Q&A: Who Owns Dragonlance?

DL-original-fullOne of the common misperceptions that people have regards the ownership of the Dragonlance Intellectual Property or IP. Most people assume that because the property was originally created by Laura and I or because Margaret Weis and I wrote the core novels, that we own the IP or the copyright to our books.

Under normal circumstances, such a perception would be justified but Dragonlance is an unfortunate case of the Original Bad Deal.

It used to be that in order to get published, one had to already have been published. This Catch-22 reflected the publishing business practice of only working with writers who had proven themselves in the marketplace. So, in order to get your first work published and get in the door, an author had to agree to a contract on whatever terms they were offered.

In 1981, when Laura and I first arrived at TSR, Inc. I brought in our Dragonlance creation. I’ll be telling that origins story elsewhere later on. For now, suffice it to say that the terms of our contract at TSR, Inc. were such as creatives that anything we made or brought into the company of a creative nature while working there was owned by the company. Furthermore, the contracts for the Dragonlance novels (yet another story to be told) were not standard publishing contracts but ‘Work for Hire’ contracts which stipulated that the IP and copyrights to the books were also owned by TSR, Inc.

The bottom line was that in order to create Dragonlance, Laura, Margaret and I had to sign away any rights or copyrights to our creations.

We were not unique in this: everyone working at the company at the time was under similar constrictions. We were being paid to create and play games and it was a condition of that employment that we hand over our rights to our creations. Those rights were sold as part of the purchase of TSR, Inc. by Wizards of the Coast and then subsequently owned by Hasbro when they acquired the company as a subsidiary.

There have been recent successful challenges to ‘Work for Hire’ agreements where creatives have managed to get the rights back on their properties but for now Wizards of the Coast is the final word in Dragonlance property rights.

So, while Laura and I have a fantastic idea for a new Dragonlance trilogy that we would like to write as a reboot … we cannot do so without permission of Wizards of the Coast. I would like to write Sojourner Tales modules set in the Dragonlance world; the IP manager for Dragonlance has told me that the company would not be licensing even those limited rights to me at this time. We would love to see a live-action movie made … but you have to talk to Wizards of the Coast to get those rights.

Many people consider Margaret and I to be the heart and soul of Dragonlance … but no matter how much any of us would wish it, we are most definitely not in charge.

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