It’s no secret Ziggy’s book is based off a DnD campaign that I ran many years ago, but due to the miracle of Intellectual Property law, I’ll probably have to obfuscate that in the book. The problem is identifying the legal lines in this situation;  it’s unclear what I am and am not allowed to use.

Let’s take the lowly Rust Monster in my book, Rusty. Wizards of the Coast does not appear to own a trademark on the term Rust Monster, however Gary Gygax did invent the creature for the first edition of DnD. So, can I use the term Rust Monster, or the general concept of a giant cockroach that rusts metal and eats it? IP Law breaks down into three categories:

  • Is there a Trademark?
  • Is there a Patent?
  • Is there a Copyright?

For me to be in the clear to use the term rust monster, I need to check and see if WotC has any actual legal claim over it. If they do, I need to get permission from them (of which they will ignore or demand entirely too much money to use), or change the creature in my book so it does not infringe of their IP.

Trademarks

After a quick lookup on http://tess2.uspto.gov/, there does not appear to be a trademark filed of any sort relating to rust monsters. Since they have not registered it, nor does google reveal any indication of intention to trademark, I may be in the clear here.

Patents

Reading up on patents, I don’t think the concept of a monster qualify as Patentable Subject Matter under Section 101 of Title 35 U.S.C.:

Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.”

Since it doesn’t meet one of the base requirements, I don’t think monsters in general are patent-protected.

Copyright

Copyright is where it gets tricky. Micky Mouse is an IP megastar- his name is Trademarked, and his likeness is copyrighted. Now, presuming the rules are the same for everyone, there’s not much difference between a dancing mouse that wears pants  and a metal eating cockroach. From the copyright.gov site:

Several categories of material are generally not eligible for federal copyright protection. These include among others:

  • Titles, names, short phrases, and slogans; familiar sym­bols or designs; mere variations of typographic ornamen­tation, lettering, or coloring; mere listings of ingredients or contents
  • Ideas, procedures, methods, systems, processes, concepts, principles, discoveries, or devices, as distinguished from a description, explanation, or illustration

So, the idea of a metal eating cockroach is not copyrighted (nor is the phrase “rust monster”), however the description, explanation and illustrations are protected. So as long as I don’t use their verbatim descriptions or illustrations, I should be safe.

So am I Safe?

Who the hell knows? I probably need to consult a lawyer to make sure I’m covered. It’d be really nice if WoTC would give me cart blanche on these critters, but I’m not gonna hold my breath on it. Their website is focused more on authors who wish to publish through them and write stories for their worlds. Short of a few critters and some generic spells, my world has no overlap with Greyhawk, Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms.

In Conclusion

It’s crap that I have to even think about this. The sad part is Rusty was probably the simplest example, and there are hundreds in my book that are close to the same case. It would probably cost a small fortune in legal fees to have my book vetted, and even then it may not be a guarantee that I’m in the clear. Also, if there are any lawyers out there interested in some pro-bono work, I would gladly accept it.

IP Sucks.