Game Music Composer Goes On DMCA Blitz Against Innocent YouTubers Over Contract Dispute With Game Publisher

from the hostage-negotiations dept

Stories about both the abuse of the DMCA process and the peril YouTubers regularly find themselves subject to by way of intellectual property laws are both legion, but to see the truely egregious nature of the abuse of this sort of thing, it takes a story about them intersecting. We appear to have such a story on our hands in the form of a music composer hired to work on a video game that then began sending DMCA notices to YouTubers over a contractual dispute with the game publisher. This story weaves a strange path, so let's dig in.

Alex Mauer is a digital composer. She was hired to do contract work by Imagos Softworks, the developers of Starr Mazer: DSP. That game had been available for early access on Steam, but is still down at the time of this writing. The reason for that is that Mauer sent Steam a DMCA notice for the game, claiming that it used her music without proper payment. Mauer and Imagos are in the middle of a fairly heated contract dispute, one which Imagos has been taking public with explanations of what happened and why the claim is not true.


When you have dug into enough of these sorts of things, you begin to have a good sense for what's going on based on everyone's responses. Imagos' response is solely from its perspective, so it is not to be taken as the final word on the matter, but claims this detailed tend to be more common from those on the right side of things. Despite having been paid roughly $35,000 for her work on the game as a contract for hire, Mauer is currently claiming that Imagos owes her another $10,000. Even if that were true, the rights for the music in the contract were transferred to Imagos, making the DMCA claim against the game inappropriate. Through it all, Imagos claims to have attempted to resolve this with Mauer on several occasions only to be refused, while also going so far as to strip her music from the game and replacing it with temporary placeholder music.

But Mauer is apparently still unsatisfied. As I mentioned above, you can often get a sense of which side of an issue is on the firmest ground by how they behave. Well, Mauer's behavior in the past week has amounted to levying DMCA claims against every YouTuber showing off Starr Mazer: DSP footage that included her music. Even with the obvious Fair Use defense these YouTubers would have, that isn't even the most infuriating aspect of the tactic. No, that title belongs to Mauer suggesting to the YouTubers that she was launching the DMCA claims to raise awareness of the contract dispute and would rescind them if the YouTubers would give some hell to Imagos instead.

According to Ms. Mauer, Imagos Softworks owes her US$ 10,000 “for unpaid music work” (on Starr Mazer: DSP) and she is trying to use the DMCA strikes as a way to generate awareness about her situation. Sadly, this isn’t the intended purpose of the copyright strikes system, and innocent content creators are being punished when their only involvement in the matter has been that they published videos covering the independent roguelike shooter.

Well-known YouTuber SidAlpha even reached out to Mauer on behalf of his smaller peers to try to figure out what the hell was going on and received the following reply.

The fact that TemmieNeko is directing her complaints to me instead of the developer is a problem. This seems to be the general response of those who were hit with DMCA strikes. I did suggest to some who complained to me that I would reverse their DMCA strikes if they were willing to redirect their complaints to the developer/complaints about the developer. No one was willing to do so, and I no longer want to offer anyone the possibility of having their DMCA strikes reversed. Thank you.

It's worth repeating that none of this serves the purpose of the DMCA. In fact, there is a ton of potential harm to the YouTubers in question, who, in receiving these abusive DMCA notices, are at risk of having their channels pulled by YouTube. They can file a counter-claim, and should be successful with them, but there is still a risk. There is also risk for Mauer herself, as the DMCA process does have a perjury provision for fraudulent claims.

SidAlpha also explained that once the affected YouTubers process a successful counterclaim, they would be able to file a civic lawsuit against Mauer. This is because filing a fraudulent DMCA claim is considered perjury and she would be tried in the state the Youtubers live in. In addition, because the videos are transformative, they are protected by the Fair Use Doctrine which renders the DMCA strike spurious. Also, she doesn’t own the music in the first place because it was made as part of a for-hire contract with Imagos. Imagos owns all content related to Starr Mazer and Starr Mazer: DSP.

