Developer DMCAs Steam For Hosting Its Own Game To Wrest Control Back From Rogue Publisher

from the clever-girl dept

We’ve seen plenty of ways in which the DMCA process has been used, and often abused, for purposes not intended by the lawmakers who crafted it. With everything from pure attempts to censor damning information to oblique fuckery heaped upon a competing business, folks have used the DMCA as a blunt tool. Given the context in which this is done, it is nearly always the case that you can’t root for anyone issuing those sorts of DMCA takedowns

But perhaps we’ve found the exception that proves the rule. TorrentFreak has a fascinating story about a game developer that issued a DMCA notice to Steam… for its own game. Why? Well, because apparently that was the only way to wrestle back control over the game’s distribution from a publisher the developer says skipped out on the publishing contract.

However, a takedown notice game developer Ammobox Studios sent to Steam recently is far from typical. The company asked the game platform to remove their own game “Eximius: Seize the Frontline” after it ran into trouble with its publisher. According to the game developer, the publishing partner, TheGameWallStudios, went dark and stopped making payments.

“Long story short, we had to file a DMCA against our very own game on Steam to wrest it off the Publisher. The DMCA has just kicked in resulting in the game being taken off the Steam Store Page,” Ammobox explained.

So the timeline goes like this. Ammobox gets a publishing contract for the game with TheGameWallStudios. TGWS puts the game up on Steam. TGWS then, according to Ammobox, goes silent on the payments it was to make to Ammobox, but still has the game up on Steam’s store, generating sales and money. With the contract breached, TGWS has no right to publish the game, which suddenly reverts to being a “pirated” version of the game. Ammobox issues the DMCA to Steam and the game comes down.

To add just one more good guy to this story, Steam itself apparently was very helpful to Ammobox, even after receiving the DMCA notice.

The game was removed from the store for over a week. While it was no longer for sale, people who previously bought it could still pay it. Then, after nearly two weeks, the developers regained control of their own game, with help from Steam.

“The fraudulent publisher Thegamewall has been removed as publisher in our Steam store page. We would like to thank Steam for assisting us during this terrible ordeal,” Ammobox announced this week.

Now, Steam has a reputation, arguably deserved, of being far more friendly to publishers than developers. At some level, this makes sense, as publishers are generally the customer/partner of Steam’s as opposed to the developers. For Steam to, in this case, recognize that the developer had been wronged and to work directly with the developer to get the game back up with payments flowing to the proper recipient ought to be getting the attention of developers all over the place.

Meanwhile, Ammobox still has to resolve the owed payments from TGWS. But at least they get a nod for a creative non-dickish way of using the DMCA process.

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Companies: ammobox studios, thegamewallstudios, valve

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Comments on “Developer DMCAs Steam For Hosting Its Own Game To Wrest Control Back From Rogue Publisher”

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47 Comments
Lego Lass, elven warrioress built like a brick says:

Why TWO middle-men in this day and age?

According to Masnick those are unnecessary; creator (here "developer") should be selling direct.

2nd major point: we have ONE side of the story. It’s a stated "two week" flap characterized as an ordeal; if there was a contract, that’s mighty short time to regard it as breached, especially in absence of communication, and then take unilateral action, perhaps suborning a third party. For all you actually know, Steam may have just helped tortious interference. Usually, Techdirt wants everything "due processed" through a court and doesn’t consider it valid until, but THIS you just blithely re-write without question. But hey, why complicate a story when can get in some unmerited digs at DMCA?

By the way, WHY are you surprised that Steam doesn’t fly into blind rage with a DMCA notice? Not everyone has your view of it as totally evil. It’s just procedure that Congress has authorized for enforcing a Right stated in the Constitution. It’s only pirates who regard DMCA as hampering business.

Killercool (profile) says:

Re: Why TWO middle-men in this day and age?

…The DMCA is Congress enforcing it’s right to create or destroy copyright as an American legal concept if it chooses?

Odd. I thought the DMCA was a tool for copyright holders to dispute the legality of their work being used by websites. And a tool for such websites to dispute the validity of such claims. And a tool to protect websites from being sued for the actions of users not employed by them. I mean, it’s an example of Congress using their power to create or destroy copyright, not enforcing it. After all, that’s not their job, that’s the job of the Executive Branch.

…Are you sure you’re not making shit up again?

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Why TWO middle-men in this day and age?

According to Masnick those are unnecessary; creator (here "developer") should be selling direct.

In an ideal world? Yes, they “should” be selling direct. But not every developer — especially independent developers — has the resources to set up their own websites and storefronts and whatnot. For a not-zero number of developers, whatever deal they must strike with Valve in exchange for selling through Steam seems like a fair trade for not having to worry about setting up and doing direct sales.

It’s a stated "two week" flap characterized as an ordeal; if there was a contract, that’s mighty short time to regard it as breached, especially in absence of communication

The “two weeks” refers to the amount of time between the takedown of the game and the developers regaining control of it. Eximius went into Early Access on Steam in September of last year, and the last known social media post for TheGameWall Studios was October of last year. I can safely assume that any payments TGWS owed to Ammobox were not just from the two weeks between the issuing of the DMCA and Ammobox regaining control of its game.

