SpectateFaker, a stream that checks for solo queue games of SK Telecom T1 player Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok and streams them using the League of Legends client, received a Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice sent by streaming platform Azubu last week.
Any League of Legends solo queue game is open for anyone to spectate if they have a League account. But Lee signed a contract to stream exclusively on the Azubu platform in Sep. 2014. The DMCA is designed to allow content owners to protect their copyrighted material. But does Azubu have a right to DMCA content that’s freely available inside Riot Games’ own League of Legends client?
The easy legal answer is no, as outlined by esports lawyer Bryce Blum on the Daily Dot. Riot Games, the party that owns the content displayed through any of these League streams, is the only company with a right to issue a DMCA.
That’s caused a firestorm in the League community after journalist Travis Gafford brought the issue to light, as the important questions of content ownership, the relationships between players and streaming platforms, and Riot Games itself came into question.
Riot Games cofounder Marc “Tryndamere” Merrill took to social media to outline the company’s position on the issue, coming to the conclusion that the stream should stop in order to protect Faker.
But now SpectateFaker has issued an ultimatum to Riot Games: the channel stays until they flex their legal muscle to shut it down.
That’s due to Riot Games’ failure to take a consistent position on the important issue. “These are issues that will affect the future of the game and the spectator mode,” the stream’s owner writes. “All of this needs to be debated for the future of League of Legends and esports.”
Lawyer Anna B. Baumann, who has some experience with esports legal issues, called SpectateFaker’s owner “the dream of every lawyer out there” as this could force Riot Games to come up with “objective criteria” to handle such cases in the future.
That’d certainly be an improvement from the way Riot Games initially handled the issue.
Merrill’s original response to the controversy was wishy-washy and noncommittal at best, and his second missed critical details to the issue at hand, namely that SpectateFaker was not monetizing the stream and that the stream was not a rebroadcast of the Azubu content, but of games that Faker was not himself streaming.
He later calls SpectateFaker “stealing from Faker,” in that it’s hurting the revenue stream of the player by stealing views, but that statement annoyed fans who brought up its inherent hypocrisy, as Riot Games is the one allowing access to all of Faker’s games through its in-game spectator client.
Merrill’s final stance seems to be one centered around the morality of so-called “e-stalking.”
Whether Faker himself feels that way is unclear, but the player did request that the stream be taken down.
Of course, Riot Games’ in-game spectator client essentially does the same thing as the SpectateFaker stream, just in a less public way. It allows anyone to spectate any player at will, without their consent. Riot Games could potentially give players an opt-out, but that has a host of its own issues.
Originally, SpectateFaker planned to acquiesce to Riot Games’ and Faker’s request that the stream be taken down, due to the player’s own request. But now, SpectateFaker is taking a stand to force Riot Games to adopt a harder stance on the issue.
“I won’t be listening to anyone else from Riot or on Reddit lecture me about morals anymore,” the SpectateFaker owner wrote. “To those people I say, I’m doing this stream because I can legally and it’s allowed by League of Legends’ legal terms.
“I know some people will disagree with this and bring up ethics, but I think this whole issue is about a lot more than Faker. It’s about Riot not enforcing their own legal terms of service. It’s about a co-owner of Riot Games being completely out of touch with esports and the spectator mode. It’s about a company (Azubu) issuing a false DMCA claim for content they didn’t even own.”
Now, Riot Games has to put its money where its mouth is and sort out a mess their own policies have created.
Illustration by Max Fleishman