When Developers Go To War With Creators

Here we go again…

If you’ve been reading Falcon Game Reviews for a while, you may remember me talking about the controversy surrounding PewDiePie and the Wall Street Journal, and game developers taking shots at content creators. Well, it appears that Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg is stirring up trouble again, but this time it’s not because of perceived sympathies with extremists. No, this time he’s in hot water over his use of racial slurs.

Facepalms All Around

First, I’m not in the market of throwing around racial slurs. I use bad language, sure. However, there are some words that I refuse to make part of my vocabulary. I fancy myself a well-versed individual, so it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll ever hear me utter a word like the one Mr. Kjellberg used. While I’m not afraid of the word, I’m just not one to use it. It honestly sends shivers up my spine every time I hear it, much like any other racial slur.

The issue in this particular controversy however, is that Mr. Kjellberg used the offending word in a livestream of PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds. The context of the situation being that he was in a firefight with another player, and he was expressing his frustration with that individual to his viewers.

Sure, fine… PewDiePie is a YouTuber that often veers into the shocking from time to time. That doesn’t change the fact that he doesn’t need to use that kind of language, even if it’s just a word. It’s an abrasive and offensive word to say the very least though, and it makes me shudder just hearing it. I still figured that a word like that wouldn’t be used by a YouTuber in Mr. Kjellberg’s position, considering that I’ve only previously heard it used by gamers of the 12 year old variety.

That’s not why I’m writing this post however.

A Nuclear Response

Not long after the stream, a developer got onto Twitter and declared that they’d be issuing Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedowns of some of PewDiePie’s footage as a response to his behavior. Not Bluehole Studios though, Campo Santo… The maker’s of Firewatch.

You may be scratching your head a little, so I’ll elaborate. One of Campo Santo’s founders, Sean Vanaman, expressed his displeasure with Mr. Kjellberg’s use of racial slurs in his stream of PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds, so his team decided the best course of action would be to take legal action against the YouTuber by taking down his footage of Firewatch.

Mr. Kjellberg’s word usage, as reprehensible as it is, had nothing to do with their studio. The footage with the offensive language didn’t show up in the stream of their game. He didn’t violate any Campo Santo terms and conditions or code of conduct during the stream of Firewatch; they just wanted to punish him.

And they may very well be within their legal rights to do so, depending on who you ask.

The only difference here is that Campo Santo was previously fine with Mr. Kjellberg’s antics, including his monetization of his footage of Firewatch. They’ve only chosen now to come out and take action against him despite him not violating any rules they’ve put forth.

So why is this an issue? Because it shows that streamers have no effective rights when it comes to broadcasting. We’ve more or less known this for a while, but previous hardliners like Nintendo have been the perpetrators of limiting content creators, and only to protect their intellectual properties. In this situation, Campo Santo is taking down a video in the pursuit of a form of justice.

The Verdict?

If I’m going to be perfectly honest, this is one of those situations where everyone sucks.

Felix Kjellberg shouldn’t be using that kind of language unless he’s willing to lose in the court of public opinion. It makes him sound like part of the hordes of bigoted children on Xbox Live during the 360/PS3 era (who have moved in droves to PlayStation Network). One would figure that he would’ve learned to not bite the hand that feeds him, but I doubt he’s going to be hurting for earnings as a result.

Mr. Vanaman, on the other hand, comes across as a bit of a pretentious jackass. His stance on the matter being the equivalent of saying that companies reserve the right to issue DMCA claims against any streamer, at any time, for any reason. That very well may be true and legally sound, but it’s a little petty. Part of Mr. Vanaman’s Twitter thread on the subject speaks volumes about the platform he’s standing on.

How kind of you, Mr. Vanaman, for graciously allowing streamers to advertise for you. They just need to make sure to not piss you off apparently, or they might find themselves on the wrong side of the legal system.

I’d love to see a day where streamers could get onto Twitch, YouTube, or even Mixer to play a game and share the footage, without a spectral guillotine hanging precariously over their necks. It’s just sad to see that while streamers and video creators had it rough before with publishers and developers occasionally taking extreme measures to “protect” their intellectual properties, now they need to fear the same happening as a result of the IP holder’s whims.

Update: Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg has issued an apology regarding his actions. It is monetized, so if you don’t want to factor into the audience that funds him, make sure you have an ad blocker installed.

