In this article we explore the intersecting of YouTubers at the mercy of intellectual property laws and rampant abuse of the DMCA process, after a disgruntled game music composer began sending angry DMCA notices to YouTube in the wake of a contract dispute.
Guest post by Timothy Geigner on Techdirt
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 truly 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.