Mobygames' Double Standard on Copyright

Matt Barton's picture

I was ranting earlier about what I consider an unfair policy at Mobygames, the uber-popular online, user-generated database dedicated to gaming. Over the years, I'm sure many of us have found it to be quite helpful, especially all of the screenshots and box scans. However, I'm fed up with their policy of watermarking all of the images and scans that users freely contribute to their site. While I've heard that Mobygames is good about giving their permission to folks who ask for it, I still object to the watermarks, which often obscure parts of images or scans. I doubt that the majority of their users appreciate having their work branded, since they are uploading for the good of the gaming community, not Birk & Hirt Consulting (the folks who own Mobygames). I'd like to see Mobygames desist applying the watermarks to these images. Furthermore, I'd like to see them license user-donated content with a creative commons license. This way, anyone else could use the images as they see fit (which is what I assume most users who donate to the site would like to see).

What I really find despicable is Mobygames' own hypocritical policies from their website. On the FAQ, they answer the question "Aren't you worried about copyright, trademark, or intellectual property infringement?" by quoting the fair use provision of the United States Code: "The specific phrase above to pay attention to is "for purposes such as criticism, comment,...or research, is not an infringement of copyright." Since MobyGames is used for those purposes, MobyGames is not violating copyright."

Fair enough. But the very next item on the FAQ shows that while Birk & Hirt are quite willing to take whatever they want and call it "fair use," they are quick to deny this right to their users:

You may reprint MobyGames textual information for your casual, non-commercial, personal use as long as you properly credit us in anything you publish, by name (MobyGames) or site name (www.mobygames.com) and provide a direct link. Any site that displays advertising, affiliate links, engages in any commercial activity including but not limited to buying, selling, renting games or other merchandise including Ebay links or listings or links or listings on other auction sites do not qualify as non-commercial. More extensive use of the data beyond "casual use" requires prior written permission from a representative of MobyGames.

Okay, let's get this straight. It's okay for Mobygames to take screenshots, box scans, art, or whatever, slap their watermark on them, host them on a for-profit, commercial website laden with commercials...and that's fair use. However, no one else is permitted to use so much as an image. Hell, they're even trying to limit the "textual information" to non-commercial sites, which I assume refers to the credits and such entered by countless well-meaning individuals.

There's no excuse for this. Mobygames must change its ways.

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Bill Loguidice
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Eli's Software Encyclopedia

Eli's Software Encyclopedia is one alternative: http://www.elisoftware.org/index.php?title=Main_Page

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Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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Looks good, though I'm not

Looks good, though I'm not sure why that's superior to Wikipedia. It looks like it's using the same software, even. :)

Though I guess it would be nice to have a whole wiki dedicated to gaming, assuming it wouldn't end up duplicating or siphoning away resources.

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Bill Loguidice
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Definitive
Matt Barton wrote:

Looks good, though I'm not sure why that's superior to Wikipedia. It looks like it's using the same software, even. :)

Though I guess it would be nice to have a whole wiki dedicated to gaming, assuming it wouldn't end up duplicating or siphoning away resources.

The main issue is that even Mobygames doesn't have everything. I wish there was truly a one-stop shop. Nothing, sadly, is considered definitive. Wikipedia is fine, but it's not really set up to host many images in an entry, and is necessarily generic in many ways because it has to accommodate everything. I like what both Mobygames and Eli's does with multiple screenshots and packaging shots, along with multiple versions. Of course there are plenty of platform-specific databases too with that kind of info.

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Chris Kennedy
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Interesting

I think it is quite interesting that you started this topic, Matt. While your main point was to mention Mobygames' double standard on copyrights, the first topic I latched onto was the existence of videogame wiki. There are plenty out there that focus only on Nintendo, Sega, Sony, Microsoft platforms, and then there are others that try to go the distance in platform coverage - like Moby.

My primary gripe with Moby is that the layout of the site is absolutely TERRIBLE. There is no design to speak of as game pages just sling information at the user.

It is too bad that Armchair Arcade doesn't have its own database. Aside from simply creating it in the first place, the hosting fees for storing that data would have to be quite high.

And of course I would have to ask poor Bill to photograph/scan each and every one of his boxed games to help get the place up and running. Haha.

As far as the main point in your post, it is a shame that Moby runs things this way. They *know* they have a resource to exploit, and they know that users browse their site. They acquire all of the images from the users and then make money off of the page views.

"It takes a lot of work for us to make money off content that we didn't create ourselves! You shouldn't be able to do the same" - Moby

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Bill Loguidice
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We have unlimited storage

We have unlimited storage and bandwidth, Chris, but the world does not necessarily need another games database...

