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Doom 4, Snapmap and EULA licensing

June 29, 2015, 09:08:14 PM by kat
Doom 4 (idtech 6) Editor 'Snapmap'

Doom 4 is set to include an editor, Snapmap, to so fans of the game will be able to make mods and levels once the game is released. Whilst there's no-doubt going to be a fair bit of information about this in the coming months, one aspect likely to received little to no coverage will be the EULA under which the tools can be used. For most individuals the terms will be of little to no consequence, largely because in the grand scheme of things their work is unlikely to be picked up by anyone (unless it's truly unique or fun in some way). For hard-core modders or level designers however, if Snapmaps EULA is anything like the one for RAGE (PDF pg 8), authors will essentially be relinquish their claims (RIGHTS) of authorship and ownership of any work created using the tools.

The two primary and pertinent sections are; first defining "New Materials";

All uses of the Editor and any materials created using the Editor (the “New Materials”) are for Your own personal, non-commercial use solely in connection with the applicable Product, subject to the terms and conditions of this Agreement

It's important to note the distinction being made here, that the mere ACT OF CREATING is itself subject to the EULA terms, which also applies to ANYTHING made with the tools.

Next come the waivers, that if these tools are used to create new content doing so means;

[... ]
If You distribute or otherwise make available New Materials, You automatically grant to Bethesda Softworks the irrevocable, perpetual, royalty free, sublicensable right and license under all applicable copyrights and intellectual property rights laws to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, perform, display, distribute and otherwise exploit and/or dispose of the New Materials (or any part of the New Materials) in any way Bethesda Softworks, or its respective designee(s), sees fit.  You also waive and agree never to assert against Bethesda Softworks or its affiliates, distributors or licensors any moral rights or similar rights, however designated, that You may have in or to any of the New Materials.  If You commit any breach of this Agreement, Your right to use the Editor under this Agreement shall automatically terminate, without notice.

Again it's important to note that although the agreement can be breached, doing so ONLY disobliges the user from using the tools to create more content, it DOES NOT nullify Bethesda's claim over materials that may have already been made available or even created.

Again, whilst these concerns may be of no interest to 'noobs/newbs', they should give pause for thought to the more seasoned modders/mappers, especially when it's unequivocally stated that NO commercial or for-profit exploitation is permitted (and that would include revenue generated from advertising). In other words, it's less likely those big projects of past 'doom' games are going to stand any chance of being publicly remunerated or supported without causing their respective author significant legal issue, something Bethesda is not shy about doing.

[Both Bethesda and id Software were contacted about for clarification; Bethesda said they "have no information on upcoming products from our development studios". No reply from id Software as of time of writing.]

Valve offers refunds.. at a price

June 02, 2015, 10:48:23 PM by kat
image courtesy Valve

Valve announced it will be offering refunds for Steam Store purchases if requests are made within a 14 day window. There are a couple of other qualifying criteria but essentially most digital content can be refunded so long as it's not been used to any significant degree, two hours in fact. And just how would they know this? Because of the Steam Authentication system, which is why purchase made outside of the service are not being refunded; there would be no way to control access otherwise.

And this is key to the success of programs like this, and one of the primary reasons DRM is pushed on the end user - in order to provide a full 'retail' service on digital goods, sellers have to be able to disable access to the content rather than relying on an implied promise from the user that they manually uninstall and remove all data pertaining to the program being refunded (the way it used to be before platforms like Steam and DRM were a 'thing'). This hasn't been possible ordinarily so software publishers were not that keen on providing refunds (one of the reasons shrink-wrap is still held in high regard - break that and it's implied software has been installed), else users could buy what they wanted, get a refund and keep the item. Retailers obviously want to avoid this at all costs.

The problem is, no-one likes DRM/authentication system, but we do want refunds. Publishers are not adverse to providing refunds on purchases but they want guarantee's content is removed else it's a significant 'loose' for them. If we, gamers in particular, want refunds then authentication/DRM systems are here to stay as they're the only way retailers can offset the risks associated with 'fake' or 'false' claims, provide refunds and block access to software to make doing so effective.