Mauer has since gone on to send out DMCA notices for a couple other games in which her music is featured, including one put out by Adult Swim. As part of this, Mauer has gone so far as to send a DMCA notice to Turner Broadcasting. Meanwhile, she put the music she created for Imagos under her contract on her own website, selling it as part of an album for $1,000.

This is as clear an abuse of the DMCA process as I've seen to date and there is no excuse for imperiling innocent YouTubers over a contract dispute with a game publisher. If ever there were a case begging for punishment over abuse of the DMCA system, this is certainly it.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 9:36am

    >Meanwhile, she put the music she created for Imagos under her contract on her own website, selling it as part of an album for $1,000.

    Isn't that commercial infringement, as she no longer owns it?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 9:56am

      Re:

      How do we know she no longer owns it? Are we taking Imagos' word? If she agreed to transfer copyright in exchange for payment, and they didn't pay, it might still be hers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 10:01am

        Re: Re:

        Her tactic suggest that she does not have a contract case, an she is trying to cause the games company enough nuisance that they pay her to make her go away. Meanwhile I would think that she has shot her composing business in the head.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Jeremy2020 (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 10:50am

        Re: Re:

        The contract exists and has been found. She doesn't have copyright over the music.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 11:09am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The contract exists and has been found. She doesn't have copyright over the music.

          Of course it exists, but a contract to assign the copyright to the company isn't valid without consideration, i.e. the agreed payment.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 1:12pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            This is actually untrue.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            wshuff (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 1:47pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The mere fact that she claims she hasn't been paid doesn't render the contract null and void. She could file suit and try to prove it. But even if she prevailed in that lawsuit, she's still abusing the DMCA.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            XcOM987 (profile), 28 Jun 2017 @ 6:43am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The contract is work for hire, not to assign the copyright of said work, Although there is a section stating that all the rights of said work will be the sole property of Imigos.

            Even if they refused to pay a single penny, Alex still wouldn't own the copyrights, she would need to go to court and prove the breach of contract and have the rights assigned back to Alex by the courts.

            Also to note even if the work for hire was for another project, Imigos still own the copyright for said music, so at best she will have a claim of breach of contract, just because it may have been used in a different project doesn't mean she own's the copyright for it outside of the first mentioned project.

            What Alex is doing is pure and simple abuse of the DMCA, I've heard Lenord French has taken up this case for Imigos and is asking if others want to use him to file cases against Alex, one youtuber/Twitcher has already proved that they have lost thousands due to the false claims thus can file for these and hopefully they win and this will bring light to the way the DMCA process is broken.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Thad, 28 Jun 2017 @ 9:56am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              The contract is work for hire, not to assign the copyright of said work

              Right; the distinction is a tricky one but it's important. Work-for-hire means she's not assigning the copyright to the client, it means that the client is legally the creator of the work. In which case she can't assign the copyright because she never owned it in the first place.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Bruce C., 27 Jun 2017 @ 3:33pm

        Re: Re: Taking Imagos' word...

        The only things you have to take Imagos' word for are:
        a) the music was composed as a work for hire.
        b) They paid her $24,000 and she claims she is owed another $10k.
        If they had failed to pay her anything, she might have an argument that the contract was void and therefore she retained the copyright. But as the saying goes: "we already know what you are madam. What we are doing now is negotiating a price." The argument is about how much she was to be paid, so the issue in the contract is with the terms of payment, not with the transfer of copyright. Or I suppose she could pull out a completely different contract that shows a licensing deal rather than a work for hire deal, but that strains credulity at this point. /IANAL

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2017 @ 8:26pm

        Re: Re:

        the contract (which has been released to the public eye) states that all work she does for the game belongs to imagos.

        Alex is currently having a psychotic break and has sent death threats to at least one youtuber (sidalpha himself if i remember correctly.)so my belief that she is in the right is spurrious to say the least.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 10:19am

      Re:

      Imagos should file a DMCA takedown.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 1:06pm

      Re:

      Oh Tim, Tim, Tim, why do you hate creators so much? Is it because you're just another Techdirt pirate?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2017 @ 12:50am

      Re:

      From what I gather she has broken all sorts of laws in her actions.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 9:37am

    Great article as usual, Mr Geigner. I just wonder why don't have your own site.

