from the strategic-censorship dept
This story is a rather fast-moving, so let's dig in. Ark: Survival is a survival game in which you hunt dinosaurs. Being a PC game, there is a fairly healthy modding community working with the game to expand it, make slight alterations to it, and even inject other instances of pop culture into it. Case in point is the Pokemon Evolved mod, which replaces the dinos that are to be hunted with, you guessed it, pokemon. As you probably also have already guessed, the mod was hit with a DMCA notice and was briefly taken out of the Steam Workshop.
You would be forgiven at this point if you immediately assumed that it was the folks at either Nintendo or The Pokemon Company, both of which have been noticed policing the Pokemon IP aggressively. It was therefore head scratching that much of the reporting was peppered with caution over assigning blame for the DMCA, such as was the case in the original PC Gamer post linked above.
We're not sure yet who issued the DMCA notice—we've inquired and will let you know when we hear back, but it could definitely spell trouble for the mod, especially since modder 'Mystic Academy' admits the models and animations used in the mod were imported directly from Pokémon X/Y rather than recreated from scratch. The modder only made changes to ensure the models worked in-game.
Anyone familiar with how the Pokemon property has been protected in the past no doubt saw these caveats as superfluous hand-wringing. Turns out they were not, however. The developer of the mod, Mystic Academy, began making a great deal of noise about the DMCA actually coming from a rival modding group that was also releasing a mod for the game to inject Pokemon into it. That accusation appears to now be the accepted reality, with the DMCA being rescinded...
The DMCA notice has apparently been lifted, and no longer appears on the mod's page in the Steam Workshop.
...and Mystic Academy having a bit of fun at the accused DMCAer, a modder going by "Cheese", who does indeed have a rival mod called ARKmon WIP.
Now, the DMCA process is supposed to be utilized by rights-holders to protect their own intellectual property. DMCA notices initiated with service providers typically (always?) include language such as the following example from Vimeo:
A statement by you UNDER PENALTY OF PERJURY that the information in your notice is accurate and that you are the copyright owner or authorized to act on the copyright owner's behalf.
The "penalty of perjury" portion sounds great, warning against issuing DMCA notices over intellectual property not owned by the issuer, except the provision is so rarely enforced as to render it mere legal smegma. Too often the DMCA process is abused in this way, acting as a weapon against rivals rather than a tool for copyright enforcement. That this can be done at all should signal a significant flaw in the process, one in need of correcting.
Of course, the next update in this story may end being that Nintendo or The Pokemon Company render this drama moot by issuing their own DMCA notices to takedown both mods, which would be disappointing but not surprising. Still, this serves as a useful highlight of a flaw in the system that renders DMCA as a potential tool for censorship rather than protection.