So, next time someone complains about wanting a refund whilst arguing against DRM/authentication systems, remind them of this paradox. There is no cake, let alone cherry and eating in this situation, either we want refunds on purchases and acknowledge this can only be done through the use of DRM, or we take the hit on (poor?) purchases that don't turn out quite as expected (oh the irony of a decent game-press to inform consumers of these things!! *cough*).

Paid Mods & Donations - aka why they don't work

May 21, 2015, 09:22:05 PM by kat
(image courtesy PayPal)

Warning: long post ahead...

Summary: There are a number of reasons Modders don't use Donate buttons. It's not that they don't want to. They're hesitant because complications arising from the nature of content monetisation, especially when that's often at the expense of Third-Party Intellectual Property, makes trying to find an equitable solution that satisfies the many parties involved no easy task. Instead they'd rather just avoid the issue altogether...
The following discussion should not be construed as Legal, Business or Tax advice. Where applicable consult an appropriately qualified Professional Adviser in these matters.
"Gamers and Mod Authors should exercise caution using donations in conjunction with 'Paid Mods' and other paid content, or avoid using it altogether"
During Valve's recent failed Paid Mod's program Gamers kept asking why Mod Creators didn't (and still don't) have "Donate Now" buttons on their websites or project pages as an alternative means to solicit financial support. It's a valid question. Unfortunately it doesn't have a simple answer because at its heart donations are a form of content monetisation, that compensating Modders for their work, even through donations, is an effort to commercially exploit someone else's Intellectual Property, something that's not normally done without permission or license.

Even then the matter is further complicated by the fact that donations are a specific form of income only a few entities can rightfully accept; they are not just a means of transfer between parties absent transaction fees, and their receipt is not a weaselly way to avoid income liabilities such as tax because... "donation".

Payment processing and Donations
Payment Processors like PayPal typically impose rules that 'donations' can only be accepted if the recipient is a registered or recognized Charity, Non-Profit or other Tax-Exempt organisation (cf. Additional Resources below). Individuals are not exempt from these conditions and, if not working for, on behalf of, or being one of the aforementioned themselves, would be required to provide proof funds were being raised for, or on behalf of, a specific non-profit cause, drive or event. The key concern in this is "non-profit"; donations cannot be accepted or used for 'financial gain' of any kind, doing so is seen as a significant Terms of Service violation that can result in summary account suspension and the confiscation or refund of monies held.

Tax and Donations
More important than Payment Processor restrictions are Tax Authorities regulations. To them receipts qualify as donations only when certain criteria are met, which are in fact the basis upon which Payment Processors determine their own policies and procedures; that a transaction is not considered a donation unless it's received by a registered Charity, Non-Profit or other Tax-Exempt Organisation, or an individual that's duly authorized to accept funds in a non-profit capacity (notwithstanding there being income thresholds requiring individuals register as a legal 'charity' Entity). This means individuals may be, intentionally or not, committing fraud at best, tax-evasion at worst, should they accept donations when not properly authorised or duly recognised to do so.

Generally speaking then, it's bad news because the above points mean both Gamers and Mod Authors should exercise caution using donations in conjunction with 'Paid Mods' and other paid content, or avoid using it altogether.

--- Part II ---

Mod Authors in particular should then also be aware of the following additional, and not so insignificant, concerns that may prevent the use of donate buttons on their project pages and websites...

Terms of Service & Solicitation
It's likely that 'donate' buttons violate Terms of Service agreements websites or services often have in place expressly forbidding individuals monetise traffic independently of any sales mechanism a site may or may not provide. Violation typically results in profile pages or websites being pulled and users banned, a common practice for free hosting services, social media sites or other service the End User has not specifically paid for (even paid hosting for personal use may have restriction that prohibit the solicitation of money from visitors).

Modding & Licensing
If the Modder decides to set up their own Store there are licensing issues to contend when selling content because game modification is a privilege granted the End User by the IP Holder, usually conditionally defined in an EULA or other User Agreement, which also often expressly prohibit the monetisation of content based on, or using their IP. Without the appropriate permission Modders can be shut-down through the issuance by the IP Holder of Cease and Desist Notices or other legal action (equally applicable consequences to "Fan Art" and "Fair Use").

