In the past, I’ve talked about some problems that I have experienced with DMCA abuse. I have since had those problems resolved and removed the video arguing my case against the claimant as I was somewhat crude because the case was so clearly a result of a lack of oversight and poor investigation by the claimant and as they worked with me to resolve the issue fairly quickly once they recognized it, I decided some of my comments were too harsh for me to stand by.
I’ve also watched several of my favorite content creators fight battles over DMCA abuse – some won and celebrated as a victory, such as in the cases of TotalBiscuit and Jim Sterling, and some still ongoing and harming the defendants monetarily to this day, such as in the case of h3h3Productions vs Matt Hoss. Alongside the ContentID system, the DMCA system on YouTube exists to protect copyright holders from having their intellectual properties stolen and/or reproduced by others in order to profit from and/or cause harm to the original brand. As the system has been implemented by YouTube, the claimant is pretty much the judge, jury, and executioner for a two-week period during which the content creator can file a counterclaim, such as if the cited works are used under the doctrine of fair use, which protects several derivative forms of work including transformative, critique, and commentary productions featuring an original work.
However, the law as it pertains to fair use is a grey area – how many seconds of an original clip can one use uninterrupted by commentary? What percentage of an original work is fair to use in a transformative work? These lines have yet to be set in any clear way, and until a case plays out in the courts that establishes some sort of precedent along some sort of quantifiable line, every creator who uses so much as a frame of someone else’s content is potentially subject to a DMCA dispute.
The burden of proof immediately falls on the content creator, and by filing a counterclaim, they are exposing themselves to litigation by the claimants and as such these counter-claims should only be filed when a content creator has absolute confidence in their case and is prepared to hire legal counsel should the claimant choose to pursue the DMCA strike in court.
Additionally, receiving a total of three DMCA strikes on your channel automatically renders you unable to continue being a channel on YouTube, effectively giving abusers a fast outlet to immediately seize a content creators livelihood and potentially throw their life into chaos.
When an individual entity files multiple strikes against a channel at once, my understanding is that these are regarded in totality as one strike, but I don’t doubt for a second that many DMCA abusers have malicious intents and have no regard for the creators they’re affecting. In the late 2010’s era there is no confusion that being a YouTuber can be a full-time job and career for many, and a leisure hobby that becomes a commercial enterprise for many more.
The lack of oversight on YouTube’s end of the DMCA process is somewhat necessary as it’s impractical to expect them to review every single video against every single intellectual property, but at the same time their DMCA system is inherently designed to excuse them from any liability whatsoever when they clearly play some part as the manager of ContentID, the manager of the YouTube DMCA process, and the host of all of YouTube’s channels. Of course, in exchange for these services, YouTube receives enormous advertising opportunities with pretty much the most diverse array of audiences an advertiser could hope to choose from, and therefore the opportunities for large profits are abundant.
The Starr Mazer DSP Example
Enter Starr Mazer, a franchise of space shooter games featuring a dynamic storytelling system created by Imagos Softworks and funded in part by a successful Kickstarter campaign. On their Kickstarter page, they list an enormous list of what sound like absolutely incredible features, not the least of which is that the soundtrack will be composed by “chiptune legend Alex Mauer” – and that’s a direct quote, in addition to “a dream team of other influential indie and chiptune artists”. The Starr Mazer franchise clearly has a flourishing community who are in love with the franchise and have been incredible in standing by the developers through all that has transpired, and among that flourishing community are dozens of YouTubers who have been covering Starr Mazer on their channels.
On June 23rd, 2017 YouTuber SidAlpha released the video “A wave of DMCA strikes hits YouTubers” and brought it to the attention of the masses that the game was removed from Steam as Alex Mauer had been issuing DMCA Takedown Strikes to any and all videos on YouTube featuring music that they had composed or sound effects they had designed, as in the case of Starr Mazer, despite this being a clear breach of their contract which indicated Imagos Softworks as the owner of all results and proceeds of Alex’s rendered services.
We’ve discussed the gravity behind these strikes already, and many of Alex’s victims were smaller channels, often which do not have the resources or technical knowledge to deal with all of the legalese and potential for error when dealing with the DMCA system.
It’s important to note that if Alex has not been paid or has any other contractual dispute with the developer, it does not excuse their actions or make them any more appropriate. The DMCA system, as I’ve previously mentioned, is a tool designed to protect copyright holders – it is not a personal snowflake button to be used at will by malicious parties in order to extort YouTubers into expressing grievances towards a developer in order to settle an unrelated contractual dispute, such as is the case here; we have lawyers, attorneys, and courts who serve to resolve these disputes in the most objective manner possible, and for that reason alone Alex should be viewed as someone who is primarily interested in causing harm and garnering sympathy and attention, rather than a mature business person who should be afforded any modicum of respect, until they learn to afford it for others themselves.
