Covering Fan Pages, Fan Fiction, and Free Game Aids

Updated Apr 9, 2020

I. Some Vocabulary

COPYRIGHT: Copyrights are the way that authors protect their creative efforts from being duplicated by others without permission. A copyright is indicated by the © mark. They can be bought, sold, rented, or abandoned. All Flatlined Games releases are protected by the copyright laws of Belgium and most foreign countries. For more information, see Brad Templeton's 10 Big Myths of Copyright Explained.

TRADEMARK: Trademarks are names or symbols that identify a particular product or maker. They are designed in part to protect consumers from imitations. Most unique game-related terms (and all game names) used by Flatlined Games are trademarked (and some are registered trademarks). Trademarks are indicated by the ™ symbol. The name Flatlined Games, for example, is a trademark. When we use it to identify one of our products, it means not only that the game was produced by us, but that it is of the quality that you have come to expect from Flatlined Games . . . whatever that is. It is polite to place any trademark in bold or italic type.

REGISTERED TRADEMARK: These are special cases: trademarks which have been specifically registered with the EU Trademark Office. They are always accompanied by the ® symbol. Several of Flatlined Games' marks may be registered, including the flat ECG logo. Registered trademarks are protected by a special set of laws, here in Europe as well as many foreign countries. Among other things, these laws allow a trademark holder to lose his exclusive rights if he fails to protect them.

PATENT: Patents are for novel and unobvious inventions and are designed to protect the inventor and reward him for his work by preventing other people from using the invention without permission. Patents are unusual in the game hobby. We have none so far.

TRADE SECRET: A Trade Secret is any information which a company has which gives it a competitive advantage over its rivals. Some examples could be lists of suppliers, information about customers, or a special manufacturing process. Flatlined Games may or may not own any Trade Secrets . . . we're not telling.

TRADE DRESS: The overall appearance of a product or product line. It can be very general (e.g., a court has ruled that the color pink, by itself, is protected trade dress for a manufacturer of insulation) or very specific.

LOGO: Short for "logotype," a word which nobody uses any more. A logo is a company or product name (which may itself be a trademark) in a distinctive typeface. A symbol may also be a logo. Flatlined Games' flat ECG mark (at the top of this page) is a registered trademark and a company logo, and the words "Flatlined Games" in nasalization or a clone font, are its "text logo."

Intellectual Property: Intellectual Property is the "catch-all" term for certain types of non-tangible property, including (but not limited to) Trademarks, Copyrights, Patents, Trade Secrets, Trade Dress and Logos.


II. Some General Principles

Flatlined Games will allow fans and others to use its trademarks and game logos, if and only if certain conditions are met:

  • They must be used in connection with discussions of the products they represent;
  • They must be used in a manner that will enhance (that is, not damage) the reputation of the mark;
  • They must be properly designated as trademarks or registered trademarks (™ or ® respectively) of Flatlined Games.
  • Finally, the first use of a product logo on any webpage or PDF'd game aid (and, preferably, all uses) must link back to our official page for that product, and any use of our company logo must link back to our home page.

Copyrighted text (like game rules and vignette text) may not be used without special permission of Flatlined Games. To get this permission, write to the Director of Licensing.

You may use a reasonable amount of our art (no more than 10 pieces) on your web pages, convention program books, and similar "fan" applications, provided that the art is used in connection with the game that it is drawn from, and its use is appropriate, credits the artist, is legal, and otherwise complies with this policy. Please copy any graphics you wish to display on your site to your server and link to the HTML page for the associated product (or our home page). We may update or move graphics from time to time, so linking directly to graphics may leave you with a broken link or page.

In general, if you use any of our intellectual property online, you must mark it appropriately, and link back to either our home page or the web page of the game that the material is drawn from.

It is not necessary to mark each use of a trademark with the ®, or ™ symbol. If you're planning on using a trademark more than once, simply mark the first occurrence and put the appropriate line in your credits box. However, we do ask that you emphasize each trademark with bold, italic or colored type every time you use it . . . you should do this with any trademark, not just ours!

This permission does NOT extend to copying our trade dress. In general, if you make your material look like a Flatlined Games product, it's over the line. Nobody who sees your page, downloads your PDFs, etc., should ever be confused into thinking that it is an official Flatlined Games release.