Modding and Copyright (DMCA)
Related to "Modding & Licensing" is Copyright Infringement. Although a complex topic in its own right, the crux of the matter for Modders is that they alone are solely responsible for policing their work to make sure it complies with any licensing requirements or restrictions, and that their own work is not being misappropriated by others; Service Providers or other Third-Parties are under no obligation to do this for, or on behalf of, the Author (even when agreed). And whilst the End User may notify Mod Authors of possible infringements, only the Mod Author can take action. This requires Modders be familiar with DMCA principles, procedures and consequences.

Modding & Income Status
In general because donations are a specific type of tax-exempt receipt from/for non-profit activities, income not classed as such is considered to be revenue generated from normal for-profit (business) activities and will need to be declared appropriately by the individual to their local Tax Authority, typically though Sole-Tradership, Self-Employment or other form of self-assessment or declaration. Income earned and declared in this way might also be in addition to gainful employment and income received from other sources (a 9-5 job for example).

The Business of Modder
Hand in glove with "Modding & Income Status", receipt of income whilst engaged in for-profit activities essentially means the Individual is in business for themselves as a Sole-Trader or Self-Employed Entity, although not necessarily as a registered Company or Corporation. This isn't a semantic argument, it's how other businesses will relate to the Individual, as their being a business not an person, irrespective of their self-identifying as an "amateur" or "hobbyist" Modder or Creator. This change in 'status' brings to the table a whole host of business, tax and legal obligations and concerns Modders would then need to be aware of (some of which are discussed in the above).

All in all then finding an equitable solution to Paid Mod's isn't easy, it turns out it's not quite as simple as putting a donate button and a website because doing so opens up a litany of issues that convolute what should otherwise be a sincere act of transferring money from 'fan' or 'customer' to 'creator'. As with anything that involves money though, providing a means through which Creators can generate income if they so choose to is never that easy.

Addional Resources

- How does PayPal approve charities and nonprofit organizations? (US)
- How can my charity or nonprofit use PayPal to collect donations? (US)
- What can I do with PayPal? (US)
- Create a Donate Button (US)
- How do I accept donations for my charity through PayPal? (UK)
- Fundraise online with our affordable solutions (UK)
- How do I get the discount rate for charities registered with the CRA? (CA)

- Charitable Contribution Deductions
- Topic 506 - Charitable Contributions
- Eight Tips for Deducting Charitable Contributions

- Charities and tax
- Tax reliefs for charities
- Get recognition from HMRC for your charity
- Charity donations: tax relief

Valve & Paid Content/Mods

April 23, 2015, 09:18:24 PM by kat
IMPORTANT: Paid Mods to be removed

There's a lot of discussion in the community questioning why Mod creators don't add Donate buttons to their projects. The simple truth of the matter is that, aside from real-world implications concerning donations, they just don't work. For mod authors this makes finding equitable solutions complicated as they also have to avoid doing things that inadvertently break network or provider Terms of Service rules that risk their accounts, work or even legal action.
[updated 28th April 2015]

Value has unveiled a new initiative, Paid Mods. Initially offerings will be for Skyrim but others appear to be planned (although not yet announced).

For Mod CREATORS this is obviously good news; all the time and energy spent creating mods can now be rewarded in a meaningful way.

For GAMERS (consumers/customers) it might not be such good news as they may now have to purchase their favorite (or new) Mods.

Which has inevitably (one might say "obviously") lead to a lot of... comment, 99.99% of which are in agreement that this new move by Valve is a bad idea, the only salient reason why being because "mods have always been free". Freely available to be consumed perhaps. But not free to make, and nearly always at the commercial expense of the creator, who doesn't even get a cut of the advertising revenue accrued by the mod hosting party.

