A contract dispute between Imagos Softworks, the independent developer behind Starr Mazer, and Alex Mauer, the composer contracted for the game’s soundtrack, has erupted in a venomous dispute that has resulted in perhaps more than a hundred DMCA takedown notices that have affected YouTube channels, Twitch streamers, and even other game developers.
In June, Alex Mauer entered the spotlight after filing numerous copyright strikes against Twitch streamers and any YouTube channel showing content from Starr Mazer, including highly popular channels owned by TotalBiscuit and Jim Sterling. Although these copyright strikes can be contested, they disable a channel’s functions while YouTube investigates, which can adversely impact a YouTube channel’s income.
Their ire raised, YouTubers did what they do – they created videos to explain the situation in detail and condemn Alex Mauer for what they considered unfair and even illegal violations of the copyright act.
In response to the strike notices and a failure to privately come to an agreement, Imagos Softworks hired Leonard French, a copyright attorney with his own YouTube channel that often deals with issues related to the gaming industry. French set up a GoFundMe to help pay for Imagos’ legal expenses, which quickly raised $10,000 and is currently at $17,490 of its $25,000 goal.
As things escalated, Alex Mauer sent death threats to both Leonard French and SidAlpha, one of the YouTubers affected by the DMCA strikes, and allegedly at least two others. This resulted in Alex Mauer’s family involuntarily committing her for psychiatric evaluation. Once released from the institution, Mauer continued sending out DMCA strikes.
French successfully filed for a temporary restraining order against Mauer which prohibits her from filing any further takedown notices related to Starr Mazer, as well as prohibiting her from sending any more death threats.
Alex Mauer has also posted to Twitter numerous alleged threats and harassment sent to her as a result of this dispute.
The media stayed mostly quiet on the issue, until Mauer successfully DMCA’d another game she worked on, River City Ransom Underground, which was removed from Steam while the copyright strike was under investigation. (The restraining order only prohibits actions related to Starr Mazer and does not cover other properties.) According to the interview below, this strike against RCRU will be removed shortly and is unrelated to the Imagos contract dispute.
Once RCRU was removed from Steam, media publications began picking up the story, with cursory articles with little detail or sometimes a disastrously misinformed and misleading article like this Destructoid piece by Jonathan Holmes.
I decided to step in and interview Alex Mauer, in order to discover her reasoning for her highly controversial actions. I sent a freelance “pitch” – a short summary of a prospective article – to a dozen different publications to see if they were interested in running the interview, but I did not hear back from any of them (except one who said I should contact someone else within the company who I had already tried to contact).
I also contacted SidAlpha and asked him to read the interview and offered him a chance to respond. You can read his statement at the end of the interview. I attempted multiple times to contact Leonard French but my messages went unanswered.
The interview was conducted via text messages, which is highly unusual, but it was Mauer’s preferred form of communication.
Brad: First question is how are you doing? This has obviously been a difficult situation. How are you handling things?
Alex: I’m not doing too well. Next question.
OK, let’s start with Imagos. In a March 12 kickstarter update, Don Thacker said Imagos fulfilled their agreement and paid for the work received. Is that not the case?
It’s not true.
What part? Did they not pay for all the work?
Correct. They owe $5,500 for the Starr Mazer contract, and $4,500 for unpaid work on DSP. DSP doesn’t have a contract.
They said they paid you around $36,500. Do you agree with that?
Yeah I believe that is the exact number. I have spreadsheets I created which are based on bank statements. I just don’t have it in front of me.
So your claim is they owe an additional $10 grand. Was your contract for both Starr Mazer and DSP?
I already answered this question and if you’ve seen the contract the answer is clear. The contract was for Starr Mazer only. DSP did not even exist in concept at the time when I signed the contract.
Let’s move on to the DMCA strikes against YouTubers. Why did you choose to go that route?
I started by having a music agent approach Imagos to create a license agreement for DSP, which included the condition of resolving the unpaid balance. Imagos declined it. Then I made my DMCA claims on Steam, and DSP was taken down. Imagos refused to pay the balance. They decided to pay someone else for a new soundtrack instead of pay me the balance.
