Mod Theft and Steam Workshop

Some of you may already be aware of this. Others may not. I don't know how many of the visitors I see coming in from various mod sites do more than run in abject horror after realizing where some of my world views lie, but this subject is something that affects us all and needs to be dealt with. Perhaps even signatured. More after the jump.

Recently it was brought to the attention of Nexus users that some illegally uploaded mods were present on the Steam Workshop (SW) for Skyrim. These mods have been lifted directly from their Nexus entries and uploaded to SW without any permission being obtained from the authors whatsoever. Discussion flowed on what to do about this problem, who to contact, how far to take things, and in general how the community was going to respond to SW in general because of this.

The root problem is absolutely NOT the fault of the victims, as at least one person in the discussion had the audacity to suggest. The fault lies with Valve, and to a lesser extent, Bethesda, for not having adequate systems in place to moderate the uploads. I will grant that SW is a new service which still needs to have some kinks worked out. That's understandable. However both of these companies are leading figures in the game modding community and they should have anticipated this problem long before launch day.

Originally, the report button on the site simply sent a flag to... who knows where. No way to tell them why you were reporting, so whoever may have been handling that would be left with no clue what the problem was. That did eventually change so that you can now describe the issue, but those reports appear to be vanishing into a black hole never to be seen again judging by how slowly they get handled when left to just that device. One can therefore see how this sort of environment is a breeding ground for illegally hosted content.

The first and probably most egregious case was a user who uploaded something in the area of 30-40 packs of weapons and armors ripped straight out of Morrowind and Oblivion. The guy didn't even bother to try and disguise it. He openly mocked those who reported it, at first, then simply resorted to deleting the posts of everyone who was pointing out the theft. Several community members rose to the occasion and used the report feature on every last entry - to no avail. Nearly two months later the entries were still up and only repeated PM's to Matt Grandstaff (GStaff), the Bethesda forum coordinator, resulted in something finally being done by it. The reason it took so long? Valve had taken away GStaff's access to the system!

The second case, more recently, was a user going by the name of Buckles. This user had appropriated for themselves a number of mesh and texture mods from someone on Nexus going by the name Jojjo. This theft was pointed out, Buckles reacted as all thieves do by covering up the evidence. Then once more, as most arrogant idiots also do, changed the mod's description entry to openly mock Jojjo's work and defiantly stating he would not be taking it down. As a result, Jojjo has now pulled up stakes and left the modding community ENTIRELY. Nearly a week later, the stolen mods were removed mysteriously. Nobody knows if it was Valve who pulled them or if Buckles panicked and realized he was about to get banned. One small victory, but at the cost of a very talented modder who will no longer be producing work for others to enjoy. Nice job Buckles, hope you're proud of yourself.

Another user by the name of Ralof (oh, the originality of it all) had some stolen work put up as well and quickly took it down after being exposed. Again, likely because he realized he was about to get banned. The same with a few other things.

So why the hell am I suddenly so invested in this? As you might guess, I am now the latest victim of this where not one, but two people have posted stolen versions of Open Cities Skyrim for no valid reason. Sure, Yo-Landi (aka Bonehenge on the official Bethesda forums) will tell you it was perfectly logical. She'll even lie to your face and tell you she asked all nice and sweet and politely if i'd remove a feature I've added to the mod's re-released update. She'll lie to your face and tell you I flew off the handle in a wild rage immediately and without provocation at the mere thought of defiling the mod. The reality is almost entirely opposite to that.

The background on this specific case isn't anything special either. I added some leftover Oblivion gates to the cities as an homage to TES4 and as a nod to lore which strongly suggests that such remnants would remain. Not only in the cities but scattered all over Tamriel. Hanaisse was kind enough to fulfill the resource request for the meshes and textures. I placed two in Whiterun, and one each in Markarth, Solitude, and Riften. Each one is fitting for the area it's in and aside from the reddish colored one in Whiterun, they don't stand out too much.

"Criticism" came swift and sure from dozens of people who came out of nowhere with scathing insults and personal attacks. "You ruined the mod", "this is a big piece of shit", "I found a bug: There's a donut hole in Whiterun", "you're an asshole for doing this", "YOU BROKE MY GAME" (yes, someone actually claimed that). The attack started not in the place you might expect, but on Nexus of all places, where such displays of insulting outrage result in insta-bans from the site. I can only confirm two who got themselves booted as a result before I asked the moderators to lock the comment thread for the mod. The rest apparently escaped punishment.