    Just look at number of comments on your articles and compare to others. You're driving the site of late, don't need more exposure. Why not strike out on your own? Before -- you know what happens to Techdirt?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 27 Jun 2017 @ 10:05am

      Re: Great article as usual, Mr Geigner. I just wonder why don't have your own site.

      Does that ass-kissing thing you do ever work?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Cdaragorn (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 10:12am

      Re: Great article as usual, Mr Geigner. I just wonder why don't have your own site.

      You mean when they win the lawsuit against them from you know who for being a you know what and you know who is forced to pay them every red cent they've had to spend defending themselves?

      Was that the you know what you meant?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 10:23am

      Re: Great article as usual, Mr Geigner. I just wonder why don't have your own site.

      "Just look at number of comments on your articles and compare to others. You're driving the site of late, don't need more exposure. Why not strike out on your own? Before -- you know what happens to Techdirt?"

      While I'll happily and likely incorrectly take your complimentary words at face value, it's worth noting a couple of things.

      1. Comments do not equal traffic and never have. In fact, the inverse can sometimes be true.

      2. Even if I ever did "strike out on my own" as you put it, Techdirt is my first non-fiction writing home, the first place I became part of an internet community, and by far the biggest influence on my philosophy on matters of digital economics and intellectual property. Even if I ever wrote elsewhere, I would continue to write here as long as Mike and the Techdirt team would have me.

      3. Your kind words aside, I am most certainly not driving the site in any way. Hell, I'm not even the most talented writer named "Tim" at this site, as that distinction belongs to Tim Cushing, who is a brilliant word-smith and one of the funniest writers I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Beyond that, Mike drives this site still, with the community of commenters coming in as a close second, as far as I'm concerned.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 10:36am

      Re: Great article as usual, Mr Geigner. I just wonder why don't have your own site.

      That is the absolute worst attempt to sew dissension that I have ever seen. You are a bad personal and should feel bad.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 10:50am

      Re: Great article as usual, Mr Geigner. I just wonder why don't have your own site. - FLAGGED!

      Since I frequently see complaints about comments being hidden/censored here's my justification for flagging you. It's a simple matter of your being off topic. You are not being persecuted, you're just a troll trying to hijack yet another comments thread. This article had nothing to do with Shiva Ayyadurai or his (arguably groundless) lawsuit against TD, so the comments shouldn't have anything to do with them either.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Thad, 27 Jun 2017 @ 1:38pm

        Re: Re: Great article as usual, Mr Geigner. I just wonder why don't have your own site. - FLAGGED!

        Unfortunately, he got what he wanted; he derailed the conversation all the same.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 9:46am

    LOLS. This Mauer sounds like a complete and total moron. The minute she filed a DMCA notice against a youtuber creates a major problem for that youtuber and that Mauer should have realized the crap she started. Why anyone would agree to help her out AFTER she filed a DMCA complaint with youtube must be beyond her rational mind to cope with.

    If someone asked me to remove a video, thats fine. But after they filed a DMCA claim with youtube and then asked me to help her with the game developer? I DON'T THINK SO. I would tell her to kiss my ass and whine to someone else.

    "Dear Miss Mauer, since you filed a DMCA claim against my account, you can go f*** yourself. Perhaps you should have exercised some common sense and contacted me first before you filed your DMCA claim. So, take your request and stick it where the sun don't shine."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 27 Jun 2017 @ 9:49am

    Disagree

    If ever there were a case begging for punishment over abuse of the DMCA system, this is certainly it.

    Uh, she actually wrote that music. I don't see how this beats the routine takedowns of large copyright organizations for music they don't even own, partly from its actual owners.

    Instead of punishing one lunatic for perjury, I'd rather see the chairmen of the systematic abusers of the DMCA system serve jail time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Nathan F (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 10:02am

      Re: Disagree

      If she, as part of the contract, wrote the music for the game, then the copyright is owned by the game company as it was a work for hire. If she had composed all the music on her own time then licensed the music to the game company for the game then she could have a valid claim on the copyright.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Cdaragorn (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 10:16am

      Re: Disagree

      This is where much of the Artistic community has been severely mislead.

