[dropcap size=big]D[/dropcap]MCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedowns are no joke on Kickstarter or anywhere else on the internet. However, they have the potential to cause tremendous ramifications with crowdfunding campaigns when folks think they’re doing everything on the straight and narrow. If you’re curious as to what exactly IP infringement is, and what these claims are caused by, then please check out our original DMCA post. This article will discuss the landscape of DMCA claims which have occurred on Kickstarter over the years in more detail.
At the time of this writing, there were 114 DMCA issues ever filed via Kickstarter. Some of these were able to return without disturbing their campaign much. Others, well, others found themselves forced into a canceled campaign or pushed into an unwanted legal dispute with the rightful copyright holders. With a small sample of data like this it really makes you want to discover more… For example, wouldn’t you be interested to know what project types most frequently see takedowns? How about which companies are the most savvy about protecting their properties? Finally, are there any really weird events which have taken place because of the ease of claim submittals? Let’s dig in and answer all of these questions (and maybe more)!
There’s a wide spectrum of campaigns on Kickstarter, and a huge lack of knowledge about copyright law, which has led to most project sections seeing at least one campaign as the target of a complaint. You can take a look at the full selection, but in general a few types stand out most. Product design (shirts, shoes, bicycles, etc) most frequently are in trouble thanks to imagery which doesn’t belong to them. In a few instances folks have downright lied and pretended to represent an existing company/product, but more on that later. Next up is film. As you might have seen, many folks try to create fan films via crowdfunding but that’s an incredibly risky proposition. Then comes video games, which again, often focus on big names such as Pokemon. Nope, no matter how much you love a series you can’t just profit off your own entry into an existing series.
Now, just because someone uses an image, song, or something else which doesn’t belong to them does not mean they’re automatically flagged with a DMCA complaint. Unlike the system on sites such as YouTube which can automatically “sense” copyright-infringing material, all claims on Kickstarter must be filed by a real person. Not all companies or individuals with intellectual property to protect keep track of Kickstarter. Many do not even catch wind of campaigns utilizing their own content front and center until much later on. For example, of 114 campaigns 80 were hit with DMCA notices during their funding period which means 32 weren’t. This means that at minimum 39% of folks only discover IP infringements after a Kickstarter has potentially already succeeded. Of course, there are likely many more folks out there who still are unaware – and therefore haven’t proceeded to file claims.
On the other hand, some companies keep a very keen eye on crowdfunding. It’s very interesting to see which are the most possessive of their copyrights. Of 9 companies who have multiple complaints on file, the most numerous come from Marvel Entertainment. This is followed up by Namco Entertainment, Nintendo, and Miller Nash. It’s worth noting that the latter two may be better lumped together as they send notifications on behalf of Game Freak properties (themselves a subsidiary of Nintendo). “Private” wins overall with 22 claims but those are all likely by different anonymous individuals. These trends show that its mainly big companies who are taking steps to protect their property, which makes sense. Many of these also are keeping a keen eye on possible infringements elsewhere, so be particularly careful if you ever intend to create something based on games/shows/comics which these companies own.
Perhaps the most insidious thing someone can do on Kickstarter is pretend they’re someone else. This has happened at least 8 times so far and will likely continue in the future. These campaigns have either attempted to show off items which others were already creating, or gone all the way to make it appear as if they are directly representing a company. One example is that for the relatively small, but successful, Pam’s Soap Studio campaign. As written by the actual store owner herself, someone randomly created a project by pulling all the store information from the real person’s Etsy page. This is something anyone can do – and that makes it a very frightening possibility.
Now a few years into Kickstarter’s existence there are also people out there copying and pasting successful campaigns to try and dupe unexpecting folks. The most obvious example of this (so far) is with the Nookrono Chronograph Watches project. The original, real project launched in 2014 and made $91,849 on IndieGogo! Then some random person created a Kickstarter project for the exact same thing using the very same images and text used to promote the IndieGogo campaign. Luckily, Nooka filed a claim nearly immediately which ensured that no one pledged to the fake crowdfunding effort. This is dangerous because it preys on potential funders who are not constantly keeping up with crowdfunding. These campaigns may look great because their information came from real, high quality ones.
Kickstarter, IndieGogo, and other crowdfunding sites will continue to be plagued by copyright issues as time goes on. Perhaps they’ll discover better means of protecting copyright holders while still allowing project creators to protect themselves. Or, maybe nothing will change because the current DMCA implementation is deemed good enough. Whatever the case may be, IP is something all prospective creators must be made aware of. Hopefully Kickstarter considers educating new project creators so that they can cut down on the number of infractions in the future.
Be sure to check back for more features on Kickstarter and the DMCA. Next time, look forward to an assessment of specific video game campaigns to explain where they went wrong, warning signs for backers, and tips for prospective project creators. Be sure to read all of our DMCA related articles.