The next most unlikely source was from Yo-Landi, the thief who stole the mod. Going by the name Bonehenge on the official forums, she had the audacity to post directly in my official support thread for the mod that the gates were shitty and that she was taking it upon herself to "fix the bug" and proceeded to throw up a link to a warez site she found to store it on. Fortunately the reaction there was swift and sure - from a heap of supportive modders who torched her for the flagrant violation of rights on display. The forum moderators had to be brought in to clean up the mess.

Unable to sustain the assaults on Nexus and BGS anymore, Yo-Landi has taken her fight to the Steam Workshop, which is where my rather direct involvement in this started in earnest. She has posted a blatant rip off of the mod, doing only one thing. Removing the gates. No regard for copyright, modders' etiquette, or even the rules that both Bethesda and Valve have in place governing the Steam Workshop. This was pointed out to her of course, but she has steadfastly refused to acknowledge directly violating the site rules and the EULA governing the CK. She'll go on about how *I* am the unhinged arrogant slob and how *I* ruined everything and *SHE* is coming to everyone's rescue to provide a *PROPER* version of the mod that doesn't violate lore. This person wouldn't know the lore if it walked up and bit her on the ass.

She's been reported. GStaff has been told, a number of her supporters who are not surprisingly all Nexus users who got shut out when the thread was locked showed up to defend her. I can tell that they all know what they did is wrong and they're just puffing up to look tough on the internet, but that's not going to save them when the hammer falls after the entry is removed - and it will be - the only question is how long I'll have to wait to see it happen. The outcome of this is going to determine where I stand on continuing to use (or not use) the Steam Workshop in the future.

Now, as if this entire long-winded dramafest wasn't already strange enough, the most unlikely of unlikely people has risen to stand WITH me on the subject of stolen mods. Have a seat, you probably won't believe it. Giskard. Yes, someone most of us consider an enemy of the community. Someone whose own actions have met or exceeded some of the very same theatrics of the day. Giskard has not only stood in support of my situation but in support of all the modders who are being ripped off on SW. The two of us clearly do not agree on a lot of things, but I'll say openly that I am glad to have his support on this. He's even offered a contact inside Valve to utilize to try and expidite the removal of my stolen content. Unfortuately I can't yet contact that person because whoever is running the show on their discussion forums is asleep at the wheel and hasn't cleared my account to use the PM system.

So what's to be done about it? Well, one of the only suggestions to be brought forth so far involves the appointment of some trusted community members to act as a line of first defense. Someone to act on initial reports of stolen content or whatever else. These people would be given the ability to flag an entry as hidden for further review by either Valve or Bethesda for final disposition. In no way would I ever advocate that community members alone have the power to wipe out an entry without oversight.

Aside from this, awareness needs to be raised. The issue is more widespread that it appears right now because investigating SW for stolen content only just got to a coordinated level, and has only had limited success thus far. Valve and Bethesda both need to be told the Workshop is in disarray and needs more strict oversight. Not just to protect us as modders, but to protect them as well since people are also uploading nude mods and child killer mods, both of which are expressly forbidden by Bethesda.

Some further reading material for the subject:

EULA for the CK/GECK/CS
Copyright Myths
More Copyright Myths
Bethesda's official stance on assets ported from other games, including their own.
Bethesda's instructions on how to report stolen content

Want to help raise awareness of the issue? Have an account on a mod hosting site that lets you put URLs in signatures? Attach this to it to show your solidarity:

*** Support the rights of modders to publish as they see fit ***
*** Sign our wall to show support and help bring change ***
***' http://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=79477629' ***

.........................
RIP United States of America

July 1776 - November 2012.

       
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Posted on Jun 28, 2012 12:30 am by Samson in: , | 73 comment(s) [Closed]
Comments
You've got my support. I was one of those that sent a PM to Gstaff to get the Morrowind rip-offs removed and I sent another tonight. It's 4:30 am in the east right now - hopefully Gstaff will take action "tomorrow". It'd be nice to see Bethesda add an addendum to their EULA that covers mods. I can see the lawyers wanting nothing to do with it, but having support at that level would help.

       
Anonymous [Anon] said:
Comment #2 Jun 28, 2012 6:56 am
So the Steam Workshop is the place to go for those who want stolen mods and the Skyrim Nexus is for those with pirated games. Just don't be dumb enough to admit it in either place.

