River City Ransom Underground pulled from sale following copyright claims

Retro beat ’em up River City Ransom Underground [official site] has been pulled from sale on Steam, following a legal tussle over rights to music used in the game. The game’s composer, Alex Mauer, has used the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to make claims against YouTube videos of the game and seemingly escalated to taking down the game itself. Developers Conatus Creative seem confident that the game will be back on sale soon. Previous DMCA complaints from Mauer knocked another game using music she composed, Starr Mazer: DSP, off sale but that has since returned.

“We are aware that RCRU is down on Steam,” Conatus said in a terse statement on Friday. “We have contacted Valve’s copyright department, and will let you know when access is restored.”

Conatus don’t say anything more — unsurprising for an ongoing legal matter — but, prior to the game being pulled, did comment on DMCA takedowns against RCRU videos. Both player-made videos and some of Conatus’s own were targeted. The studio stress that Mauer filed the takedowns, not them, and briefly explained that they believe they have the right to use the music.

“Alex Mauer produced, in collaboration with others, works for RCRU as a sub-contractor, and Conatus believes that it possesses the legal right to use those collaborative works in the game,” the team said.

This echoes events with Starr Mazer: DSP, another game which used music Mauer composed. As with River City Ransom Underground, Mauer filed DMCA claims to get Starr Mazer: DSP removed from Steam in March and get videos off YouTube. Developers Imagos Softworks have asserted that they paid for the rights to her work, which was originally created for Starr Mazer (which Starr Mazer: DSP is a prequel to).

Having failed to reach an agreement, Ignatos say, they removed her music from DSP entirely. The game eventually returned to Steam last week. However, they whole fuss has meant they lost financial support from the game’s publisher.

Imagos are using crowdfunding to hire legal support, and have recently been granted a temporary restraining order forbidding Mauer from filing more DMCA takedowns.

The DMCA has proved controversial since its inception. Takedowns don’t require that the accuser offer proof that they hold the rights, putting the burden of time and effort (and sometimes money) on the accused. That makes it easily weaponised too. Sites like YouTube automatically disable any video which receives a takedown notice so they can keep ‘safe harbour’ status and not be held liable for copyright infringement, which can lead to YouTube accounts having features disabled or, eventually, being deleted. The Electronic Frontier Foundation are still fighting against the tendrils of the DMCA.

Conatus seem to expect that River City Ransom Underground will be back on sale on Steam soon. In the meantime, it is still on GOG.

48 Comments

  1. Beard_Arthur says:

    I certainly hope Alex has a fall-back occupation besides music composer. Good luck getting hired again with all the spurious DMCA’s you’ve been filing.

    • Lim-Dul says:

      Let’s not forget the death threats she sent to several Youtubers, the owner of Imagos Softworks and their legal counsel.

    • Pich says:

      If what i’ve been reading around is real, a new job is the least of her worries; it’s a full-on mental breakdown.

    • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

      I can’t find any actual evidence that they are spurious (though that is after only a couple of minutes’ googling), other than the devs saying so. But they would say that either way. Everyone is posting as if the devs’ legal standing has been established, but I haven’t seen anything backing that up… Of course I can’t find anything that backs Mauer up, either. But I feel like that means everyone just defaults to blaming “the crazy person.”

      • Zap Brannigan says:

        You are missing the point. If I am the HR dept of a completely different company, I would recommend finding a different job candidate unless they brought something unique to the table. Even if my company is 100$ above board, why would I condone the hiring of someone who will go to extreme measures to protect what they think are their rights?
        This litigation is a major CLM for Mauer whether right or wrong. Whistle-blowers dont get rehired either in the real world.

        • GunnerMcCaffrey says:

          I think you’re missing my point. Without proof that the devs are meeting their contractual obligations, there are no grounds to definitively call the claims “spurious.” And in the (admittedly unlikely) case that the devs have no rights to use the music the way they did, there would be nothing “extreme” about her actions. That’s why I asked if anyone has anything to go on beyond conjecture. I’m not a lawyer so I might well be missing something completely obvious, but I’m pretty sure most people spending their days on video game website comment sections aren’t lawyers either. Everyone is piling on the composer here and as far as I can tell it’s related entirely to her disposition and not the merits (which may or may not exist) of her claims. So I just wondered if anyone has anything solid to go on, because otherwise this strikes me as a clear case of Not Our Business, and that would also apply if I were in HR.

          Sure, it’s not unlikely that someone who defaults to a scorched earth negotiation strategy hasn’t set themselves up on on solid legal ground, but it’s also not unlikely that a small developer would, even if completely unintentionally, fail to prioritize their legal and moral obligations to a freelancer. It’s often smaller businesses who are the most exploitative.

