The Abuse of DMCA as a Negotiating Tactic

It's Friday again, so that means it's time for a blog! This week I want to talk to you about something that's been simmering for a few months, but I think is interesting to talk about. But beware, this can be a bit of a rabbit hole. I want to talk to you today about a game composer named Alex Mauer. While you may or may not recognize the name, you may have played some games that Alex has provided music for. Need For Speed: Undercover, Penny Arcade on a Rain Slick Precipice, Starr Mazer, River City Random: Underground, and a few others.

So this story really begins back in 2015, Imagos Softworks successfully funded a Kickstarter to make a retro R-Type style game called Starr Mazer. In the course of making the game, they hired Alex Mauer to provide some Chiptune music for the game. The contract was done as a work for hire and all rights and ownership of the music was retained by Imagos Softworks.

In 2016, Mauer had to take a medical leave of absence from her work with Imagos. Her work on Starr Mazer was left incomplete, and Mauer left her contracted position with Imagos. Imagos Softworks did not pay Mauer for the time missed at work and the unfulfilled portions of the contract. And this is where the weird rift begins.

Later in 2016, Imagos launches Starr Mazer: DSP on Steam, which makes use of Mauer's music since it is a continuation of the Starr Mazer franchise. 

In March of 2017, Mauer issues a DMCA takedown claim for Starr Mazer: DSP to Steam and gets the game pulled for using her music "without permission." (It's important to note, at this point, that Imagos does not require the permission of Mauer to use the music, since it owns the music as a part of the Work for Hire contract.)

Imagos appeals the takedown and provides the necessary documentation to Valve and the game gets reinstated. But in order to try and appease Mauer and her complaints, they remove all of Mauer's music from the game and work to replace it... so Mauer issues a second DMCA takedown for the game on Steam due to the game using her sound effects "without permission." (Also covered under Work for Hire contract.)

Imagos appeals this takedown too and gets the game reinstated. Again, they removed and replaced all of Mauer sound effects, at this point likely just trying to make the problem go away. So, of course, Mauer DMCA's the game again, this time claiming that while the assets weren't used, her sound files were still in the game and being distributed with the game.

Then things start to get weird. While Mauer has been claiming that the only reason she is sending these DMCA notices are that Imagos owes her money for the contracted work, she begins to issue DMCA takedowns for other game trailers that use her music: Potatoman Seeks the Troof, Legend of Dungeon, The Catastrophe at Catalina, A Death Road to Canada, and The Duck Game.

Then Mauer turned toward the Starr Mazer kickstarter page and issued DMCA Takedowns for the game's trailers. But then things get even more strange.

In an attempt to get Imagos to pay her the $10,000 she feels she is owed, despite not fulfilling her contract, Mauer begins to issue DMCA takedowns to YouTube content creators. (It's important to say here that Mauer *WAS* paid for her contracted work. She was simply not paid for the work she did not complete, and is seeking more money outside of the contract from Imagos for the work she had already completed.) So any gamers she could find who had Starr Mazer videos featuring her music were issued DMCA takedown notifications. Some of them multiple takedowns at a time. And if you know anything about the way YouTube works with its copyright strikes, if you get 3 copyright claims against your channel, your channel is done.

The only way to get these strikes removed is to contact the entity who make the claim and have them remove it. Many of these creators contacted Mauer, and were told various things, including something to the tune of, I will remove the strike if you complain to Imagos about this and get them to pay me. Essentially blackmailing YouTubers to try and get a company completely unrelated to them to pay her.

At some point in June, Mauer is banned from Steam Discussion Groups for harassing developers. 

Also in June, Imagos confirmed through their kickstarter that they had lost their publisher for Starr Mazer due to the antics of Mauer.

In July, Mauer attempts to use DMCA Takedowns to remove River City Ransom: Underground from Steam, but Valve rejects the initial claim due to the evidence provided by Mauer. Since this doesn't work, Mauer begins another campaign of DMCA Takedown notices against people playing River City Ransom Underground.

Star Mazer DSP gets its third DMCA claim on Steam overturned and returns to the platform. And Imagos' attorneys get a Temporary Restraining Order issued against Mauer to prevent her from issuing any further DMCA takedown claims against any works featuring Starr Mazer.

Mauer pivots and successfully gets River City Ransom Underground removed from Steam via DMCA. Thankfully, it has also been restored, making the decision to remove all of Mauer's work from the game as well.

So right now here is where things stand. Mauer is currently involved in a court case with Imagos Softworks. Imagos and their Lawyer have a GoFundMe page to help with the legal fees associated with the case. Mauer has fired her attorney. She's currently at a point where she is in the middle of a 30 day deadline to find new legal representation. The restraining order has been continued through the trial. 

All told, Mauer has had more than 100 YouTube videos removed and flagged for DMCA violations.  Which is insane. And it gets a little crazier, if it is proved that the DMCA claims were intentionally done in a fraudulent manner, that's more than 100 cases of perjury. So this could have huge legal ramifications and establish some important precedence for online content creation.

So what do you think here? Is this a blatant abuse of the DMCA system? Is it fair for YouTubers to get caught up in a legal dispute between a contractor and the company they work/worked for? Should there be legal recourse for the Content Creators for the claims made against them? Let us know in the comments below.

And... if you want to jump down the rabbit hole, I'm going to give you a bunch of links. It is a very interesting legal case and there is SO MUCH DRAMA surrounding the whole thing (I didn't even go into the whole thing where Mauer was committed - possibly involuntarily - for psychiatric evaluation):

** CHOP'S eSPORTS GAME OF THE WEEK **

LCS in on a one week break between the regular season and the playoffs for the Summer Split, so you'll get a break from that coverage for me. Which gives me a chance to highlight another esport... in this case, MOAR SMASH BROTHERS! There's a huge tournament this weekend coming out of the DC area called Super Smash Con. A lot of the big names will be there. And coverage will be a little spotty. 

You can find the full schedule over here. And from what I've been able to find you can watch some of the action over on the VG Boot Camp Twitch Channels (Channel 1 and Channel 2) throughout the weekend beginning around noon eastern on Friday. Additional coverage will be provided by MeleeEveryday.