Usually, Techdirt wants everything "due processed" through a court and doesn’t consider it valid until, but THIS you just blithely re-write without question.

Usually, you love to rant and rave against due process for criminals, but THIS you complain about without wondering if it was a better outcome for Ammobox and Steam than a lengthy lawsuit against a publisher that has apparently gone dark.

It’s only pirates who regard DMCA as hampering business.

If by “pirates”, you mean “people who have to deal with DMCA notices taking down protected speech”, then sure, we’re on the same page.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Why TWO middle-men in this day and age?

According to Masnick those are unnecessary; creator (here "developer") should be selling direct.

Why must you always lie? Is that like lesson one at troll school?

I have never said that intermediaries are unnecessary. I have said, repeatedly, that gatekeepers are a bad business to be in the internet era, but that intermediaries who enable better services are quite useful. Furthermore, I’ve long argued that different creators can and should explore many different models, and those could completely involve making use of third parties that enable them to access a wider audience and/or provide other benefits, as is the case here.

So, yet again, you totally misrepresent my views. As you do every day on every post. It’s such a bizarre thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Why TWO middle-men in this day and age?

There are only so many hours in the day, and those can be devoted to development or accounting and dealing with distribution channels. Also, you want your product to be available where people look for similar products. Often a developer is not a business person, and they need someone to handle the business side of being in a market, and they want their game available where games players look for new games.

PaulT (profile) says:

“With the contract breached, TGWS has no right to publish the game, which suddenly reverts to being a “pirated” version of the game”

This is another reminder for people who claim that Google et al should be able to instantly recognise copyright infringement with their magic powers – copyright status can change at any point due to things outside of the knowledge of any given platform. Valve went from hosting a legal copy of a game to an illegal one, and they cannot possibly have known until notified.

It is literally impossible to create an algorithm that can tell the difference between a legitimate and infringing copy of a file, because the files may be one and the same depending on context.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I agree. For example, as long as we’re spitballing here, let’s say that a new copyright bill is passed this year stating that for all copyrights registered beginning January 1, 2020, a copy of the material to be copyrighted must be submitted to the Library of Congress along with the copyright registration.

That would create a registry of copyrighted material starting then and they could use the Library of Congress database for DMCA requests, content filters, and the like. I remember various IP related companies being against requiring this type of registration but, for the life of me, I can’t imagine why.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is literally impossible to create an algorithm that can tell the difference between a legitimate and infringing copy of a file, because the files may be one and the same depending on context.

That statement is true. It is even literally true. And yet, might it not be better to have said:

“It is MATHEMATICALLY impossible to….”?

(Because enough people think “literally” means “not literally” that your formulation might be widely misunderstood. My own opinion is that the morons who don’t have a clue what words mean, have deprived the rest of us of that perfectly good and useful word, by abusing it.)

Again, you are not just speaking figurative truth. You are speaking a “2+2=4, pi is not equal 3, things equal to the same thing are equal to each other” irrefutable, self-evident-to-all-but-the-rabid-bat-insane kind of truth. I hate to see the point missed by people who are, say, linguistically challenged.

Jinxed Violynne (profile) says:

I don’t believe this was a creative way to use the DMCA, but another example of abuse.

The publisher didn’t pay out the monies owed the studio, but there was also no court decision to state there was a violation of contract.

Instead, the developer when full nuclear and abused a law meant to take down content being used without permission.

Once the DMCA was filed, all owners of the game were instantly playing a pirated version.

I will agree this situation sets up a perfect scenario to show how horrible the DMCA is written, for allowing abuse (even if it’s for “good”) which can still punish the innocent (because now the game is illegal).

I can’t praise the developers here. I can only shake my head another abusive path was taken.

If the developers did go to court and sue the publisher, then the control would have been restored without the DMCA, and Steam’s only involvement would have been to update the publisher information.

Rocky says:

Re: Re:

The publisher didn’t pay out the monies owed the studio, but there was also no court decision to state there was a violation of contract.

You do know that there is no need for a court to decide if someone is in breach of contract. If the contract stipulates that monthly payments has to be made and no payments have been done they are in breach of contract at which point the rights-holder can terminate the contract unilaterally.

Now, if the publisher doesn’t agree with that THEY have to go to court.

Once the DMCA was filed, all owners of the game were instantly playing a pirated version.

No, because the rights-holder only took down the game for sale while at the same time recognizing that those who already bought it where blameless.

Not all actions require a court action, in this instance the developer had all the rights on his side and chose to terminate the contract and made sure the publisher wouldn’t get a cent more.

Now, if he wants to get his money from the publisher he probably have to sue the publisher for breach of contract and fiduciary mismanagement.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Troll contingent, take note: this is what a real exception looks like. The DMCA is actually being used for its intended purpose for once, by taking down material that the poster did not have a lawful right to be selling.

