Image Source: Conatus Creative
A copyright claim by a composer with a tendency to attract legal drama has led Steam to remove the game River City Ransom: Underground. The developers are disputing the claim and say they expect the game to be back on Steam at some point in the future.
On Friday, July 14th, Steam removed River City Ransom: Underground due to a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) claim filed by composer Alex Mauer. In the claim, Mauer said that music she produced for the game was being used without her permission.
Mauer told Kotaku over the phone that she worked on the soundtrack for River City Ransom: Underground with two collaborators, Rich Vreeland and Dino Leonetti, but was "cut out of the deal." She says that her work is still in the game, and that Conatus Creative, the development studio, does not own the rights to it.
"The problem is that they haven't gotten my permission," she said. "They can easily get my permission, but they need to be transparent with me about whatever deal they made regarding the music." Mauer said that there is no documentation proving that she made this arrangement with Conatus but that the lack of a contract is "kind of my whole argument."
In a statement posted on Steam this evening, Daniel Crenna, founder and a producer at Conatus Creative, says that Mauer's claims the about the music in the game violating her copyright are false.
"She is a co-creator of the music, with Dino Lionetti and Rich Vreeland. Our written licence agreement is with Rich, who subcontracted Alex and Dino," he wrote. "When Rich offered to pay Alex an equal share of the music fee for her contribution to the game soundtrack, she emailed back: 'Oh that's awesome man I'm all for it thanks!' Rich has shown us the documentation that Alex was paid in full."
While Crenna writes that their lawyers have told them that there is no legal basis for Mauer's claims, they will be commissioning a new soundtrack for the game. "Being legally right is only half the story — as a practical matter, the costs of legal action would put console development plans on hold, perhaps indefinitely," he wrote. "We don't have any interest in spending our time and our energy dealing with this matter further."
Mauer has developed a reputation for filing copyright claims against video games she says failed to give her proper credit. In February, her claims led Steam to remove a different game, Starr Mazer: DSP. Mauer said she provided music and sound effects to Imagos Softworks' Starr Mazer, which were then used in that game's follow up, Starr Mazer: DSP. Mauer says they don't have the rights to use her music in Starr Mazer: DSP or its marketing materials.
"The problem is that Imagos did so much of their business with me without signing any contracts and they managed to create a situation where they owe me a large amount of money," she said. "So I started escalating the situation through the DMCAs." She took action against YouTube videos and Twitch streams containing footage of Starr Mazer: DSP, attracting the ire of critics like Jim Sterling and John "Totalbiscuit" Bain.
Mauer has also attracted a great deal of harassment, as various internet forums detail her every move and send nasty messages her way.
Imagos Softworks is currently suing Mauer. Last week, a Pennsylvania judge granted a temporary restraining order against Mauer that blocks her from filing more DMCA claims against that game and its related works.
Mauer has also filed DMCA takedown notices against YouTube and Twitch videos for River City Ransom: Underground. These copyright strikes are serious business on those video networks, where just one or two takedowns can make life hell for anyone who tries to make money by streaming and playing games.
Crenna told Kotaku over email that he expects River City Ransom: Underground to come back to Steam. The game is still available on GOG.