          • Brian Seiler says:

            So…here’s the thing. The DMCA strikes against YouTube channels are spurious on their face in light of what amounts to basically blackmail on the actor’s part here (her proposition – initially – was “Hey – complain to Imagos about this for me and I’ll totally revoke this DMCA strike,” though she has since departed from this position and devolved into total madness). Strictly looking at StarMazer, Mauer decided that she had been…somehow wronged?…by Imagos Softworks. I’m not entirely sure how that works because she has never once detailed this “contract dispute” somehow involving non-payment, though I expect that she’ll have to do that in response to Leonard French’s legal actions.

            With River City, there’s not even the thinnest veneer of respectability at this point. For one thing, you don’t try to enforce your contract by assaulting third parties to try and rouse a mob in your support. For another, that game has been a thing for kind of a while now and this is the first that anybody is hearing of any sort of dispute between her and the publisher. Unless it was explicitly stated otherwise in the contract, since she was working as a sub-contractor the rights for the intellectual property implicitly transfer to the developers, so it’s a pretty crystal clear case to resolve in any event, and if she hadn’t taken action before it’s hard to believe that her action now is anything other than spurious.

            Alex Mauer is at best a very sick individual who really needs the help that she has already rejected (she was placed under an involuntary mental health intercession, but was since released after being deemed non-threatening to herself or others…somehow) and at worst an actively evil person. I prefer to believe in the former because I prefer to live in a world where real evil is exceedingly rare, but I do wholeheartedly believe that this will not end well for her anywhere but in the infinite and unlimited universe of her own imagination.

          • GloatingSwine says:

            No, here’s the thing. Even if Mauer had sued Imagos for breach of contract and won (unlikely), she still wouldn’t own any of the copyrights to music produced under the contract.

            In that case she would be awarded the amount of money unpaid (The contract was for $40000, Mauer was paid $36500 because she did not complete all the contracted work due to medical reasons).

            She would not be awarded any copyrights unless the contract had a specific clause saying so. It doesn’t. (And yes, I do know that because it has been openly presented and discussed).

          • Zap Brannigan says:

            Everyone else has explained the specifics of the situation to you. I’ve tried to explain the reality of the situation to you, but you dont want to hear it.
            Even if she is completely vindicated, no other company will bother to hire her again, because the risk that she might cause a problem is higher than any other candidate who has not in the past.
            If you do not believe the past history of a perspective hire is relevant to HR, I do not think you know what HR does.
            BTW, why do you think that lawyers cant have hobbies? And why does it take you all day to read a few articles?

          • frymaster says:

            I don’t buy the “these DMCAs are spurious because she has another agenda” argument. They are spurious if the copyright claim is invalid. That she’s willing to withdraw the claims under certain circumstances, or is only making the claims under certain circumstances, is irrelevant.

            In terms of in they are valid… if she had been an employee who hadn’t been paid, the claims would be completely invalid as she would have never owned the music to begin with. As a contractor… she has presumably been contracted to compose X music – and hand over certain rights – for $Y. If she is claiming an absence of $Y, it can be argued she still owns the rights.

            But… even if they aren’t spurious, this isn’t a move likely to gain either sympathy or more business.

            One correction: while it’s true that DMCA’s have a low barrier for claiming, counter-claiming has a similarly low bar. The idea behind the DMCA is it’s a chance to sort things out without courts; if a counter-claim is received, the claimant’s only two options are a) drop the claim, or b) commit to taking it to the courts

      • sharpmath says:

        “I can’t find any actual evidence that they are spurious (though that is after only a couple of minutes’ googling),”

        Then you’re the perfect person to make all these comments after!

      • GloatingSwine says:

        Imagos have provided the contract under which Mauer was hired, which has an explicit Work for Hire clause.

        Work for Hire means that the contractor retains no copyright to any work produced under the contract. There is no clause in the contract which would cause those copyrights to default to Mauer.

        Mauer does not own the copyrights she is claiming. Which is one of the reasons a restraining order has already been issued against her.

      • Echo_Hotel says:

        Look harder, her entire contract is up online, SHE put it there. she signed over “exclusive rights” to the company, she sold her work, it’s not hers anymore but she thinks a name change gives it back to her or something.
        Regardless, she’s been putting forward DMCA claims on videos featuring products that contain her work but not the work itself not just her work that she no longer owns.

