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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.

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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