Gaming Blog Rails Against The Man, Succumbs to Legal Threats

 Pages 1 2 NEXT
 

Gaming Blog Rails Against The Man, Succumbs to Legal Threats

image

When game journalists bicker over the injustice of "exclusive" screenshots, who wins?

Here's the story so far: PC gaming-centric blog Rock Paper Shotgun (RPS) posted screenshots from the upcoming Tomb Raider reboot that were exclusive to Game Informer. The post in question, written by John Walker, was essentially a rant against the idea that one website "owns" an image from a game but he bragged about cropping out the watermark while simultaneously linking back to Game Informer. After RPS reader Dean Bowes posted a link on Twitter quoting some of Walker's rant, Andrew Reiner, Executive Editor of Game Informer responded with force. "Please remove those images or we'll seek legal action," his post read. After presumably realizing that he was threatening legal action against a reader and not an actual representative of RPS, Reiner contacted RPS privately and John Walker pulled the images and replaced them with pictures from the freely distributed WikiCommons while further railing against the "idiocy" of the current system of publishers doling out such exclusive assets.

"Games aren't a special secret, they're a commercial product," wrote Walker in the original post. "So why on Earth would you then attempt to inhibit that information by distributing it through one (albeit splendid) source, who can watermark everything and then justifiably get narked off when other sites/mags nick all their information uncredited."

I contacted Walker and he had some more choice words to say on the subject. "It troubles me how deeply embedded the ridiculous system of online exclusives has become," he wrote me in an email. "It's like trying to claim a section of the sea is yours, and then complaining when your bits of water start sloshing outside of it. Or heaven forbid someone else dare to swim in your claimed bit of ocean."

Walker realizes that it's a bad thing to take images without linking the source, but he points out that his post was one big advertisement for Game Informer. "We all operate within certain unofficially agreed acts of courtesy. If one site is the only place to have some information, or some screenshots, you credit them and you link back to them. It's a douchy thing to take all their stuff and post it as your own. But it's perfectly reasonable to use it to illustrate a piece that links back to the source," Walker said.

"But really, the idiocy of publishers giving out adverts for their games like precious, secret jewels has got to end. It's self-defeating, and it's deeply tedious for the readers of every other site/mag in the world who want to know about a game they may want to play."

Personally, I think that both parties were wrong and right at the same time. I agree with Walker that the system is screwed, but writing about that while simultaneously stealing someone's copyrighted material is not only illegal but also a huge professional discourtesy. I don't know what deal Game Informer had in place with Eidos for those Tomb Raider shots but they are "paying" for them somehow and to rip them off was just wrong.

On the other hand, Reiner wasn't exactly being a PR genius for publicly demanding that the pictures be removed in a forum as public and transparent as Twitter. It all could have been handled behind the scenes and not doing so cost him and his publication much of the prestige it would have gained from owning the exclusive in the first place.

While the internet is all atwitter with the current controversy, it will surely die down soon. But I'm sure that this isn't the last that we'll hear about the seedy underbelly of the tenuous publisher-developer-journalist relationship.

Permalink

Personally, I find it pretty difficult to get an idea of what a game is going to be like unless some kind of pictures are involved, so I agree with Walker about how ridiculous it is to not be able to use the best images available. However, what is so bad about giving credit to the people who first put them out? If people are already reading your article, why would they leave to go to the place where they were first published? It seems like extra work to see information that is already right in front of you and is (presumably) written by a source that you like.

RPS needs to spend less time whining about exclusivity and more time nurturing their own relationship with developers and publishers. If they don't have one then they just have to admit they're a little fish and stop pestering the bigger fish.

Giving exclusive access for publicity = okay. Giving exclusive access in return for a biased review down the line = not okay.

This is the trouble with transferring from magazine to website.

He didn't exactly rip them off. You said yourself that he gave ample credit for who owned them and where they came from. He didn't try to claim they were his.

Greg Tito:

"Please remove those images or we'll seek legal action"

This is the reason why we can't have nice things!

I knew there was a reason I don't visit sites like RPS.

As soon as you release something on the interwebs, it's up for grabs - you've made it public, it's effectively public domain, anyone can see it, what are you moaning about? Heck, the guy was even nice enough to give credit and link to the source; isn't that how journalism works?! I don't get what they were on about - copyright needs an update for the digital internet age...

Ever heard of the term 'Fair Use'...not sure if it is applicable here, but but always screaming COPYRIGHT! is certainly not the best PR...

Look at it this way - the magazine gets "exclusives" to get sales and subscriptions. People that want the information will first will go to the place that has it first. So, the guy who removed the watermark and posted pictures did steal their information, along with (possibly) some of their sales. It's just bad business for Game Informer when someone gives their stuff, pictures or info, away for free, even if you link it. Going about it by announcing to the world what your plans are to have those pictures removed, however, was not the right way to go about it. This was said in the article - it should have been behind the scenes, with as little publicity as possible.