        She is in a lot of trouble

  2. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    What a mess. It’s hard to tell from the sidelines what is and isn’t accurate in disputes like this but that composer certainly does not come out of this looking good. I was looking forward to Star Mazer… now I find out it’s maybe not even coming out because of this nonsense?

    • TheDandyGiraffe says:

      It’s not really that hard. Literally every respectable source that cared to comment on the entire thing (instead of just reporting) supports the devs’/youtubers’ side. Mauer is going through what seems like a mental breakdown, and there are those who sympathise (which is a perfectly natural and appropriate reaction), but I haven’t seen literally anyone try and defend her actions.

      • Premium User Badge

        Ninja Dodo says:

        I don’t have any wish to dig into it much, but a casual glance does indeed suggests that. Even aside from all the surrounding behaviour which seems pretty damning, unless there was some kind of huge mistake with the way the contract was written “work-for-hire” is pretty clear-cut as far as ownership goes.

        • Brian Seiler says:

          It’s not even pretty clear cut. It’s an exact and unmistakable legal fact. Unless otherwise specified in the contract, rights to any intellectual property resulting from the execution of that contract belong to the paying party. Imagos would have had to deliberately write this into the document they had her sign, and it wouldn’t have been part of any boilerplate they found online. Unless this lady is claiming some complicated legal thing related to the entity with whom the contract was signed (without getting into the gory details – and I truly hope they remain irrelevant – Alex’s name was changed at some point in the recent past, though I have no idea whether that was before or after any of these contracts were executed), it’s hard to think how this series of actions is anything other than completely loony.

  3. vorador says:

    I think other companies will think it again before contracting that composer. Even a dog knows not to shit where you eat.

    • Ich Will says:

      Could you tell my dog that please! Not even a joke :(

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Under some circumstances, dogs will both shit where they eat, and bite the hand that feeds them.
      This notice brought to you by the Society for Accuracy in Clichés.

      • Chaz says:

        But is there a world where they eat other dogs?

      • vorador says:

        So it depends on the dog? Just like a person then.

        Well, i guess i owe one to the society.

    • jeremyalexander says:

      Actually, dogs eat their own shit sometimes, so bad analogy, bad.

    • Brian Seiler says:

      There’s no maybe about it. This is absolute career suicide for Mauer, which is why so many people believe that this could only possibly be the result of mental illness. Even if the world of her twisted imagination was real and she owned the rights to these things, it’s difficult to believe that their value would even remotely rival the future work she’s absolutely guaranteeing she’ll never get.

    • Flopper says:

      I always liked “Don’t get your honey where you make your money.”

  4. Sic says:

    Filings claims on videos of the games you’ve composed for?

    I thought this level of pettiness was solely in the realm of the big three.

    • TheDandyGiraffe says:

      Various sources (Jim Sterling included) have hinted at Mauer having some serious mental issues right now – I don’t think it’s pettiness, I think it’s more of some kind of breakdown. The problem is systemic – the fact that a single person with mental issues can make this kind of mess with spurious, completely unjustified claims, is frankly absurd.

      • Jalan says:

        All you need to do is look at Mauer’s Twitter account for any potential “hintings” of mental breakdowns/issues.

      • Sic says:

        In that case, I hope she takes care and will swiftly be in the care of properly trained individuals.

        … and remember that recent research has found that schizoid issues has turned out to be highly reversible in a lot of cases, and definitively manageable most of times.

        • TechnicalBen says:

          Yes. While not always the case, a lot of mental illnesses can be traced to physical symptoms and causes. Such as dietary deficiencies, strokes etc.

          Others can be helped with counselling of different types.

          I think though, often the first step if help offered and accepted, and if not, the person realising their own self, and asking for help.

  5. Drib says:

    DMCA is such a disaster of a law. Always has been.

    • Ich Will says:

      Lars needs his gold plated toilet.

    • Brian Seiler says:

      Now…that kind of depends on who you’re asking. The DMCA is only a disaster if you’re one of the many, many, MANY parties potentially victimized by it. It operates on a presumption of guilt (ostensibly to minimize the damage done by actually guilty parties) and is fairly stringent in its requirements for Safe Harbor status (a think you want if you’re YouTube or Vimeo or basically any entity that hosts content). Of course, there’s a reason for this – the law was written specifically to protect publishers. Big publishers. So, yeah – it’s been a disaster for your average YouTube video personality, but it’s been all gravy for the Columbias and Time Warners of the world.

  6. Shadow says:

    I don’t understand why this is happening, unless this composer wasn’t paid for his work. Why else would you sabotage a game like this?