In this day and age, this is vanishingly rare. The vast majority of DMCA takedowns are for abusive purposes, and so the DMCA should not exist. It needs to be repealed.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

There’s a saying in the computer programming community: the use of exceptions for ordinary control flow is considered harmful.

This is as true for a code of laws as it is for source code. When you make laws based upon rare exceptional cases that treat them as if they were normal, all sorts of harmful side-effects emerge.

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

But an exception in programming doesn’t mean a rare occurrence, it means an unintended one.

What I’m proposing is a DMCA takedown process where the default behavior, the ordinary control flow, is that takedown requests are legitimate. Illegitimate requests are treated as exceptions.

Which is exactly what exceptions are for in programming. It’s error-handling for an invalid input.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

If exceptions in your programming aren’t rare, you’re programming it all wrong. The models that compilers, supporting libraries, debugger tooling, and basically everything use all assume that the "happy path" will be executed commonly and exceptions will be rare occurrences, and code that breaks that assumption tends to cause all sorts of problems. (The old ANTLR parser generator framework comes to mind. Something might take 2 seconds to parse normally, but 1-3 minutes when running under a debugger because of its frankly horrific abuse of exceptions. Newer versions of ANTLR fix this by finding better control flow models.)

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The more fundamental problem with this is that trusting accusations by default flies in the face of sound jurisprudence. We’ve known for centuries that this is a bad idea because it encourages false accusations, and so we have the Presumption of Innocence (aka "innocent until proven guilty") enshrined as a cornerstone of our legal process. And sure enough, when we set up the DMCA takedown system in which accusations are presumed to be legitimate, we ended up with a system that is massively overrun by false accusations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Counterpoint

EAFP

When actions are extremely likely to be successful, or for operations that block main program flow while they are undertaken, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission.

This may be an anti-pattern in many programming languages, but it’s not in the rather popular Python. If you didn’t expect that, this is where your analogy comes to an end, but otherwise, you may proceed with the understanding that this is not universally valid, and that counterpoints exist.

Daydream says:

Re:

Considering that there are provisions in the DMCA that penalise fraudulent claims, and such provisions are almost never enforced against false claimants or the swarms of bot-generated notices even when they demonstrably cause harm, I’d say that the DMCA needs to be enforced.

Enforce it in its entirety, or repeal it.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s not that they’re “not enforced” per se; it’s that corrupt publishing interests have managed to get bad precedents on the record that say that the penalty clauses say much less than a plain reading of the text would suggest that they say, to the point where almost nothing that a malicious publisher could possibly do can fall within what little remains of the revised definition. They’ve ensured that there’s nothing there to enforce against them.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

“Now, Steam has a reputation, arguably deserved, of being far more friendly to publishers than developers. At some level, this makes sense, as publishers are generally the customer/partner of Steam’s as opposed to the developers. For Steam to, in this case, recognize that the developer had been wronged and to work directly with the developer to get the game back up with payments flowing to the proper recipient ought to be getting the attention of developers all over the place. “

This right here is the important thing.
Every platform has thrown up their hands and decided the the corporations are always right (despite the millions points of evidence showing they are not).
Steam is big, but not monolithicly huge (looking at the Googles) that they feel they can ignore consumers. They’ve done some stupid things & their users have made clear what they feel are unacceptable actions.
Steam now takes the extra 20 seconds to understand the situation before taking actions. In the old days the publisher would still be raking in cash while the developer was fighting a battle in court against a target using funds that belong to them to keep it tied up & the money flowing.

With a platform like Steam, it would make sense that they might want to consider being the publisher for smaller developers who have a compelling game but maybe not able to attract a gatekeepers attention.

Imagine the world we could be living in if the other platforms hadn’t just caved to every insane demand from the **AA’s & the corporate monoliths & pushed back against bad actors. I mean they claimed a fscking bird song not once but twice as their copyrighted property & only public outrage changed anything. The system is now being gamed by bad actors pretending to be gatekeepers who are systematically flagging & monetizing content, collecting the cash, then releasing the claim only to make that claim again for more cash. But we can’t dare to consider these bad side because we keep listening to those gatekeepers who are always predicting the end of civilization itself if they aren’t listened to… and the world doesn’t end, they make more money, and quietly pretend they never were against it.

AAAAA Publisher says:

Re: Re:

Nice rambling and of the track from the first paragraph.

That’s not Steam taking it up with the "big guys".

From this https://www.gamesradar.com/these-devs-filed-a-dmca-takedown-notice-against-their-own-steam-game-after-their-publisher-refused-to-pay-them/
it looks like TGWS is or was a single guy.

By now the website of TGWS is down.

And from the read of the gamesradar article, sounds heavily like a fraudster and who ever at Steam processed the whole thing probably saw it the same, so low risk.

Taking on big publisher in copy right questions on the other hand is a big risk which can cost quite a bit.

Youtube did allready reject DMCA notices from small time companies, when they thought there were no merrits to the claim.

But neither here nor there do I expect those to do the same when the big ones come around. And I wouldn’t await it from them or anybody else, simply because of the risk.

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