Universal Music Publishing Group has served "8-bit de-maker" Eric Ruth with a cease-and-desist letter over Pixel Force DJ Hero, his take on the 2009 Activision release DJ Hero.
If the name "Eric Ruth" rings a bell, it's probably because you remember him from the Left 4 Dead "de-make" He released in January. He said at the time that he wanted to put out a series of 8-bit-style de-makes of current-gen titles under the Pixel Force name, but his latest step in that plan has run into a bit of a legal speed bump.
One of the more awesome aspects of Ruth's game is the chiptune mashups of 80s icons like Dead or Alive, Siouxie and the Banshees, INXS and Ray Parker Jr., but that's also what attracted the attention of one Jerrold Grannis, a manager at Universal Music Publishing Group. Grannis contacted Ruth and asked him to provide a "valid license" to use the various pieces of music in his game; Ruth wrote back and said he didn't have the licenses but noted that he was not charging for the game and hoped that the matter wouldn't end with a formal request to pull it.
You can probably guess what happened next.
"Under U.S. law, it doesn't matter whether the content is provided free to end user or for a charge. What matters is that content was distributed without the copyright holders express permission," Grannis wrote in an exchange posted on Piki Geek. "Further, I note that by 'mashing-up' multiple copyrights, you are making fundamental changes to the music that may be considered derivative works." He demanded that the game be removed immediately and that Ruth provide "metrics" on the number of copies that were distributed.
Ruth, to his immense credit, went above and beyond the call of civility in his response. He agreed to take it down but explained that with the number of mirror sites and possible torrents hosting it, he had no way to tell how many times the game had been downloaded. He told Grannis that he felt the C&D was "a dick move" by a huge, over-moneyed corporation, but added that although "it blows," he didn't take it personally because he knew Grannis was just doing his job. "Personally, I wish you all the best and hope your holidays are pretty rad," he concluded. "Send my best to the Grannis family."
Grannis got the last word in the exchange. "U.S. law is U.S law," he wrote. "If you think 'it blows,' write your Congressman." But he may also be getting a first-hand lesson in the "Streisand Effect" as gamers who previously either didn't know or didn't care about the game are now making a point of sharing links and spreading the word. "I hadn't heard of 8-Bit DJ Hero until this story," one Piki Geek commenter wrote. "Downloading now."
In an amusing twist, the FAQ included with the game includes the question, "Is Activision gonna sue you?" to which Ruth replies, "God, I hope not."
Fortunately, it doesn't sound as though this copyright mess will have any immediate impact on Ruth's next project, Pixel Force: Halo. He told Joystiq that work on the game is "well underway" and will hopefully be out sometime in January 2011.