Okay, after months and months of fan projects being taken down, YouTube drama and now this whole Alex Mauer thing, I’m starting to get a little frustrated. Copyright law is a mess, and it’s starting to really screw with people on the ground just trying to make things. I'm sure the Digital Millenium Copyright Act was a necessary thing at the time. After all, as an artist, you want to be able to have your work seen as valuable and be able to make a living off of it. You don’t want people to seal it; I get it. But the way DMCA takedowns work,and the way companies like YouTube and Valve bend over for them is a problem opening a whole new can of worms.
Let’s take a look at a few recent examples. Capcom was at the center of some pretty substantial DMCA-flavored controversy. See, there’s this game on the 3DS called Dai Gyakuten Saiban. Roughly translated to Great Ace Attorney, it’s an alternate take on the beloved Ace Attorney series with a historical fiction setting. It’s very Japanese and also features an appearance by Sherlock Holmes, so localizing it ended up being a task Capcom didn’t want to take on. The fans took it upon themselves.
A YouTuber took the initiative to do a full translation of the first game, using the service’s annotation software to make it a native part of his video. Sure, the material for the game itself is copyrighted intellectual property, but due to Fair Use laws the upload should have been fine. Capcom filed a DMCA claim, and the video was immediately taken down. The claim was disputed, and after a few weeks the video was reinstated. The translator had to fight for it and potentially face legal action in the process.
Meanwhile, this whole Alex Mauer thing has been going down. Due to what appears to be some unfortunate health matters and things that aren’t anyone’s business, this dispute between game developers and a music composer has blown up into a huge thing, and unfortunately it’s a huge thing that has drawn in the involvement of dozens of content creators. Mauer has been tossing out fraudulent DMCA notices to anyone she’s perceived as using her IP, and it has been messing up the revenue sources for dozens of different YouTube channels. Even games have been affected, with River City Ransom: Underground most recently being removed (probably temporarily) from Steam.
The problem is the burden of proof is immediately placed on the subject of the copyright claim, and relevant services have very little in the way of protections against dubious or incorrect claims. The videos and games are immediately taken down without a single question, and if it happens often enough, people get banned. Either publishers or people filing the claims don’t know the full extent of the DMCA, or they don’t care. Either way, these are far too often used as intimidation or bullying tactics, rather than the intended legal protection purpose, to fight off the changing media landscape and small creators who really aren’t causing any harm. It’s getting out of hand big time.
So what can be done? Obviously, the end goal is to revise the law or find better ways to protect the small fries. Too often, these kinds of legislation are far too lopsided in favor of larger, corporate entities over the rights of individuals, even if they ultimately contradict rights that are already in place. Then the people affected have to choose between sticking up for themselves when they know they’re in the right and having to bankrupt themselves in court. It also opens up way too much room for flagrant abuse of the system. It’s a problem, a problem that’s growing fast, and something needs to be done.