Update: Sean Vanaman has since commented on the use of DMCA to act out against Felix Kjellberg:

“I wish there was a clear way to say we don’t want our work associated with hate speech, even accidental hate speech if that’s what it was,” Vanaman told BuzzFeed News. “I regret using a DMCA takedown. Censorship is not the best thing for speech and if I had a way to contact PewDiePie and take the video down, I probably would. He’s a bad fit for us, and we’re a bad fit for him.”


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15 thoughts on “When Developers Go To War With Creators

  1. Just another gross misuse of the DMCA, the wonderful law that it is, that hasn’t caused a single problem since inception.

    Pewdiepie can spout racial slurs all day and it’s not breaking a law. Sure, he’ll have hell to pay with Youtube and his sponsors and it’s obviously in poor taste, but he can still say what he wants and it’s not illegal – but he does have to accept the consequences. However, those consequences are from, again, Youtube, his sponsors, etc. It’s not some civic duty for someone to abuse a law to silence him.

    Using the DMCA to remove content because you disagree with what they have said is totally not how laws work. Especially the DMCA which should check into the nearest battered women’s shelter with how often corporations abuse it. It’s not a legal loophole to censor things you disagree with. Nor is it used to remove videos for the sole purpose of gaining PR points.

    First, it’s a guy yelling racial slurs over a stream, which is an easy target. Next, it’s someone saying they don’t like a political figure, and corporations who support that figure DMCA all their videos. You don’t have to support the use of racial slurs to see how this type of rogue legal repercussions is terrible for the internet.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I find that I agree with you, though I don’t know if that comes as any sort of surprise. What PewDiePie did wasn’t what I would consider to be good behavior, I think it was wrong of Mr. Vanaman to take matters into his own hands to punish him. Campo Santo’s actions just come across as petulant and borderline abusive. Sure, they have the right to do what they did in the legal minefield that is the DMCA, but that doesn’t make it a good course of action.

      Like

  2. I get that this is a slippery slope – and just because I might agree with this particular instance doesn’t mean I’ll agree with the next one etc, etc….But… That said, I don’t entirely agree that this is inherently bad or abusive. Sure, it might be using a certain law to achieve aims it wasn’t necessarily intended for, but isn’t there the counter-argument that this is a fairly principled stand on the part of Campo Santos, and one they’ve got every right to take!?

    To start with, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with people maintaining control over who uses their Intellectual Property/content, when, and how, and with them withdrawing that consent (even retrospectively) should it be used in a context they find unacceptable, or by somebody whose views they find offensive. There are plenty of examples of musicians, authors etc refusing to allow their work to be used by groups, people etc that have shown themselves to be racist, misogynist, or whatever, and I think they’re well within their rights to do that (and I tend to applaud them for it too).

    Secondly, as per the last tweet exchange in the piece, Campo Santos are prepared to potentially lose money in order to prevent their product generating income for somebody who has, at least twice recently, shown an unpleasant tendency to be offensive, antisemitic, and now, racist. Quite aside from the first point, I don’t have a huge problem with Devs, artists, even companies using the law to prevent their products generating income for unsavory characters, and I’d even go as far as to say it makes a refreshing change that, once again, I’d tend to applaud.

    Indeed, after Pewdiepie’s last bit of appalling and offensive behaviour I wrote a big piece about protecting Gaming’s legacy and reputation, and I think this is closer to being an example of that than it is an example of grossly misusing a particular law. This guy, remember, makes an absolute shedload of money from streaming/YouTubing games, he’s one of the most well-known and recognised “Gamers” in the world, and if the rest of the industry don’t act when he consistently shows himself to be an offensive and bigoted asshat (particularly if it is because he’s making them money) doesn’t that leave a nastier taste in the mouth, and doesn’t that give out entirely the wrong message about the Gaming Industry as a whole!?

    Because if pewdiepie’s pulling this kind of shite, and the rest of the industry’s not reacting to it (or just making token “tut, tut” type noises), I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that it’s not going to do any of us any favours in the long run.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I find myself seeing this from an “both sides are stupid” perspective. I agree with you that PewDiePie’s actions are reprehensible, but I can’t see Campo Santo completely in the right. I know they have the right to do what they did, but at the same time, it feels less like a stand against this sort of behavior and more of a lashing out against the streaming community they want support from.