TotalBiscuit and Jim Sterling (get well soon, Jim!) both picked the story up and offered their aide to smaller YouTubers affected by Alex’s actions, something I commend and wish we saw more of. In a subsequent video titled “An update on the Alex Mauer DMCA Wave” by SidAlpha it was indicated that Mauer had moved on to DMCA’ing videos of two additional games while also distributing a cease and desist letter to Turner Broadcasting, owner of Adult Swim Games, apparently over some work they had composed on behalf of Duck Game. Alex’s eagerness to CC SidAlpha and keep him up to date on the latest with every egregious action they were taking transparently highlights their desperate plea for attention, producing a double-edged sword for those covering the events, as to ignore the damage Alex has caused would be a betrayal and injustice to Alex’s many victims.
SidAlpha would go on to report that Alex Mauer distributed several emails, one including a list of all current and pending DMCA strikes, to several YouTubers which they had issued DMCA strikes to. At that point the list contained as many as 70 DMCA strikes, including multiple channels which had received three or more.
The list of videos to receive strikes exceeds one hundred as of the writing of this article.
Continuing the drama that never ends, Mauer would go on to have Twitch user Hyper RPG banned for a 24-hour period, precisely during E3, creating a great burden of opportunity cost for the streamer. This is especially offensive to me as one of the first things we went over was the potential for harm to content creators’ livelihood. At this point Alex has not only crossed a very real monetary line with a content creator, but they have expanded their DMCA abuse to become a multi-platform effort, showing just how much damage one upset and obviously in-the-wrong party can inflict.
Mauer would continue to commit blatant abuse of the DMCA takedown system, issuing a copyright strike against Musical Anti Hero for a vlog they produced in which they briefly showed a photograph of Alex Mauer prior to their transition. Alex Mauer would go on to complain to SidAlpha that channels they had issued three strikes to hadn’t been taken down, as if that somehow validated their behavior, while simultaneously showing that they fully understood the gravity that all of their actions have carried thus far.
“…Alex has not only crossed a very real monetary line with a content creator, but they have expanded their DMCA abuse to become a multi-platform effort…”
In the video “Alex Mauer DMCA Update: Imagos gets litigious” SidAlpha also reports that Imagos has become represented by attorney Leonard French, an attorney many of us are familiar with for covering several high-profile cases involving YouTubers, particularly the H3H3 vs Matt Hoss case. In a message to SidAlpha, Don Thacker, who is head of Imagos Films, confirmed that they have retained Leonard’s services and intend to litigate, but that they are not seeking any damages, only a court-established precedent of their rights and the rights of affected YouTubers. This, in my opinion, is a very mature and kind-hearted stance for Imagos to take, as it was no doubt damaging that they had to take their product off of the storefront, replace several audio files, and re-release it so that players could enjoy the title without fear of abuse from Alex Mauer. A successful GoFundMe was established and funds were raised in a show of support to help Imagos and the affected content creators to fight this legal battle.
The Alex Mauer Saga Continues
Without making light of the rest of the story, it largely doesn’t change from where we are now. Alex Mauer at some point made death threats to certain people, SidAlpha among them, before being admitted for psychological help, supposedly at the bequest of their family. Shortly thereafter, they returned to their DMCA onslaught campaign before being served on behalf of Imagos’ lawsuit. At that point, it seemed as if they had finally come to their senses, reversing many of the abusive DMCA’s – only to be back at it as recently as the writing of this article.
Whatever may come of Alex’s abuse, I argue those who say stop giving this mentally ill individual attention; it’s what they want, yes, but it’s also the only way reform will ever be brought to the easily- and often-abused DMCA system. Alex Mauer may be the hero we’ve all been waiting for after all, falling on their sword of hyperbole and lies so that copyright might one day be fairly evaluated on a case-by-case basis on platforms like YouTube and Twitch.
“…it seemed as if they had finally come to their senses, reversing many of the abusive DMCA’s – only to be back at it as recently as the writing of this article.”
It’s much more likely Alex falls into obscurity and nothing good comes of their actions at all, but one can hope. I don’t plan on updating this story so long as it remains in this back-and-forth state of limbo, but if you want to know more, the information is out there and isn’t hard to find.