(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The following views are my opinions based on my understanding of law in the United States, and should not in any way be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, consult with an attorney.)
Hey everyone, Ultimate Oddball here. Today I’m going to talk about the lawsuit filed by Digital Homicide against Jim Sterling in Arizona District Court for ten million dollars claiming, among other things, defamation and copyright infringement. Jim Sterling is a video game reviewer who critiques games, especially a variety of Steam titles, on his Youtube channel and website. He is well known for not holding back in sharing his feelings if he feels a game is subpar in quality and/or in the level of effort put into it. He has had a public feud with a developer called Digital Homicide for quite some time now. In his videos discussing the games made by Digital Homicide, Jim has been thoroughly critical of what he feels are bad design and business practices. He has also talked about other companies which seemed to him to be Digital Homicide selling games under a different name.
The actions of Digital Homicide have been, in my personal opinion, highly questionable both in their game development practices as well as in filing this lawsuit. I think it is very unlikely that this lawsuit will turn out the way they hope. They are, as of my writing this, representing themselves in court. This is generally considered to be a bad idea unless one has a law degree. I believe Jim Sterling was already aware that this lawsuit was a possibility based on previous statements from Digital Homicide. I’ve been following the interactions between Jim and Digital Homicide for a while and haven’t seen anything from Jim that I think could be deemed libelous or slanderous, but by no means have I heard or read everything Jim has written or recorded. The language in the filing by Digital Homicide seems to illustrate a lack of legal understanding in my personal opinion. There are also a number of actions seemingly taken by Digital Homicide which appear problematic to me.
After some back and forth between Jim Sterling and Digital Homicide over his coverage of their game ‘The Slaughtering Grounds’, Sterling claims that Digital Homicide filed a D.M.C.A. (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) claim against the video to take it down. Copyright holders have the capability under the current Youtube system to file copyright claims even if they don’t actually believe the claimed work to be infringement. While I am in no way saying that this is what happened here, it is worth noting that the system allows this type of censorship. I personally feel that the business practices of Digital Homicide do not reflect a genuine desire to make high quality work, but instead reflect a desire to make a quick buck. Thus, I have trouble giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Defamation is something that a lot of people tend to get confused about. The crux of defamation is whether the statements are true or not. If I say that you, the reader, are a bank-robber, and you have never been convicted of robbing a bank, that would be defamation. I would be making an untrue statement about you which could damage your reputation. However, if you have been convicted of robbing a bank, or if I have proof you robbed a bank, then that’s not defamation. Opinions, views, beliefs, and thoughts, when stated as such, do not qualify as defamation.
Defamation laws exist to protect people from having others make false statements which might damage their reputation. They do not exist to alter or censor critique. When a person, especially a professional reviewer, is critiquing and commenting on something, their views are unlikely to qualify as defamation unless they specifically say something untrue or misrepresent the work. However, when a work is considered by numerous other reviewers to be subjectively bad, it’s hard to make the claim that their opinion is untrue and thus that it could be called defamatory. This is why you don’t often see lawsuits claiming defamation against critics by the companies which they critique.
Another part of the suit appears to allege copyright infringement against Jim Sterling. This also seems, in my personal opinion, to be unlikely to hold up in a court of law. Fair Use, a subject which Jim is very familiar with, allows for the use of copyrighted material when it’s for specific purposes, including critique, commentary, and review. Jim’s work is generally considered to fall firmly into fair use territory. It seems especially strange to me that both copyright infringement and defamation are included in this suit. As far as I know, this isn’t particularly common.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out in court and what kind of precedent it sets. Based on all the details I’ve read and my understanding of the law, I don’t think this will work out well for Digital Homicide. Jim Sterling has made it clear in the past that he will not back down from a fight, and this legal battle may be the biggest he’s faced so far.
Well, thanks for coming by, and have a good day.