      They’re certainly sending the message that they aren’t okay with his behavior by making an example out of Felix, but it also feels like they’re telling everyone else how they really feel about the rest of the content creators out there. That if push comes to shove, and Campo Santo doesn’t like you, they’re going to take you down, and try to convince others to do the same.

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      1. I totally get that this might set a worrying precedent and that, if they’re successful, Campo Santos might open the door to content owners arbitrarily, vindictively or maliciously taking action against content creators, perhaps even for fairly petty reasons. However, I still don’t think that’s the case here.

        Sean Vanaman/Campo Santos might not like pewdiepie, sure, but their actions are a reaction to a very specific incident by a specific person – i.e. not arbitrary, and not aimed at the general streaming community – and, moreover, it’s the latest in an increasingly long line of unacceptable and bigoted behaviour on his part (and the second big example this year!!).

        That brings us back to the income/product association stuff, and if a guy’s using his platform to spout hateful ideas (or even just failing to understand his responsibility to not use them), and if he’s making a shedload of money, and if your product’s even a small a part of that equation, I think you should have every right to withdraw your consent for its being used – even if said product wasn’t directly involved in this particular incident.

        In that respect, it’s like a kind of reverse boycott, I guess – and given pewdiepie seems to have willfully failed to learn from the last incident, perhaps the threat of losing the rights to use other’s content might make him more aware of his responsibilities whilst using it.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I can see where you’re coming from, and I agree with you about Felix. I just can’t get behind the ends justifying the means.

          It makes me worry about precedent being set in the minds of IP rights holders, and it creates an air of unease in me. It makes me wary of streaming, because I understand the risk now. That if a developer or publisher has the urge, they can revoke the implied license for my content, even without reason.

          Granted, I won’t be going around and dropping racial slurs or joking about being a Nazi, but the power balance is clear now. IP rights holders can withdraw the implied license and put your channel at risk of being taken down completely, without warning.

          As for my views of Mr. Vanaman, I have to say that while I respect him and his team for making a great game, and for taking a principled stand on something he cares about, I’m pretty shocked by the condescending tone he’s taken. This all could’ve been handled far more tactfully on his end.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. (this is going to be another long one, so apologies. On the plus side though, you’ll be getting a lot of pagehits from Brazil today 😉)

            For sure, this is a grey area of the law, and even though it has been for some time, I think it’s gotten way more complicated as the tech/Ecosystem has, in many ways, outpaced both the existing legislation and the frequency/extent to which there might be conflict. Put another way, where once there may’ve been relatively few cases of, say, Copyright Infringement versus “Fair Use” (and with cases being decided on interpretations of what constitutes one or the other), with the advent of Twitch, YouTube etc, there are now literally billions of potential such cases, and I’d argue the idea of Fair Use has been really tested. Afterall, a few minutes of video/music/a small extract of writing is one thing, but hours upon hours of streaming etc is something else entirely.

            Given that situation, there seems to have developed a relatively informal system that takes into account a) audience, b) the type of usage, c) general behaviour during that usage, and that then d) runs it all through a kind of Quid Pro Quo filter. So, if you’re streaming to only a handful of people, the size of the beast in question means you’re unlikely to even register on anybody’s radar, unless of course you do something particulary bad in terms of b) or c), in which case you might. If the b) in question is just an unfavourable review, and the content owner takes action, that’s hypocritical in light of d) absolutely, and I’d be amongst the first to lambast that hypocrisy, and I agree it puts content creators in a difficult, precarious and perhaps unfair position. However, if b) is unfair in itself, and/or c) is objectively bad to the point it’s potentially harmful to your content, then I think the owner of that content has the right to pursue some kind of recourse. Likewise, if c) is generally so bad it’s enough to tar your product with a particularly unpleasant brush, I think it is arguably acceptable to mitigate that – and, as I understand it, there are provisions in various laws for exactly that.

            Anyways (if you’re still with me 😉), this case is very much an outlier, I think, given pewdiepie’s position in terms of a), b) and c), so I don’t think it’s necessary to worry about precedents on this particular basis, and I think the severity of the situation negates any d) type hypocrisy too. Like I said, if in the future cases appear where hypocrisy in d) is the main factor, or where Content Owners are maliciously abusing b) or c) to their own advantage, I’m almost certain I’d come down hard on the side of the creators.

