There has been some news filtering down into the world of video games recently. Apparently, indie game developers Digital Homicide are planning on suing game reviewer/YouTuber Jim Sterling for roughly $10 million, accusing him of “assault, libel, and slander.”
And all I really have to say is holy shit.
In the interests of full disclosure, I would like to point out that I do watch Jim Sterling’s videos, frequently read his blog, and support him on Patreon. I think he has lot of insight into how the game industry works, and that he’s fucking hilarious. Even if I did not, however, I would still find this appalling and, frankly, spurious.
So, this requires a little bit of background. Back in late 2014, Sterling posted a video to his YouTube channel detailing a game called The Slaughtering Grounds. It was basically a mess of pre-made Unity store assets jumbled together with no sense of cohesion, that allegedly barely worked (I should note allegedly as I have not played the game myself, but have watched the gameplay video and it looks fucking atrocious). Digital Homicide did not take kindly to this criticism, and posted their own “review” of his review, which was basically them taking his previous video, slapping a bunch of sarcastic text over it, and reuploading it. Sterling, thinking that this was hilarious, posted his own response. At this point, Robert and James Romine (the owners of Digital Homicide) filed a DMCA takedown notice with YouTube as an attempt to get the video taken down.
The video did not stay down long, however, and Sterling filmed an entire Jimquisition episode detailing this entire meltdown, and would continue to cover DH’s games and (in Sterling’s opinion) shady behavior in both his Jimquisition and Best Of Steam Greenlight playlists.
So, a couple of things. First, the Romine brothers do not seem to have a working grasp on how copyright law works. When they originally filed the DMCA takedown, the reason given is that it violated fair use, basically because the review was not fair. In a statement included in the Kotaku article about this very issue:
“In the sole instance of Jim Sterling’s ‘Squirty Play’ video,” said the developer, “We find the usage of the terms ‘WORST GAME OF 2014 CONTENDER!’ and ‘Absolute Failure’ to describe the entirety of our product while not actually evaluating it in its entirety unfair and unreasonable use of our copyright material. While the reader may disagree with our claim, we believe the unbiased perspective of a court will agree there has been a violation of our copyright and for this reason we will be pursuing an attorney and proceeding with our complaint.”
Now, I am not a lawyer, but I can tell you that’s not what fair use actually means. What it means is that people can use a certain amount of copyrighted material for the purposes of education, criticism, and certain transformative works, such as parody or satire. So Sterling’s videos in this regard absolutely fall under fair use. Popehat (a blog that is written by an actual lawyer) had also written an article about these claims that gives a little more insight.
There is also the accusation that Sterling’s reviews have hurt their business. Looking at The Slaughtering Grounds’ Steam page, I am seeing that it is currently sitting at 1,824 reviews, most of which are negative:
For some reason I highly doubt that all of those reviews are a result of Sterling’s statements, but rather are a statement on the quality of the game itself. Which, as I have mentioned before, looks really, really awful.
On the other had, apparently Digital Homicide (according to the Kotaku article linked above) had also been receiving boxes full of shit in the mail. Which is very much not cool. Seriously, don’t do that. Sterling, though, frequently speaks out against harassment of this sort, but it’s really all that he can do. Jimquisition fans are not a hive mind, and Sterling does not have any control over what his fans do other than asking them not to do it.
Sterling has been keeping fairly quiet about the whole affair so far, but did post on Twitter that he is in a “very confident mood”:
I have nothing yet to say about any legal situations. In unrelated news I am in a very confident mood today.
— Jim Sterling (@JimSterling) March 16, 2016
I will definitely be keeping an eye on this whole affair and will be posting more as it develops.
(I would like to give a shoutout to my dad, who posts articles about video games to my Facebook sometimes and posted the Kotaku article that I linked. Thanks, Dad!)