      Who created the artistic work is not the end of the story of who owns the Copyright. This appears to be a classic "work for hire" scenario, which is actually written into Copyright law. The Copyright belongs to the entity that hired her to create it. She doesn't own any part of it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Karl (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 4:32pm

      Re: Disagree

      > Instead of punishing one lunatic for perjury, I'd rather see the chairmen of the systematic abusers of the DMCA system serve jail time.

      Maybe, but those systematic abusers have millions of dollars and will spend it driving their legal opponents into bankruptcy.

      Though Alex may not be the worst offender on the planet, she is still very much doing something illegal. Suing her would both punish an actual wrongdoer, and set a legal precedent for the larger wrongdoers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2017 @ 8:31pm

        Re: Re: Disagree

        there are a group of people that are planning to use this to make a precedent in regards to DMCA abuse. THAT'S why this case is important.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 28 Jun 2017 @ 5:40am

      Re: Disagree

      I agree that abusive DMCA notices should result in the promised perjury penalties against the larger corporations who abuse them.

      But, Mauer is still completely in the wrong here even if she has done the work to create the art in question to begin with. If what's stated above is true, she no longer owns the rights to the music. So, legally, she's in no different position than I would be if I tried issuing a takedown on the music of Coldplay.

      Even without this legal aspect, she's totally in the wrong morally. She's attacking people who have done no wrong, complied with all copyright rules and knowingly is doing so in order to extort a 3rd party.

      She might no be a corporate middleman, but she's just as bad as those guys. Worse, even, since she knows firsthand what it's like for an independent creator to make a living.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Thad, 28 Jun 2017 @ 9:57am

        Re: Re: Disagree

        If what's stated above is true, she no longer owns the rights to the music.

        If she signed a work-for-hire agreement, then she never owned the rights in the first place.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 28 Jun 2017 @ 2:46pm

        Re: Re: Disagree

        Worse, even, since she knows firsthand what it's like for an independent creator to make a living.

        Well, she did...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 9:50am

    I could understand a DMCA for the game itself if it still used the disputed music. But dinging innocent YouTubers unless they “pay up” in the form of attacking the game devs? Not even the mob goes after third parties like that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Altaree, 27 Jun 2017 @ 11:12am

    Don't forget the YouTube strike system.

    Enough strikes, real or fake, and your account is deleted. This could be a real hit for folks that make their living off of YouTube videos.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Madd the Sane (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 2:56pm

      Re: Don't forget the YouTube strike system.

      An updated SidAlpha video does show that she has hit at least one person five times! See the attached link for a list.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 8:48pm

        Re: Re: Don't forget the YouTube strike system.

        If only the punishment for sending fraudulent claims was the same as receiving them...

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Manabi (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 9:14pm

        Re: Re: Don't forget the YouTube strike system.

        Your link got lost, I think this is the one you wanted to link: https://youtu.be/5eTLpjRE8QY?t=85

        As of that video, she'd taken down 42 videos, and attempted to take down a further 30. In a later video from the same person, she'd also DMCA'd Twitch streamers.

        The later video also mentions that some Youtubers are seeing strikes counterclaimed without their taking any actions. So it may be that Imagos and/or Google is working to resolve this situation.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 9:22pm

          Re: Re: Re: Don't forget the YouTube strike system.

          So it may be that Imagos and/or Google is working to resolve this situation.

          Which would be good on their part, and absolutely hilarious on her's, as it would mean her actions are blowing up in her face even more. Rather than threaten people to get them to put pressure on the company, said company comes out looking even better while her reputation is utterly destroyed.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Madd the Sane (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 11:18pm

          Re: Re: Re: Don't forget the YouTube strike system.