            Again though, I just don’t think that applies in this particular case.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I always get a ton of page hits from you when you’re active. Just saying!

              I can agree with your point that it’s unlikely to have this turn into an issue, but I still believe that the possibility that it can is worth being concerned about. I’m treating these two circumstances as separate issues entirely; Mr. Kjellbergs’s antics and Campo Santo’s, that is. I doubt anyone besides the usual suspects are going to defend someone using racial slurs.

              I do find it concerning that Campo Santo looks down on streamers though, both big and small. The wording that Mr. Vanaman used didn’t sound like someone defending his actions based on the context, but someone who genuinely believes that streamers and content creators just are leeching off of IP holders. That all streaming is copyright infringement, and (most) IP holders are just kind enough to allow people to broadcast.

              Reprehensible behavior is reprehensible, and Campo Santo has the right to protect their interests. I’m not trying to make an argument against that. I’m just wary of a developer that has made their view of those that use their IP clear; that anybody who uses their IP for entertaining audiences does so at the mercy of the developer.

              I think that you hit on the core of the issue though. That there needs to be clearer, more well-defined rules for streaming. What you can and can’t say. Defined codes of conduct and terms and conditions for video creation. That way, hopefully legislation doesn’t need to be pursued.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Yeah, and for sure we need to be vigilant to make sure Content Owners don’t abuse their position.

                The flip side to that, though, is that we also need to maintain our own standards as streamers, content creators etc, and we need to be mindful of the fact that we’re using other’s content to create or own.

                That’s important for various reasons, not least because if we are, hopefully we’ll change the perception that we are leeching, and show that, actually, we’re of as much value to the industry as the original creators/owners.

                In that respect, it’s kind of like when Games first appeared on the scene and were initially dismissed as derivative and childish – but where that perception was eventually overridden precisely because developers embraced the potential of the medium – creating thoughtful, respectful and important additions to the world of entertainment.

                Ok, I’m done now!! 😉

                Liked by 1 person

  3. While I’m not in favor of reactionary censorship, I’m not really on PewDiePie’s side for this. If a sponsor does not want to be associated with a famous name because their values no longer align, then that’s within the sponsor’s rights. If someone enjoys the glamour of being a public figure (whether or not you “wanted” to be a role model), once you’re in the public eye you need to be aware of the fact that the things you do with be picked over and reacted to extremely – both good and bad.

    I agree with James, too. PewDiePie is a very recognizable gamer. This may sound harsh, but he either needs to be an example of the type of inclusive community we claim we want, or he needs to be made an example of when appropriate, to show that we – as a community – reject that sort of behavior.

    Of course, the exclusivity of the community has become very entrenched in “gaming culture,” so I also wouldn’t be surprised at the people who are just fine with a “big name gamer” using a word that makes other gamers feel excluded or insulted (at the least), because… well… “us versus them” is tough to overcome.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Unfortunately, immediately after it happened tons of his fans were defending his use of the word, claiming (as he did) that he didn’t really mean to use it but meant to use a different derogatory phrase. This obviously isn’t the entirety of gaming culture but it is a big enough portion that it gives us all a bad name.

        As for Campo Santo, I’m not sure where I fall on that. On one level if I was an IP owner, especially a small one, I’d want to make sure that my material wasn’t associated with anything that could damage my future endeavors. On the other though, I don’t want to see IP holders abusing their power here. We see it all the time – Digital Homicide vs. Jim Sterling, being a big recent one that focused on Sterling’s criticism, and that is scary.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m not sure why people feel the need to use that kind of language, but I can see that some of his audience feels that sort of behavior is just how things are. Not exactly the kind of people I want to be around.

          Campo Santo, on the other hand, are just far enough in the grey area on this for me to be torn about the issue. I know they have an obligation to their image, but at the same time, I feel there could’ve been better, less extreme options taken.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m mixed on this. And to points in other comments, it may be a harsh way to deal with the racist language used, but i’m in no way in support of what Pewdiepie said. If he’s allowed to do it and no one does anything about it, then who’s to stop other youtubers from doing this? I guess a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

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