licensing our Trademark for the name "HeroQuest".
Q: What is the Miskatonic Repository, and how does that fit with Chaosium Licensing and Fan Use?
A: The Miskatonic Repository is Chaosium's community content resource on DriveThruRPG. It is another way to publish and distribute Call of Cthulhu content you have written, including original scenarios, settings, spells and more. You create content, format it to our design template, and then upload the PDF to the site. Your work becomes part of the Miskatonic Repository content on DriveThruRPG – able to be accessed by the community and, optionally, providing a financial return to you.
The Miskatonic Repository is a separate element from our licensing structure and does not supersede any existing license – it essentially works separately in parallel, if you choose to contribute to the program.
Chaosium has created easy to use style templates (in both MS Word and Adobe InDesign) and free Art Packs specifically created for the Miskatonic Repository to help you create your own content. For more information about the Miskatonic Repository, see the Guidelines and Support Pages at DriveThruRPG.
Q: What is the Explorer's Society, and how does that fit with Chaosium Licensing and Fan Use?
Q. What happens if my Fan Site/Small Publisher Limited Licence/Commercial License does not comply with the terms?
A: If we become aware of an issue, we will get in touch with you to resolve the matter. If we can’t resolve the problem, we may need to take further action, which could include terminating your rights under the agreement or even legal action. Our Small Publisher Limited and Commercial licenses have clauses outlining what happens in the event of such things as nonpayment of royalties or licence fees, and other breaches or defaults.
Q: What if I have a question about something that is not covered in your Fan Use and Licensing section?
A: If it concerns fan use or licensing, feel free to contact us below and we’ll do our best to sort out your problem.
Q: How long will it take for you to respond to a Fan Use or Licensing Request?
A: We aim to respond to licensing requests within 30 days, usually sooner.
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