    • Pich says:

      AFAIK she thinks that she still has right to the music she was commissioned for the games, so sge’s DMCAing everything since they didn’t ask for he rpermission to use it. Basically the same stuff Ken Penders pulled in the Sonic comics a while ago.

      • Shadow says:

        Chalk it up to a strictly irrational decision then. It’s 2017: people play games and make videos about it. It’s a shame the DMCA’s ludicrous “shoot first, ask questions later” spirit enabled what should’ve remained powerless kicking and screaming. Reading a contract before signing it would’ve helped prevent this situation, too.

    • GloatingSwine says:

      The composer was paid $36500 from a contracted $40000 by Imagos because she didn’t complete all the work.

      She had an ongoing dispute over this feeling that she should have been paid more, which eventually led to her starting to issue DMCA claims against unrelated third parties in order to attempt to turn them against Imagos (directly telling people that she would only release the DMCA claims if the youtubers went after Imagos not her).

      This did not work, so she basically escalated it out of spite, including releasing per-channel claims and then reissuing one per video so they did maximum damage to the channels, and expanding to other games which had featured her work.

  7. ansionnach says:

    Got the gog version last week. Haven’t played it much but at least its contents will remain the same regardless of this kind of nonsense. They’d have to gain physical access to my archives to remove the music and I’d have something to say about that!

  8. ColonelFlanders says:

    The more I read about this person the more I can’t help thinking she’s a fucking asshole. If you compose music for a title (such as a movie or game) then the licensing agreements would have been laid out prior. What’s the point of getting a composer in to make music for your game if you aren’t allowed to fucking use it?

    As another commenter mentioned, even a dog knows not to shit where you eat, bit the hand that feeds or whatever other trite phrase you want to apply to it. I highly doubt this clown will be getting much more work out of this.

  9. wombat191 says:

    she was straight up employed as a contractor, signed over all ownership of the music and sound effects and has gone on a rampage since then.

    shes even doxxed her own lawyer

    she doesnt have a legal leg to stand on and this is not in any way going to end well for her

    • frymaster says:

      “employed as a contractor”

      It’s either one or the other. As an employee, she will have never had copyright to the work. As a contractor, it would depend on the contract… which looks to be straightforwardly assigning all rights to the devs… except she wasn’t paid the same amount…. except she didn’t complete the work.

      So in the latter case, it has not been comprehensively proved she’s in the wrong. Personally I think that’s just a matter of time.

  10. something says:

    I just want to caution people about piling onto this sort of thing. There are already more than enough grownups involved to sort it out. Whether it’s purely a business issue or if there’s some psychological element, an angry internet mob can’t help the situation. No, I don’t care how upset your favourite YouTuber is. This sort of nonsense is part of their weird job.

    If you want to get angry about something, the enemy here is clearly the DMCA. If you want to fight that, probably the best way to do it is to portray it as bureaucratic legal red tape that’s interfering with American business. That fight is less fun and you’re much less likely to win. Still in?

    • Jalan says:

      When Mauer takes to Twitter to both antagonize everyone (not just the level-headed people attempting to approach the situation with the right amounts of sincerity and care it warrants) AND strum the harp on being victimized/harassed, it’s moved well beyond the “pile it on” point.

      (And to be clear, just in case – the above is not my condoning anyone sending abhorrent bile to Mauer (please stop doing that, in fact), whether they’re directly affected by any takedowns/etc. or not. I’m merely attempting to note that it’s moved past the point of just being a problem regarding the DMCA bogeyman)

      • something says:

        If she’s attacked you personally, without your having started it, then you’re involved. Otherwise you’re not. Get another hobby.

        She’s attacked enough people that it’s a one-to-many conflict she is very unlikely to win. Hamfisted amateurs jumping onboard for the satisfaction of their own egos are likely to commit actions liable for civil suit or even criminal prosecution, and may undermine any legitimate legal action that takes place.

        • ooshp says:

          But now you’re involved, too! That’s what happens when you baconfist the hamfisted amateurs.

    • ColonelFlanders says:

      Given that this is a pretty lightly moderated comments section, I find the likelihood of people voicing their opinions fairly strong. There’s nothing wrong with saying you think someone’s a fuckwit, especially if they’re being an actual fuckwit.

  11. jeremyalexander says:

    This person really needs help mentally. And since she is about to find herself the target of more than one lawsuit, she is going to need financial help as well. She’ll never be working in this industry again.

  12. Baines says:

    A clarification, the restraining order only stops Mauer from filing DMCA claims related to Starr Mazer. It doesn’t stop her from filing DMCA claims in general.