This policy, the permissions it gives, and any similar permissions given under other circumstances, are subject to change or withdrawal at any time without notice.


III. Fair Use

There is a principle of law called "fair use." It protects the press by expressly allowing writers to use a short amount of copyrighted material or a trademark in the course of review or commentary about the product. The copyright or trademark holder may not block this use, as long as the use is otherwise legal (that is, not libelous, for example).


IV. Notices and Disclaimers

Many people think that they can "borrow" any material they want, if they post some kind of a "disclaimer" saying, for instance, "No challenge to the rights of so-and-so is intended." However, that has no legal effect. Try publishing your own Star Wars novel, with a note in the front that you really love George Lucas' universe and no challenge to his rights is intended, and see how far you get.

Nevertheless, notices and disclaimers do have a purpose, and you should include appropriate ones on your site OR game aid.



The purpose of a disclaimer is to notify readers that your work is not "official" or produced under license (unless it is). An appropriate disclaimer for a fan page is:

"The material presented here is my original creation, intended for use with <A HREF="http://www.flatlinedgames.com/games/rumble_in_the_house">Rumble in the House</A> from <A HREF="http://www.flatlinedgames.com">Flatlined Games</A>. This material is not official and is not endorsed by Flatlined Games."

(Of course, you would change the Rumble in the House name to whatever was appropriate.) Note also that both the game name and "Flatlined Games" should contain embedded links to our site. Please copy these links into your disclaimer!



The purpose of a notice is to tell your readers who the trademarks, copyrights, etc., belong to. An appropriate notice for a fan site is:

"<A HREF="http://www.flatlinedgames.com/games/rumble_in_the_house">Rumble in the House</A> is a registered trademark of Flatlined Games, and the art here is copyrighted by Flatlined Games. All rights are reserved by FlatlinedGames. This material is used here in accordance with the Flatlined Games <A HREF="http://www.flatlinedgames.com/flatlined_games_online_policy">online policy</A>."

Note again that the game name contains a link to our site, and the mention of the online policy links to this page . . . so your readers can easily see the policy for themselves. Please copy these links into your disclaimer! If you do not use any of our art you don't need the art clause. However, remember that game logos do count as art.


Game Aids

For game aids, we have specific text we need to have included.

[GAME NAME] is a trademark of Flatlined Games, and its rules and art are copyrighted by Flatlined Games . All rights are reserved by Flatlined Games. This game aid is the original creation of [YOUR NAME] and is released for free distribution, and not for resale, under the permissions granted in the <a href="http://www.flatlinedgames.com/flatlined_games_online_policy">Flatlined Games Online Policy</a>.

Please replace [GAME NAME] with the name of the product for which the game aid was developed, and [YOUR NAME] with your legal name. Again, copy the entire text, including the links.


V. So, does that mean that I can . . .

Put some of your art on my home page or other web page?

Yes, as long as its use complies with the terms of this policy (that is, links back to us, is used tastefully, and so on).

Use Flatlined Games art to make avatars?

Fans are welcome to use graphic images from Flatlined Games releases as avatars for online communities, with one limitation: Please do not use any trademarked images. Our flat ECG logo, in its various forms is a registered trademark. (Our staff and official volunteers can use these images as avatars, since they represent the company, but we ask that others not do so.)

Use the logos and art in ads or websites for my retail store or distribution company?

Yes, as long as you are a bona fide retailer or distributor and you are actually selling the products in question.

Reprint some of your products that are out of print?

NO. Absolutely not. These games might be out of print, but they still belong to us, and we have to protect our rights and the rights of the creators. And it's quite likely that they might come back into print some day, in some form.

If you find one of our games online, in any format (PDF, HTML, text, or anything else), please notify our online enforcement team and we'll deal with it. We have never had to actually sue anybody to protect our rights online . . . dozens of people have infringed us, most have stopped when notified, and a small remainder (mostly people who didn't post contact info) have had their free web pages taken down by the provider. A lawsuit would be the last resort, but yes, we'd do it if we had to. Hopefully, we'll never have to.

Post (or make available for download) forms, charts, tables and text from one of your games?

No; that is a violation of copyright. We understand that it is convenient to gamers if some forms and charts are online, and we have already posted many of them ourselves. You should look at our page for the game you are interested in, to see if perhaps we have already posted the material you want. But we can't give permission to put more and more of each game on the web . . . eventually the whole text would be online, for free, and we couldn't sell any books . . .
We post online rulesbooks to our games, but we want to remain the authoritative source as they get updated, and we want the people who download a copy to visit our site, to assess the actual interest there is in our games.