Even though I left the Bethesda modding scene already I still hate to see this type of thing happening. I'm surprised Giskard came to your defense, but not that he has taken your side. I would have expected him to make some smarmy comment about "how terrible this is for good honest modders but people like Arthmoor are just getting what they deserve." I just hope that the "fix" isn't somthing completely asinine like making the Creation Kit be an online tool where all mods you make are stored in the Steam cloud and are automatically added to the workshop by default.

       
I have added a link to this post in my signature over at Beth forums. Don't know if that will help or not.

       
@Anonymous: Starting to look that way, isn't it? Mod pirates for the Workshop, game pirates for Nexus. At least Nexus has sense enough to ban them when they slip up and expose themselves. Valve apparently doesn't care.

Nobody was more surprised than me to see Giskard defending me. Especially since he still thinks I'm the one who stole his stuff in 2009 and uploaded it somewhere.

@Ysne: Thanks. That's actually not a bad idea, less sig block real estate to link to my wall of text instead :P

       
Anonymous [Anon] said:
Comment #5 Jun 28, 2012 1:45 pm
Socrates killed himself, im waiting........

       
I feel I should mention that I will be marking any insulting posts as spam, which gets reported to an internationally operated spam filtering service. If you have something intelligent to contribute, feel free, but personal attacks and general insults against the community at large will not stand.

       
Anonymous [Anon] said:
Comment #7 Jun 28, 2012 1:58 pm
The reason the comments come from steam workshop is that there users are free to voice their opinion without being banned. Part of the whole free speech thing.

       
Anonymous [Anon] said:
Comment #8 Jun 28, 2012 2:04 pm
You should probably try reading your own sources. Your works are derivative, and therefore you do not own the copyright.

       
Actually if you read Valve's forum rules, they're pretty strict on what they'll let you say. Plus, the whole idea of "free speech" on a privately run site is meaningless since the 1st Amendment guarantees are specifically targeted against government censorship and not private speech in a private forum.

I have read my sources btw, I'm well aware of what you can and can't claim with a derivative work. I've got 3 such works registered with the US Copyright Office and could likely get any of the mods I've made registered as well were I inclined to spend that kind of money to do it.

I can't claim copyright on Skyrim - and never have. I can claim it on the specific modifications to Skyrim I've produced though, and the law backs that up clearly. Bethesda's own EULA makes it clear that only they can make a claim against the mods, and that's precisely because of derivative works law.

       
Edited by Samson on Jun 28, 2012 2:09 pm
Lizard Wizard Mage Mage [Anon] said:
Comment #10 Jun 28, 2012 2:46 pm
From the EULA itself:

"You also waive and agree never to assert against Bethesda Softworks or its affiliates, distributors or licensors any moral rights or similar rights, however designated, that You may have in or to any of the New Materials."

Though the grammar can be understandably confusing, it lays out that you not only waive any moral rights to your new materials, but you have no ability to assert these rights against Bethesda - though the bit about Bethesda isn't relevant here. Though Yo-Landi may not have asked your permission, he has credited you, linked to the original version of your mod, and as far as I can tell he has nothing but good things to say about your mod in the SW listing. Modding is about nothing if not choice. Can't you let us have this option?

       
deadense [Anon] said:
Comment #11 Jun 28, 2012 2:57 pm
Just for the record, filesmelt.com isn't a warez site. It's just a regular file storage/sharing site like mediafire, dropbox, 4shared, box.net, etc.

       
Lizard Wizard Mage Mage: Look to the comments. The uploader just put those compliments into her description to cover her ass. In reality, she holds nothing but contempt towards its author and doesn't give a shit about user rights and copyright law, so long as it is her agenda being served.

By uploading the entire package onto Steam, she is in violation of the DMCA and she refuses outright to admit she is committing a felony in doing so. She and her supporters do nothing but toss firebombs at anyone who even attempts to call her out on this, usually alongside various quote-mined passages of the DMCA. Cordiality is not the issue here, the law is.

       
Edited by ThomasKaira on Jun 28, 2012 3:04 pm
deadense [Anon] said:
Comment #13 Jun 28, 2012 3:08 pm
If you read through the comments it becomes clear that she was cordial to start but as Arthmoor and his supports incessantly commented, some of them insulting her personally, you can see they pushed her to start being more harsh in her words.

       
Anonymous [Anon] said:
Comment #14 Jun 28, 2012 3:18 pm
maybe if you would just remove the damn oblivion gates this would all go away.