Cameron Wright:
I knew there was a reason I don't visit sites like RPS.

Then you're missing out on one of the best, if not the best gaming related sites on the tubes.

The writing is glorious, the honour is spot on and the community is able to write coherent punctuated posts.

Unlike The Escapist they do tend to have an actual opinion at times. And they don't score their Wot I Thinks.

Rps is my favorite gaming site :D

Sixcess:
RPS needs to spend less time whining about exclusivity and more time nurturing their own relationship with developers and publishers

I would rather have some sites that are independent from publishers.
A lot of old media magazines (Print) for example keep to embargos, meaning that they aren't allowed to talk about a game until the publisher tells them too.
All american print magazines do that for example.
And the escapist rips news and screenshots from sites all the time and give them credit like rps.
They even posted the gameinformer screenshot in this very article.
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/01/05/tomb-raider-screenshots-hidden-in-a-cupboard/
They also linked to a bunch of sites who did the same, but are bigger so its ok.

Fair Use Exception, a magical thing, pretty easily applied here considering it was used for comment among other things.

I mean, this is the equivalent of posting a giant poster on Main Street, and then suing someone for taking a picture of it. The similarities between the internet and Main Street being they are public places that anyone can go to.

it´s all about the "clicks from the users" you get paid for from your customers ads on you website.
If there is exclusive content on your site YOU get all the click from readers looking for info.
And get paid from you customers in turn for the better exposure of their ads.

So who want´s to to let go of that, so easily?

This is why I stopped getting the Game Uninformed magazine. They suck.

If they didn't want people copying those pictures they shouldn't have put them online IN THE FIRST PLACE!

On the bright side, the new screenshots are also pretty awesome.

I'd like to stress that I in no way "stole" copyrighted images.

I cropped four of their many screenshots down to very small RPS-style letterboxes (which loses the watermarks, as very many other sites have done), explaining in the post that the fullsize versions, along with many more, are available on their site. I placed two links in the article to the source (which I've removed since, because, well, there's nothing left in the post to credit), and made it extremely clear who "owned" the images, with no intent to claim them as our own. They simply served to illustrate a post that, while railing against the ludicrous nature of online exclusives of adverts, was essentially saying: Visit GI for all the Tomb Raider information.

I made some jokes in the piece that I was cropping off the watermarks as an act of rebellion. Clearly this was intended as a joke. Were I attempting to steal anything I'd have hosted the full size images with the bottom few pixels removed. Instead I posted thin highlights from four pictures, explaining where they came from. This is in direct contrast to a number of major gaming sites who posted the entire collection of screenshots, fullsize, in their own galleries. Something I would think would be a violation of the copyright. I note that these sites are still hosting the images, and so presumably have not been sent legal notices. That seems extremely strange to me.

I strongly contest that there was any professional discourtesy. I called their site "splendid", and stated that I understood the frustration of having your work copied uncredited - something I absolutely did not do.

The images were removed from our site at the request of the magazine, and as far as I'm concerned at that point the matter is closed. It's long since time for this individual squabble to be forgotten, and the larger issue to be given more thought.

Equally wrong is all the daft speculation in various comments threads that Game Informer must have committed some sort of immoral act, or "sold out", to get the exclusive. They sell more copies than any other gaming mag in the world, with direct access to gamers since the magazine is owned by Gamestop. They're an obvious place to take your exclusive to a huge audience in the US in return for large amounts of detailed coverage. I may believe this practice to be daft, but it doesn't make it suspicious, and suggesting otherwise without evidence is pretty libellous.

Game Informer paid for those screens with their integrity. If you want that kind of access, you need to sell out, too.

Same as anyone trying to get a story out of the Whitehouse.

teh_gunslinger:

Cameron Wright:
I knew there was a reason I don't visit sites like RPS.

Then you're missing out on one of the best, if not the best gaming related sites on the tubes.

The writing is glorious, the honour is spot on and the community is able to write coherent punctuated posts.

Hear hear! RPS and The Escapist are the only two gaming-related websites I check with any frequency. Even if I don't necessarily agree with half the things said on either site, I like that there's actual, honest-to-god thoughtful criticism about videogames on the internet somewhere.

Yeah, once you put something on the internet it's public domain! Just like the Morrowind mod pack, which--oh, the people who released it for free threatened to sue?

Funny how we're all "Boo big company!" but God forbid someone actually dare to take something WE worked on.

Exclusives exist everywhere. It's why the commercials I just produced only air on one network. If the other network takes them and airs them, they get sued. Why? Because the contract says network A gets to have them, and they paid for them. OR, I decided they get them and network B doesn't. It's not for Network B to decide "You know what, screw that, they're ours too."

