Roughly a year ago Michael Todd, David Goodsell, and Cassie Chui completed the development of a high energy platformer called Electronic Super Joy, and then released that joy to gamers who use the PC, Mac, and Linux operating systems. I don’t have an organizational chart of the indie developer/publisher that is Michael Todd Games, but Mr. Todd explained to me that in broad terms he owns the game and David Goodsell owns the music.
This was an uncontested fact from the launch of the game up until a copyright storm blew in from the Netherlands earlier in the week. “Some other guy, DJ Smiter, has taken David’s music, downloaded it, renamed it, NOT changed it, re-uploaded it, and sold it.” Mr. Todd continued to explain the situation to me, “unfortunately this happens a lot in the digital age with digital products. It is very hard, nearly impossible, to protect digital products from being copied wholesale.”
The accused, DJ Smiter, is actually Joost Zuijderduijn of Katwijk aan Zee in the Netherlands. In an extremely forth coming SoundCloud profile, DJ Smiter describes himself as, “a DJ/music Producer who does big Dance Anthems and Breakneck Beats. And sometimes some remixes of your songs. Sadly enough, last Tuesday he lost his Music Label due to a copyright infringement.”
While Joost Zuijderduijn losing the backing of his “music label” appears to be the first step in fixing this issue, it comes as a cold comfort to the Electronic Super Joy team. They are still dealing with the wake of destruction caused by the alleged musical choices of one DJ Smiter.
“We’re legally protected, but in practice we’re not protected.” Michael Todd elaborates on the difference, “in practice what we have are videos on YouTube that are incredibly important to us for marketing. They have millions and millions of views. They’re videos made by reporters, bloggers, YouTubers, streamers and various Internet personalities. They talk about the game and talk about the music in very positive ways. However, YouTube has had these videos flagged, and will have them taken down and deleted because they use music that is apparently copyrighted to someone else: This DJ Smiter. This guy who apparently showed up out of the blue last week and copyrighted David’s music, so it can be incredibly damaging to our business because those millions of views on YouTube, those are potential sales that will potentially let David and I pay our rent. Pay our bills. We’re not rolling in it. We’re a small time videogame designer and a small time musician.”
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident since the Internet is a digital wild west. Michael described to me how he’s seen similar things happen to friends and colleagues in the past few years. Sometimes it’s happened on the day a game launches, and sometimes it causes indie developers to lose large sums of money. Sometimes, according to Mr. Todd, it has even caused an indie studio to shut down due to the funds lost to piracy acts.
Fortunately, there is a small, maybe tiny, silver lining for the people of Michael Todd Games. Electronic Super Joy has been out for almost a year now. Michael and David are still losing money, but the damage would have been far worse if this had happened closer to launch.
All that said, the financial damage is still occurring due to the slow reaction time of YouTube. “Talking to YouTube is harder than you think,” Michael informs me. “It’s a massive corporation. I live in California, so there are headquarters for all the tech companies there. But barring walking into Google and then demanding to see who’s on the YouTube team. They don’t put that [phone] number out for public consumption and we’re one very small group caught under the massive cogs of YouTube.”
Michael was also quick to point out that the people of the Merlin Network, the company representing DJ Smiter, have been understanding and polite to the Michael Todd Games staff, but at the moment the issue continues to affect the business of Michael Todd Games. In an attempt to speed things up, Mr. Todd has written a short post on his Tumblr blog and is trying to recruit the help of the various gaming communities. Michael’s plan is to fill the Merlin Network’s inbox with emails in the hopes of convincing them to take a more proactive role in correcting the issue.
We did reach out to the Merlin Network, and the company did not want to comment on this situation. Their PR company did want to clarify that the Merlin Network is not a music label, and they do not ‘sign’ artists. I was told that Merlin is a global rights agency that represents music companies. According to the Merlin PR representatives, Merlin does not upload, “flag” or control any content itself. It only facilitates deals and manages the contractual relationship with YouTube on behalf of Merlin members who upload and manage their own content.