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The End Of False DMCA Strikes Is Nigh

If you want to see how horrible and unrepentant people can be, how false identities and marketing create synthetic tribes with no humanity in sight, you need only look to the video gaming channels on YouTube.  Everything from new trolling techniques to creative ways to abuse YouTube's automated takedown system is more or less beta tested there, before others see it working and decide to try it outside the tech bubble.  Usually, there's a significant leap forward in this bad behavior, and everyone sits and ruminates on it before taking the next step.  But now?  We've had a very shady move from a few weeks ago get a jolt of steroids and begin a new rampage.  And it's a rampage that even the originators don't want to happen, as it could create a legal precedent that turns the casual bullying that has become the norm there into something with actual legal consequences.

A few weeks ago, while I was dealing with a catastrophic and crippling computer system and data crash, we had the World Of Tanks fiasco, where WargamingEU threatened a YouTuber called Sir Foch, a former community contributor, with hitting his channel with copyright strikes, deleting his channel and destroying his livelihood, if he didn't stop talking mean about them.  This is the realm of bottom feeding asset flippers on Steam, not full blown developers, so it was surprising to see this happen.  The gaming community lit up, from regular gamers to commentators like Jim Sterling, and during this time, WargamingEU issued a statement that they had acted hastily and, upon reviewing everything, no longer stand behind the claims.  It happened over a weekend, and if you knew what kind of trouble you have to stir up to get lawyers to work on a weekend, you'd know how bad this was.  One of the key parts was that WargamingEU felt they had the right to copyright strike his videos because they didn't like what they were saying about him.  First, the copyright strike system is for copyrights, not for criticism.  Second, after they dumped Sir Foch, he wasn't officially tied to the company anymore, so any claims that they had the right to control what their staffers say was taken away.  He wasn't a staffer anymore, so they had no right to control him.  But everyone wanted to put the incident behind them and move on.

Completely unaware that a similar method to what they had done was about to rumble up like a clogged toilet.

We begin with Imagos Softworks.  Imagos was working on a game for Steam called Starr Mazer.  From the looks of the footage, it looks like a good old fashioned bullethell shooter, a throwback to the days when Darius, Star Soldier, and Thunderforce ruled the roost.  Imagos brought in legit people to make this the best they could, and one such person was Alex Mauer.  Mauer is a longtime video game composer, with works appearing in games like the Penny Arcade game, Need For Speed, The Simpsons, and Spy Hunter.  Mauer was recruited and signed a work for hire contract to make the music and at least some of the sound effects for Starr Mazer.  Work was completed, she got paid, everything was good.

Imagos then decided to update the game and release it as Starr Mazer DSP.  Mauer didn't like this.  She felt that her work was for Starr Mazer, not Starr Mazer DSP, and as such, they had no rights to use it in the new title without paying her again.  Imagos maintained that the contract she signed covered Starr Mazer and related media and titles, not just the individual Starr Mazer title.  The two went back and forth, with Imagos going so far as to remove the game from Steam to either replace the music or at least limit their headaches while the situation got sorted out.

Then, the bomb dropped.  Starting around Friday night, YouTubers and Twitch streamers who featured the game suddenly found themselves hit with DMCA takedown notices from Mauer, claiming copyright over the music.  Channels like Lord Crockosquirrel and TemmieNeko got hit with two of them.  At this point, I should remind everyone how the DMCA takedown system works, especially as I've had to deal with it once myself.  If someone files a DMCA, you can appeal it.  At which point, the filer has 14 business days to escalate by actually filing a lawsuit against the channel.  If there is no lawsuit or notice of filing within 14 business days, the video is automatically allowed back up and that's the end of it.  However, in order to appeal, your channel has to actually be active.  If you get a third copyright strike during this time, your channel is automatically deleted and you have nothing.  And good luck trying to get through to the notoriously mute monolith that is YouTube for anything.  And with people like Lord Crockosquirrel trying to shine a light on shady business practices and getting strikes from vengeful content creators, this puts them in a very very dangerous position.

One of the first people sounding the alarm bell was the fine and upstanding Sid Alpha.  Sid somehow got in touch with both parties involved in the contract dispute.  Imagos even gave him a copy of the work for hire contract Mauer signed.  And it specifically states that anything she created, music, IP, whatever, becomes the property of Imagos as a condition of her employment.  In other words, whether or not she got paid, she owns approximately zero rights to the music, which even the most basic lawyer can tell you (Mauer claimed to Jupiter Hadley that she practiced law, although Sid did a search of Mauer's home state of PA and found no indication of her as a registered bar member).  Just because you feel you are owed money does not mean you retain rights to work for hire creations.  (Not helping is that Mauer is selling the music on her BandCamp for $1,000.)

Sid then contacted Mauer asking if she would please remove the DMCA takedowns from the various channels.  Her response was posted in one of his videos:  "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 the 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."

If you read that and don't become enraged, then there's something wrong with you.  First of all, Mauer was the one who filed the DMCA strikes.  Not Imagos.  Imagos can't do anything about them, only Mauer can.  That's like complaining about how my pizza was made to the delivery driver.  And the fact that she will not reverse the strikes unless the people start hammering Imagos treads periously close to coersion and extortion.

But Mauer is also starting to bite off more than she can chew.  Commentators like Jim Sterling, TotalBiscuit, and Leonard French (who actually does have a law degree) started spreading the word and reaching out to people.  TotalBiscuit, in fact, appears to have an in with YouTube Gaming and has offered to help expedite the appeals process for anyone affected by Mauer's copyright strikes.

And if YouTube agrees that Mauer had no standing to dish out DMCA strikes, she is in for a world of trouble.

A lot of times, channels that get DMCA strikes just grit their teeth because the implementors are usually big companies with lots of lawyers and money who can simply tie them up in court until they run out of time and/or money.  The other problem is that a lot of those strikes come from international companies.  For example, Sega Of Japan went on a rampage, striking videos that even mentioned Shining Force.  Because of international law and treaties, lawsuits become expensive and time consuming past the point of any real practical use.  But this?  Mauer lives in the US, apparently in Pennsylvania.  A false DMCA claim is considered perjury.  Affected channels would see this as a chance to establish a legal precedent, and would have no trouble banding together and setting up a GoFundMe to make a lawsuit against Mauer happen.  Imagos is even offering to provide the contracts and any other non-NDA paperwork to anyone who needs it.  Which would also force YouTube to no longer hide behind its automated systems and the YouTube Heroes because they will have to consider the rights of the creators as well.

What are the chances of this happening?  Actually, they just went up, as Mauer may have just taken another thwack at the beehive.  Adult Swim featured some footage of Starr Mazer DSP in one of its trailers for Duck Game, and Mauer claims to Sid that she sent a C&D to Turner Broadcasting.  Assuming that she really did it, big companies do not like being jerked around like that, and you can bet Turner's lawyers will be looking at this when they get in on Monday morning.  All because Mauer is trying to put public pressure on a former employer with standing that, as far as can be determined, she does not have.

Unless Mauer backpedals quick, she is looking at not only getting hit with lawsuits from the people she falsely DMCA'ed, but the whole sorry practice of weaponizing YouTube's automated takedown systems will take a critical, potentially fatal, hit.  The sad sick little dance that has gone on way too long is potentially going to end.

But not before the trouble really begins.

WHich could happen in about three weeks....

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