GiantRedButton:
Rps is my favorite gaming site :D

Sixcess:
RPS needs to spend less time whining about exclusivity and more time nurturing their own relationship with developers and publishers

I would rather have some sites that are independent from publishers.
A lot of old media magazines (Print) for example keep to embargos, meaning that they aren't allowed to talk about a game until the publisher tells them too.
All american print magazines do that for example.
And the escapist rips news and screenshots from sites all the time and give them credit like rps.
They even posted the gameinformer screenshot in this very article.
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/01/05/tomb-raider-screenshots-hidden-in-a-cupboard/
They also linked to a bunch of sites who did the same, but are bigger so its ok.

Aftually, embargoes are also for news sites. A prime example would be Fable 3: you would not get it (a couple of weeks early) unless you signed the paper.

Eidos is an interesting case, since I will never again trust a positive review of one of their games, meaning that their manipulation of the gaming press through exactly these sorts of "exclusive" favors has cost them sales (since I am very obviously not the only one who remembers the Jeff Gerstmann fiasco.)

Of course, this whole industry lives on that sort of bullshit and payola, which is one of the many reasons gaming isn't taken seriously as a medium (not to sound like the Extra Credits guys---come to think of it, that would make a fine EC episode, no?)

Too bad Game Informer is to games what toilet paper is to my ass.

You really should have hotlinked that image from game informer. That would have been about the most amusing thing you could have done with the image.

Of course, I didn't see credit to game informer with that image either, so watch out there.

nagi:

GiantRedButton:
Rps is my favorite gaming site :D

Sixcess:
RPS needs to spend less time whining about exclusivity and more time nurturing their own relationship with developers and publishers

I would rather have some sites that are independent from publishers.
A lot of old media magazines (Print) for example keep to embargos, meaning that they aren't allowed to talk about a game until the publisher tells them too.
All american print magazines do that for example.
And the escapist rips news and screenshots from sites all the time and give them credit like rps.
They even posted the gameinformer screenshot in this very article.
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/01/05/tomb-raider-screenshots-hidden-in-a-cupboard/
They also linked to a bunch of sites who did the same, but are bigger so its ok.

Aftually, embargoes are also for news sites. A prime example would be Fable 3: you would not get it (a couple of weeks early) unless you signed the paper.

Thanks for the info. Makes it even worse.
What helped in Europe was that no one kept to the embargoes and with no one doing it, Publishers still sent the magazines early copies since they wanted the coverage. And there was no magazine that would allow them to dictate the information flow.
The same thing might happen in the usa, if the games journalists start acting like journalists and less like advertisment agencies.
Not everyone minds it as much as i do, but i still think it goes against journalistic integrity, kinda like if the time magazine would ask Bp what information they are allowed to publish about the oilspill. Just well alot less important

Greg Tito: "stealing someone's copyrighted material is not only illegal but also a huge professional discourtesy"

a) Using the word "stealing" is a pathetic bit of propagandist nonsense which is a large part of the problem. Copyright law has nothing to do with commonlaw theft - it is to do with a temporary licence to a particular cultural monopoly. The terms of that licence are subtle and varied, such that trying to pretend it's like a piece of property (it isn't) just confuses the issue (intentionally). There's a reason why the propagandists like to use the misleading term "Intellectual Property".

b) John committed no act of discourtesy. He had small excerpts from images to illustrate his piece, which linked via proper and fulsome attribution back to the source. For this, he received a ridiculous legal threat. I note that YOU, unlike John, have "stolen" an image for your piece which you have not attributed or linked back to the source, so that makes you much less courteous and much more of a "thief" (to use your terminology).

The reason why that idiot threatened RPS was that they didn't like the tone of the article, and thought this a useful way to bully/censor them. What a wonderfully fraternal way for journalists to act!

I think you owe John a massive apology.

I was going to post in order to defend RPS and Walker, given that my interpretation of the original article was one of no wrong-doing whatsoever: as stated, the images were cropped down to make them more teaser-like (as opposed to trying to obscure their source, which is pointless, since they are exclusives), and multiple links and other directional-arrows were given pointing users to go to Game Informer, at which point they could benefit from the eyeballs. But, alas, Mr. Walker beat me here, and defended himself admirably.

So, I'm left with this: this article is the worst possible sort of "Fair and Balanced" presentation of two sides of an argument, attempting neutrality by giving equal weights to opposing sides, regardless of the merits of either argument. You might make the argument that RPS could've gone further out of their way to disfigure the images in question, or that there was no need to use clipped versions of the images to get across their point (as evidenced by the still perfectly functioning article sans Lara plus WikiCommons). To make it worthwhile though, you're also going to need to convincingly argue that the actions on RPS' part resulted in some harm to Game Informer (maybe... the snippets of image were so disappointing, that people didn't bother going to GI's site? Or... Walker's argument against the nature of the exclusive images results in some small segment choosing to boycott the images from their brains?) The much stronger argument is that Game Informer and their representative are acting the fool, by sending a cease&desist to a friendly that offered professional courtesy, and making no apparent overtures against the variety of sites blatantly "stealing" their material, with no reference to Game Informer at all. There may be two sides to this, but it is dishonest to present them as equivalent in the name of "neutrality" or some bizarre notion of what "journalism" is.