          It actually went to my account name. I didn't know where the URL field would put the link :/

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 11:38am

    This is a bad situation that's only going to get worse now that actual lawyers are starting to get involved. And with this widespread abuse of the DMCA, I doubt there is any way Alex Mauer is going to get out of this unscathed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dave Cortright (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 11:44am

    Mauer's Last Symphony

    And thus ends the music composition career of Alex Mauer, whereby no rational, background-checking entity will ever hire her to clean their floors let alone create music for them. It amazes me how people can be so shortsighted as to not see even one step beyond where things stand right now.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 1:17pm

      Re: Mauer's Last Symphony

      Yeah, you would have to try incredibly hard to come up with a quicker and more sure way to utterly destroy your career than what she did. No-one who does even the slightest bit of research is going to hire her from this point on, and she's got no-one to blame but herself.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jun 2017 @ 1:52pm

    She Made These DMCA Claims Herself?

    That's odd because you'd usually enlist a third party like SACEM, WAMI_CS, STIM CS, or COMPASS_CS to do this for you.

    Maybe she doesn't like asking for paid help from someone else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Madd the Sane (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 3:19pm

    And the story is getting worse by the hour. It's… I don't know how to describe this other than crazy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Karl (profile), 27 Jun 2017 @ 4:25pm

    Leonard French's legal analysis

    If anyone wants to see a more detailed legal analysis of this (including the fact that non-payment won't revert the copyright), then copyright attorney Leonard French has a YouTube video about it here:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuSZ6wZAaHQ

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Immersive, 28 Jun 2017 @ 4:34am

    Escalation

    I did suggest to some who complained to me that I would reverse their DMCA strikes if they were willing to redirect their complaints to the developer/complaints about the developer.

    Um, should we talk about the blackmail now?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jun 2017 @ 4:37am

    Perjury AND Extortion

    "...file a civic lawsuit against Mauer....because filing a fraudulent DMCA claim is considered perjury..."
    AND
    "...would reverse their DMCA strikes if they were willing to redirect their complaints..."

    Alex Mauer is imminently more sue-able than the major players in the copyright industry. There are multiple ways in which a good attorney can demonstrate that Alex Mauer holds zero valid copyright interests in her compositions, and thus, that all of her DMCA takedowns constitute injurious perjury against her various YT victims. Further, there is the attempted extortion of the YTers - blackmail is a separate crime.

    With any luck, a group of affected YTers, perhaps in concert with Imagos, will destroy Alex Mauer in court and set a solid precedent that can leveraged more widely to penalize team-copyright-industry. OR, less satisfying, but also fun, the YTers could offer to let her off their hook, if she retracts all of her takedown requests, apologizes publicly, and pays the group "roughly $35,000." Additional humor might flow from Imagos obtaining an injunction that prevents Mauer ever posting anything she composed for them.

    Finally, regardless the eventual outcome, let's all celebrate the passing of Alex Mauer's career as a composer-for-hire.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 28 Jun 2017 @ 5:43am

    I saw a couple of videos about this last night, and it's worth noting that her attitude gets even worse when addresses. Apparently, reviewing videogames isn't *real* work, making them is. So, it's irrelevant to her if the people she's attacking have their channels pulled (and therefore lose their income), because those guys weren't doing real work to earn it anyway, unlike her.

    I honestly hopes she loses every penny she earned from this music, and more besides. She knows she's attacking innocent people and risking their livelihoods, so she deserves punishment for those actions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JustMe (profile), 28 Jun 2017 @ 6:20am

    I wonder if she realizes

    That she created and orchestrated the death of her career. Who would hire her now? Even worse, the YouTube and Twitch communities will occasionally call out talented musicians in their favorite games - thereby generating free press. Good luck with that now that she has alienated two whole groups of influencers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Madd the Sane (profile), 7 Jul 2017 @ 5:56pm

    Pass the Popcorn

    A lot has happened since this was written, including Alex Mauer getting a psych evaluation, targeting other games she worked on, being served by Leonard French, and saying she will represent herself in court.

    Anyone want any popcorn?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      MyNameHere (profile), 24 Jul 2017 @ 8:43pm

      Re: Pass the Popcorn

      Of course, there is always the question of sanity when it comes to someone who has "crossed over" as it were... especially a recent one where there are likely plenty of medicating going on to keep things "right".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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