Airport Master Developer Makes Huge Mistake With Trademark Claim

Two days prior to the launch of their $58,000 Indiegogo campaign, developer STiCLi Games released Airport Master on Steam Early Access. Presumably they wanted to bring more attention to their airport management sim. In that case they were quite successful. YouTube’s favorite son, Jim Sterling, produced a video of his independent criticism of the product, “Airport Master – AirBored Disaster.”

Sterling is no stranger to “less than scrupulous” developers filing bogus DMCA takedown claims against his videos when they show off a game’s shortcomings. Still, STiCLi managed to surprise him by instead trying to claim the video was a violation of their personal trademark.

Sterling addressed the accusation in a recent Jimquisition episode.

“This is an interesting route for a company to take. It would seem that STiCLi knew full well that DMCA copyright strikes were a bad way to take down a video since the copyright protection program can make channels like mine harder to hit and there’s not been a copyright takedown that hasn’t to date blown up in a developer’s stupid fucking face,” Sterling said.

Airport Master is $14.99 on Steam. STiCLi explained that they wanted backers to be able to play the game in its current “mid-alpha” stage. Currently, there is no grand incentive to back the campaign. Backers actually pay more than those who just purchase the game directly through Steam.

Potential rewards include; having your name read and cheered by the devs at the beginning of their next work day, having your name in the game credits, or the potential for your name/picture to show up in-game. Needless to say, the campaign hasn’t gotten off to a very promising start. Currently they have only raised $10 of their goal.

If You Sell It, They Will Come

Their contention regarding Sterling’s video stems from a section of their 3rd-party EULA agreement on Steam. It dictates, among other provisions, that, “Any use of Copyright Holder’s trademarks, imagery content, videos, graphical elements, names, plot in any activity (including but not limited to: producing 3rd party video content, electronic and on-paper publishing, creation of promotional content etc.) is only possible with prior written permission of Copyright Holder.”

Most of this is clearly an overreach on the developer’s part. Particularly since, fair use rules, as Sterling pointed out in his video, already protect all of this.

“STiCLi Games thinks it’s being crafty,” Sterling explained, “The trademark takedown skirts the usual process that puts the onus on the accuser to prove they have a legitimate claim. Your regular DMCA copyright strike would let you appeal the claim and force the claimants to either pursue you in court or ignore it for the two weeks it takes until YouTube lets the claims expire. This new method cuts out any appeal process and so far it’s hard to tell where YouTube would swing on this.”

What’s In A Trademark?

Regardless of YouTube’s take, STiCLi doesn’t have a leg to stand on with their trademark strike. Not the least of which is because none of their material actually has a trademark symbol associated with it. Even if they had bothered to google how to add the symbol to their media, it still wouldn’t prevent anyone from reviewing their product and offering criticism on it. The short version: trademarks prevent me from claiming to own your product, not from telling people if I think it’s any good.

Some Steam users have speculated that STiCLi was planning to capitalize on the publicity garnered from an altercation with Sterling. That is entirely possible, but it certainly doesn’t appear to be going in their favor. Their store page has mostly negative comments and the crowdfunding campaign is almost completely devoid of support. As other developers have seen in the past, gamers don’t like underhanded attempts to censor criticism. Especially when done from behind the veneer of legal jargon.

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Joanna Mueller
Joanna Mueller is a lifelong gamer who used to insist on having the Super Mario Bros manual read to her as a bedtime story. Now she's reading Minecraft books to her own kiddo while finally making use of her degree to write about games.
Joanna Mueller

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  • Josh Beegle

    Sharing this to support people who cover what lengths Scummy Devs will go to just to censor negative reviews.

    -Cheers