Their game was DMCA’d on Steam again for sound effects. I asked them to remove their videos and sound clips from all of their online accounts. They refused. I DMCA’d those first.
I then stumbled onto the other videos by YouTubers, and started DMCAing those as well because they are in violation of my copyright. The whole thing happened from February 2017 to June 2017 before I ever got complaints from YouTubers.
Long answer but that’s how it happened.
Some of the YouTubers are claiming that you told them you’d remove the strike if they complained to Imagos. Is that accurate?
I never heard of a strike before Steam and other websites don’t have a strike system. The first time I heard of it, I suggested to the people asking for DMCA retraction that they could speak out about the situation and I would be willing to retract. I quickly realized that’s not a good condition to decide whether or not to retract a DMCA. No one ever actually wanted to try that offer anyway.
So Imagos lawyered up with Leonard French and everything seemed to blow up. He and others such as SidAlpha posted what appear to be threats you made Could you talk about what happened there?
Yes. When Sid and Leonard made their videos, I started receiving death threats and harassment from a LOT of people. I reported this to the police, and they said it was “freedom of speech”. I then decided to redirect the threats back at Sid and Leonard myself, since I was just informed by police that it was legal.
Looking back at it now, do you regret sending those messages?
I regret sending the messages only because I was subsequently involuntarily hospitalized.
As you said, you’ve received numerous threats yourself, many of which you posted on Twitter. Can you estimate how many you’ve received? Are they still coming?
It’s so many that I can’t count.
Do you now have a lawyer? I know you said [Monday night] that you weren’t getting return calls.
I don’t actually know. I hired a lawyer last minute as an emergency defamation and copyright guy. The situation was calling for a “fixer” type role. He was really weird, and we lost the first hearing so badly that it seemed he did it on purpose. I fired him immediately after, and very publicly. I expected the law firm to swap in someone better, and nothing happened. I called them at least 100 times over the weekend, with only a couple of emails in return.
You’ve recently filed a DMCA against River City Ransom Underground (RCRU). Why? Is this related to the Imagos case?
The developers of RCRU were using music I’ve written, without written permission. It is not directly related to the Imagos situation.
Are Starr Mazer and RCRU the only two games or are there others doing the same?
There are a number of Adult Swim commercials I worked on with Imagos with the same problem. You may have heard about the Turner cease and desist letter I sent.
If Steam lets RCRU back, will you file another DMCA?
Conatus [the developer of RCRU] made a counter-claim, and RCRU is scheduled to go back on Steam soon. I cannot make another DMCA takedown of the game after that.
So where do you go from here?
I can’t answer that.
Are you still making music?
I can’t make music anymore.
Is there anything I missed that I should have asked?
I don’t know. I’m exhausted. I’ve been working on this legal stuff for half a year now. I just fired my 4th lawyer.
Have you considered settling and cutting your losses?
That’s not an option. This is my life’s work. My entire career. I’ve been building it since 1996, and first got traction making soundtracks in 2007. No compromises.
For those that wish to show you support, what is the best way for them to do so?
A: I don’t want any support. The people I am currently talking to are by direct contact and most of it is just girl-talk to get away from the insanity. Too many people who “want to help” are actually harassing me.
Well I very much appreciate you doing this interview. Is there anything you’d like to add?
That’s enough. Just get the thing written or whatever ASAP. This is the first interview I’ve done since the Jonathan Holmes shit happened.
As I mentioned, I gave SidAlpha a chance to read the interview before posting it to the public, and his response is as follows.
It seems that Mauer is just as bitter and spiteful even when dealing with someone conducting an objective interview. It’s really disappointing, but not surprising in the least.
For more details on the story you can read this timeline created by SirTapTap, a YouTuber who was also adversely affected by the copyright strikes. It is not the most objective of accounts, but it does a fair job at presenting the details of this complex story.