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Matt Barton
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Yes, that's my concern too,

Yes, that's my concern too, Bill. The only way I'd be interested is if we had a big pot of money and some support from a big non-profit organization. I think IGDA has a preservation society. Something like that might be worth looking into. The thing is, though, Mobygames doesn't really own the "copyright" to its information about the games (just the descriptions). As far as I know, you can't copyright facts like the year a game was released or who worked on it. For that matter, if the box scans and screenshots belong to anybody, it's the copyright holder of the games in question. Actually, I wonder if there have been court cases (surely there must have been some!?) where a games publisher sued a reviewer or publication it didn't like over screenshots or footage captures. I could see a situation where a game had really big problems and the reviewer was using screenshots or footage captures to expose it. It's conceivable that a publisher would want to shut down the operation and try to censor that content...In that case, the magazine could argue fair use (criticism is protected). But how exactly is what Mobygames does criticism? I'm not quite sure how a scan of a box counts as criticism, especially since they never say anything about it.

In any case, any argument that I can copyright screenshots I take of games just strikes me as malarkey. I didn't have anything to do with the graphics in that game, and in fact just pressed one key on my keyboard to capture it. Unless I'm using that screenshot in some kind of criticism or fair use application, a publisher would seem to be on solid ground asking me to take it down. Seems like what Mobygames does is use all those scans, images, and so on in a purely commercial way. People go there to browse games, see the boxes, etc., and hopefully click on some of the advertising and bring in some revenue for them. How is that fair use? Even their reviews are user-submitted, and of course they claim full copyright even of that. I'd of course turn a blind eye to all this if they were freely sharing this content with others, but they want to claim it for themselves.

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Chris Kennedy
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Well..

It isn't that it needs another games database, but rather that it needs its first good one.

Technically speaking, Moby probably has a great database but needs to revamp their interface.

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Hammer
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Let's give the folks at

Let's give the folks at Mobygames the chance to defend themselves. Bill, you know Jim, don't you? I will see if he wants to comment. We're all gentlemen here, and nice guys to boot, and so I'd suggest discussing this amongst ourselves before we start referring to things as "despicable" and "hypocritical" on a public forum.

Matt, In the meantime I respectfully suggest that you take this post down.

PS - I am a member of the IGDA Preservation SIG and I'm pretty sure they have no (or at least a very minimal) budget.

Bill Loguidice
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It's a public forum, no reason not to discuss it openly
Hammer wrote:

Let's give the folks at Mobygames the chance to defend themselves. Bill, you know Jim, don't you? I will see if he wants to comment. We're all gentlemen here, and nice guys to boot, and so I'd suggest discussing this amongst ourselves before we start referring to things as "despicable" and "hypocritical" on a public forum.

Matt, In the meantime I respectfully suggest that you take this post down.

PS - I am a member of the IGDA Preservation SIG and I'm pretty sure they have no (or at least a very minimal) budget.

I have no problems with Jim at all and it's certainly never personal from anyone at Armchair Arcade. I like and use Mobygames, and in fact signed up to contribute not too long ago (though admittedly, the process for contributing is not really a smooth one, in my opinion, so I tend not to bother). Though Matt's approach may be a bit over-the-top at times, there's nothing wrong with being hypercritical of something to stir up debate about an anomaly or an issue, of which in this case I can very much see Matt's point and can in no way argue against it (though I may or may not agree with his approach, which is entirely his, as what I do is entirely mine, and you, yours, etc.).

Certainly Jim or anyone else is always welcome to come and defend themselves on here or anywhere else, if they even deem it necessary. Frankly, for an opinion piece, an editorial, it's not up to the author to get a response from anyone or anything that that person is being critical of, particularly since it's not a personal attack. Also, again, since this in a public forum, there is nothing subversive about it. It's an open criticism, much like say, Jason Scott's campaign against Wikipedia. So certainly the way I see it, the ball is in Mobygames or anyone else's court who wishes to defend their unusual position on copyright. Matt has made his opinion clear. I see no harm in that and all rebuttals are more than welcome.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Matt Barton
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Yes, Hammer, it's nothing

Yes, Hammer, it's nothing personal at all. As I said, I've heard nothing but good things about the folks at Mobygames and have contributed to them as well. Ironically, the screenshots I uploaded don't seem to have the watermarks, though I'm not sure why.

I'm only objecting to the policies concerning the watermarks and the "all rights reserved" approach on the images and such. I'd rather see this be opened up, and it's definitely wrong to be trying to make money selling stuff that people gave you for free. What would you do, for instance, if a company approached you and wanted to buy a few hundred screen shots, scans, or entries, that had been submitted freely by users? Would you take the money for yourself, share it with them, reject the offer, give it to them for free or what?

My guess is that the policies are designed to protect you against pirates who just want to copy or mirror the entire site and put their own ads on it. I can completely understand why you're opposed to that and have no problem with it. I also understand the issues with "hot linking" and all; no one wants to host images for somebody else's benefit. Likewise, I can understand your need for the ads and incentives to make money. I'd just like to see a more open policy, preferably one based on creative commons share-alike type thing. The watermarks are what really need to go, though. They're really limiting the utility of the site, particularly for those of us who'd like to use the images in books and videos and what not. I doubt the original contributors would mind at all, but the site's policies seem to be in the way.

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