       
Lizard Wizard Mage Mage [Anon] said:
Comment #15 Jun 28, 2012 3:54 pm
Thomas Kaira: I know Yo-Landi. I was there when she expressed her intent to remove the gates, and in spite of your apparent need to put people on one side or the other, she likes this mod apart from the gates. And if we're citing law as the issue, might I be so kind as to put that quote from the EULA here once again?

"You also waive and agree never to assert against Bethesda Softworks or its affiliates, distributors or licensors any moral rights or similar rights, however designated, that You may have in or to any of the New Materials."

The phrasing does not, as has been claimed, mean that the user (IE "You" in the EULA) waives moral rights or similar rights only in respect to Bethesda. It means that the user both waives moral rights and similar rights, and that they cannot claim such rights against Bethesda.

There's enough demand for a version of this mod not containing Oblivion gates that Yo-Landi's version has been able to reach a four-star rating on SW. I fail to see why the two versions cannot coexist, especially when personal choice is what drives modding and mod use.

       
You also waive and agree never to assert against Bethesda Softworks or its affiliates, distributors or licensors any moral rights or similar rights, however designated, that You may have in or to any of the New Materials

This would require that she actually be one of these classes that Bethesda is seeking to indemnify. She is not. Even you are admitting I can't assert them against Bethesda. Which I am not. I am seeking their assistance in asserting these rights against a mod thief per their own stated policies.

Your understanding of copyright is piss poor at best.

       
Edited by Samson on Jun 28, 2012 3:57 pm
Lizard Wizard Mage Mage [Anon] said:
Comment #17 Jun 28, 2012 4:08 pm
Lemme break that down for you. "Waive", and "agree never to assert against Bethesda Softworks [...]". As a modder, you must know something about boolean logic. The AND means that both of these things are happening.

       
Lizard Wizard Mage Mage [Anon] said:
Comment #18 Jun 28, 2012 4:13 pm
Addendum: if I'm missing a piece of the copyright puzzle, please elucidate me.

       
Yo-Landi is not an affiliate, distribitor or licensor of Bethesda. She has no rights to Arthmoor's original works. She has the right to mod vanilla skyrim and, only with permission, other's original works.

       
What Ysne said. Yo-Landi is a software pirate by definition. She does not work for Bethesda and is not one of their affiliates etc as defined by this license agreement. The license says I can't assert my claims against BETHESDA, and, well, she's not Bethesda, so I'm free to pursue my claims against her as I see fit.

       
It's pretty pathetic that the thieves are still trying to defend themselves, seeing as they've been caught red handed. I wonder how long it'll take Valve to tear that **** down.

       
Lizard Wizard Mage Mage [Anon] said:
Comment #22 Jun 28, 2012 4:28 pm
From your link about copyright myths:


The making of “derivative works” belongs exclusively to the copyright owner. If you use characters, scenes, or settings from another author’s work, you need permission – unless you fall under the parody or criticism exception of fair use.


Being that your mod is a re-imagining of certain settings from Skyrim, I doubt you have any more claim to a copyright than Yo-Landi.

       
You mean other than those rights the EULA passed down to me, right? Because without that licensing agreement, not a single one of us would be permitted to release mods AT ALL due to the same derivative works clauses you're attempting to twist to mean something they don't.

If you use characters, scenes, or settings from another author’s work, you need permission

Aye, and we HAVE permission.

       
The issue here isn't what Arthmoor has done, it is what Yo-Landi has done. Arthmoor went to a lot of trouble opening up the cities, which is original work. He clearly has copyright interest in said original work and only Bethesda could make any kind of claim against him.

By publishing his mod, he has given Bethesda and its agents non-exclusive rights. As I said before, Yo-Landi is not an affiliate, licensor or distributor, or an agent of Bethesda in any other capacity and therefor has no right under Bethesda to any of Arthmoor's original works.

The only other way Yo-Landi would have any possible legal claim would be if Arthmoor had given permission. He has not. She therefore has no right to republish his original work.

And yes I do have a J.D. I am familiar with copyright law. Arthmoor is within his rights to take whatever action he deems appropriate when other infringe on his copyright interests.

       
Lizard Wizard Mage Mage [Anon] said:
Comment #25 Jun 28, 2012 4:44 pm
Naturally the existence of a mod kit constitutes permission to modify the game, but it does not extend the ownership of the intellectual property present in Skyrim to you, the user. You do not own any of the towns in Skyrim, no matter what form they come in. Hell, you gave ownership of the mod to Bethesda the moment you published it. This is officially out of your hands.

       
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