Create a fan page about your games?

Yes. We love it! Just follow the policies outlined here.

Write my own fan fiction using your characters and backgrounds?

As long as you're not selling it in any way, and as long as it's clear to anyone who sees it that it's your original creation, we permit this use. Follow all the guidelines in this policy . . . and have fun. As a courtesy to others, if the fiction you are writing is not worksafe, indicate that in a way that will protect the casual browser!


Write my own adventure or scenario using your rules or background?

Maybe. It has to do with whether or not the material is an extension to the game line (OK), or a restatement of the copyrighted rules (not OK). Character stats, and original background and scenario material using our rules terminology, are a permitted use, as long as you're not selling it in any way. Again, follow all the guidelines in this policy.


Post modified games rules, transposing the setting for a book, movie or TV show?

Be careful here. Even if what you do is completely within these guidelines and does not infringe Flatlined Games, you're probably infringing the copyright of the creator of the book/movie/TV show. They have the right to decide what use gets made of their intellectual property, too. The better known the property, the more likely you are to get a letter from a lawyer. But even with something obscure, courtesy dictates that you get the permission of the creator first. Then, if you have any doubts about your use of OUR material, ask us.

Create a web-based, mobile, tablet, computer, console or other digital platform version of your games?

No, you do need a license for that. It doesn't matter if it's free to play or not. We want to control the quality of the products, and be the sole decision-makers on which games may or may not be made available in a digital version. This does include Vassal, tabletop simulator and other generic toolboxes. If you have a suggestion for a product, or if you would like to become a Flatlined Games licensee, contact the Director of Licensing.

Create my own MUD, MUSH or online game based on a Flatlined Games property?

In general, no. These conflict with our licensing program. It doesn't matter if it's free to play or not. If you are a professional game developer and want to talk about licenses, write to the Director of Licensing.

Create a character generator or other game aid?

Yes, as long as you include the appropriate notices. We want to ENCOURAGE our fans to create these programs, share them with the community, and have fun doing it. If you want to charge money for a game aid based on our work, however, the Online Policy does NOT apply . . . you must either get a license from us, or sell us the game aid for distribution as a regular product, and either way we'll hold you to professional standards. Email the director of licensing with a formal proposal letter.

We do, however, have some advice for creators of game aid programs. First, provide documentation. Some simple instructions on how to use the most basic features will be a big help to users. Second, support your creation.

Put a logo or art on a t-shirt or hat?

Nope. This, too, conflicts with our licensing program. We have been known to give permission to game conventions and gaming clubs to use our logos on limited runs of certain items (t-shirts, hats, folders, etc.). If you're interested in this program, contact the Marketing Director. Everybody else should wait for our licensees to do the products they're looking for. If you have a suggestion for a product, or if you would like to become a Flatlined Games licensee, contact the director of licensing.

Use some of your art as wallpaper or icons on my desktop?

Sure. Just don't distribute it without permission. If you feel that you've come up with a great set of wallpaper and icons (like a complete Ubuntu Desktop Theme), send it to us. Some of us around the office would like those, and other fans might like to use them.

Have you look over my website and tell me everything's all right?

No. We do not have time to individually check everybody's site. That's why we posted this policy! Please read the rules here, and if you're not sure that what you want to do is all right . . . just don't do it. Stay within the clear letter of the permissions here and we'll all be fine.

VI. The Most Common Misconception

You may have noticed that none of these provisions discuss money. That is at the heart of the biggest misconception about copyright and trademark. Many people believe that if no money changes hands it's legal to violate others' intellectual property rights. This is, at best, wrong. At worst, it's a crime.

Copyrights, trademarks, and patents are not about money. They are about the creators' right to control their creations. Federal law give us not only the right, but also the obligation, to prevent people from misusing our intellectual property, whether or not we're being paid. Don't violate our rights and we can all stay friends.

VII. The Final Words

Use your head. If you don't think we'd allow it, we probably won't. If it's not clearly permitted by this policy, please just don't do it!

Policy based on and adapted from the Online Policy of Steve Jackson Games Incorporated. Used by permission. Thanks, guys!