LightPurpleLighter:
He didn't exactly rip them off. You said yourself that he gave ample credit for who owned them and where they came from. He didn't try to claim they were his.

He did rip them off. And, to add insult to the injury, he removed the owner's watermark. Just because he didn't expressly claim the images were his doesn't make it any less a rip-off.

bokkiedog:
Greg Tito: "stealing someone's copyrighted material is not only illegal but also a huge professional discourtesy"

a) Using the word "stealing" is a pathetic bit of propagandist nonsense which is a large part of the problem. Copyright law has nothing to do with commonlaw theft - it is to do with a temporary licence to a particular cultural monopoly. The terms of that licence are subtle and varied, such that trying to pretend it's like a piece of property (it isn't) just confuses the issue (intentionally). There's a reason why the propagandists like to use the misleading term "Intellectual Property".

b) John committed no act of discourtesy. He had small excerpts from images to illustrate his piece, which linked via proper and fulsome attribution back to the source. For this, he received a ridiculous legal threat. I note that YOU, unlike John, have "stolen" an image for your piece which you have not attributed or linked back to the source, so that makes you much less courteous and much more of a "thief" (to use your terminology).

The reason why that idiot threatened RPS was that they didn't like the tone of the article, and thought this a useful way to bully/censor them. What a wonderfully fraternal way for journalists to act!

I think you owe John a massive apology.

Why isn't intellectual property just as much property in the same sense as real property is also property? Doesn't intellectual property share all the hallmarks of real property (e.g., ownership, exclusiveness, transferability, etc.)? Why is it "misleading" to use the term "intellectual property?" Isn't that exactly what it is? The fruits of intellectual efforts, owned by he or she who exerted or financed the effort? And I guess if you want to be precise, the more accurate word is "infringement" and not "stealing." But, if you ask me, that's splitting a rather fine hair. A rose by any other name still smells the same.

And a copyright isn't as much akin to a license as it is to a title. It does create rights of ownership -- albeit only for a certain period of time. Those rights much more resemble the rights of a property owner than they do the rights of a licensee.

LDKJ:

Legally: look up fair use / fair dealing. He used illustrated excerpts and linked directly to the source. A more orthodox example of fair use / fair dealing I find it difficult to imagine. No court would have even entertained the case.

Morally: copyright was intended to promote cultural fecundity, not to eviscerate it. (Well, actually, it wasn't - it was intended as an effective way of mafia-run State censorship, but that's another essay entirely).

LDKJ: Why isn't intellectual property just as much property in the same sense as real property is also property? Doesn't intellectual property share all the hallmarks of real property (e.g., ownership, exclusiveness, transferability, etc.)?

No. You've fallen victim to a classic bait-and-switch propaganda campaign: as Lord Camden, in the 17th century, feared you would when the Stationer's Guild tried their specious nonsense out.

I wrote a paper on this a few years ago. It's long, but goes into some detail about exactly why and how you're incorrect. Enjoy!

http://ip.cream.org/

That he

bokkiedog:
LDKJ:

Legally: look up fair use / fair dealing. He used illustrated excerpts and linked directly to the source. A more orthodox example of fair use / fair dealing I find it difficult to imagine. No court would have even entertained the case.

Morally: copyright was intended to promote cultural fecundity, not to eviscerate it. (Well, actually, it wasn't - it was intended as an effective way of mafia-run State censorship, but that's another essay entirely).

bokkiedog:
LDKJ:

Legally: look up fair use / fair dealing. He used illustrated excerpts and linked directly to the source. A more orthodox example of fair use / fair dealing I find it difficult to imagine. No court would have even entertained the case.

Morally: copyright was intended to promote cultural fecundity, not to eviscerate it. (Well, actually, it wasn't - it was intended as an effective way of mafia-run State censorship, but that's another essay entirely).

There's no need for me to look up fair use. I remember the elements thereof well enough from the last time I read the relevant sections of the Copyright Act. And "use[ing] illustrated excerpts and link[ing] directly to the source" aren't among the therein stated elements required by an analysis under the fair use doctrine. I fear that you are grossly oversimplifying that particular analysis.

LDKJ: which Copyright Act is that? And in which country?

The threat came from the United States. There, fair use encompasses:

"quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported."

If you cannot see the use of well-attributed illustrative clips within reportage as fair use, then your imagination is more fruitful than mine.

 Pages 1 2 NEXT

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Registered for a free account here