The truth of the matter is that Mod creators have only offer their content for free in the past because there has never been an effective mechanism in place to 'charge' for their efforts - Mod's traditionally have never been recognised as DLC in the modern sense so have never occupied any status beyond being fan-made material, which has always put it in an odd position where monetisation is concerned, especially for games where EULA (End User License Agreements) don't make specific allowance for the modification and exploitation of original content ("exploitation" might not necessarily explicitly mean "revenue generation").

The key point about this new initiative on Paid Content however, is that's it's OPTIONAL; modders wanting to continue offering their wares without cost are freely able to do so, they just provide them as normal; those that don't want to do that can offer their content using different payment options, as either a fixed or pay what you want price - a mod being offered for 'free', at a 'fixed' or 'pay what you want' price, is entirely up to the mod creator.

The amount of revenue Creator can earn from selling their item or Mod via Workshops and Paid Mods varies depending on the Mod - this also applies to whether or not items or Mods can be sold; permission to do so it granted by the Developer through Valve.

For Skyrim Modifications revenue share currently stands at 25% (see resources links below).

An unofficial FAQ on this initiative is available here

Creators should visit the Steam Workshop/Community Paid Content page for more details.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Modder & UGC (User Generated Content) Creators wanting to take advantage of this initiative are urged to thoroughly read through the Getting Paid on Steam page, especially sections relating to TAX and TIN (Tax Identification Number) requirements.

Additional Resources
About Paid Content: FAQ's
Getting paid on Steam: Payment info FAQ's
Getting Paid on Stead: Tax Information
Getting Paid on Steam: Tax US/Non-US TIN's
Supplemental Workshop Terms - Revenue Sharing

Mario, Fan Art and Fair Use

April 12, 2015, 01:47:03 AM by kat

Mr Henderson: We keep having this conversation don't we Mr Peters.

Mr (Johnny) Peters: Yes sir (said sheepishly).

Mr Henderson: You should know by now that your energies are better spent bringing your own ideas to life, not taking something someone has already done and distributing the results. The fact that you're "doing it for free" makes no odds. Nor does claiming it to be "Fan Art", "Fair Use" or whatever else you might think, let you off the hook.

Johnny: Sorry Sir.

Mr Henderson: Here's the thing. "Fair Use" is not what you think it is. It's not a "get out of jail free" card, its not a "protection"; if you reproduce someone else's work and claim "Fair Use" you can still be issued with a 'take down notice'.

Johnny: But why? Everyone else does it... (whiny tail off).

Mr Henderson: You shouldn't be concerned "everyone else does it". You should be concerned with YOUR doing it, because YOU will be the one that has to deal with the repercussions of not understanding the way "Fair Use", "non-commercial", "NY BC ACDC", whatever, actually works.

Johnny: hmmpph... (slumps back into chair).

Mr Henderson: As I was saying. Using other peoples work like that can still have you issued a 'take down' notice and pulled into Court, albeit unlikely at your age, because the person owning the original material has every right, as the owner/creator, to challenge your claim of "Fair Use" and sue; even Library's, Educational Establishments and other institutions that have actual considerations specific to their needs can fall foul of Copyright and "Fair Use". In all instances the Courts determine whether something falls under that exemption or not. And only when some very specific criteria are met.

Johnny: (fidgets in his seat).

Mr Henderson: So with your Mario character, what do you think this means?

Johnny: That I shouldn't have made it?.

Mr Henderson: That's debatable. No. What it means is that you certainly should not offer the results of your efforts for others to use. You should most certainly not be distributing it. That is where a line is clearly crossed. And it's a sure-fire way to get yourself in trouble even Santa can't fix.

Johnny: But how am I supposed to learn? How can I see how to rig and animate a character if I can't use what I have access to?.

Mr Henderson: You make your own. Or find something you can distribute or share afterwards. Don't assume because you can, you should.

Jenni: (sniggers).

Mr Henderson: That goes for your 'creative endeavors' too Miss Dunning.

Jenni: Sorry Sir.

Mr Henderson: Now be off with you both. I don't want to see you back here any time soon. Understood?.

Jenni/Johnny: Yes Sir, no Sir, sorry Sir.

For more on Fan Art click here...
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