Modders gets C&D From Squeenix

SE has always been very nasty about these things. A similar thing happened to another group that was making a revamped CT a few years ago. They even were remixing the soundtrack - and the remixes were awesome. Its a damn shame it never went anywhere. This guy should’ve paid attention to the past, ironically. Sad nevertheless.

Sucks, but such is the risk you take when you get involved with stuff like that. SE is nasty when it comes to this stuff, like Sin said.

It’s a shame, I saw this news on, I followed the production of this hack off and on, I was looking forward to its release.

However, the reactions of many of the forumers both on Romhacking and the main site of the hack are excessive. Most hilariously some responses have said they’re morally right or SE is acting unethically or whatever, law aside. It’s something I gotta disagree with. As popular as it is to be all ‘screw the man, they just make MONEY off the franchise! We’re fans, we love it!’, just because it’s an IP of a company like SE doesn’t make Chrono Trigger any less the work of people. It’s rather incongruous to say they respect the work of artists and then they go and make a rom hack which uses other people’s work as a base and its popularity as a launching pad.

I’m sure it probably would have been a really good rom hack, it was looking really sweet. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s still based off of other people’s work, it doesn’t change the fact that they never had any ‘right’ to make it in the first place.

Really, it was kind of dickish of SE to go after modders like this, but it’s still within their legal rights, and their moral ones too, really. The whole ‘moral’ issue is nothing more than the venting of nerd rage. Seriously, the cries of ‘Boycott SE!’ are hilarious and about as effective as the few WoW players threatening to leave after the smallest change they dislike.

But, I can’t help but wonder if this hack were finished a year ago that it might not have had this happen. This time last year we didn’t even know of Chrono Trigger DS’s existence. Naturally, SE doesn’t want anything that would tempt players to play a free rom of something they’d rather them pay $35 for. It’s not ‘zomg teh evol corporate monolith!!!’, it’s just smart business. The amount of people that dealing this C&E would actually drive away is insignificant.

I was always under the impression that mods of existing content - especially when not packaged with the actual original content, which ROM hacks are not - aren’t necessarily covered under copyright, especially if the mods are not being charged for.

A ROM hack isn’t a ROM, it’s a set of instructions for the ROM which patches it to change the way it looks and acts. Without the ROM, it’s useless, and the ROM is not included. So… does it encourage people to copy? Yes, but then so do photocopiers, and they were never made illegal (in fact, the photocopier argument is what makes downloading music currently legal in Canada, for the moment).

Basically Square has always been more heavy-handed than they need to be with these sorts of issues. It’s strange, because doujin games are not uncommon in Japan. Is it only because the game is based off of CT’s actual code (even though it isn’t really, as explained above)?

That’s probably the thing. Chrono Trigger is still SE’s IP, and how rabidly they chose to protect that IP is really up to them.

There’s one other thing here, as I understand it in one of the Readmes of Crimson Echoes they said something along the lines of ‘we know Chrono Trigger is copyright Square-Enix, but we’re doing this anyway’. That probably wasn’t all that sunk them, but it was a stupid thing to put out in the open.

I always understood it that modification of a game is illegal if the publishers chose to go after it. Hence why so many other mods on other games get a pass because the companies in question see a value in nurturing that modding community. Modding Chrono Trigger, though, is hardly going to foster new fans or get the original game any more attention.

Really, this isn’t about the publication of an ISP file that changes an existing rom, which itself has no illegal content. SE never told them to cease distribution, they hadn’t gone that far. SE demanded they cease production and destroy all tools which were made that modified their product without their permission. Is THAT in their legal right? Well, I’m not as sure about that, but the fact remains that the CE people don’t have the income to risk challenging this.

A C&E is not a legal document, in any case. It’s pretty much just a threat saying “we don’t like what you’re doing, stop it or we’ll challenge you”. Because the modders don’t really know the law and can’t afford a lawsuit, they listened. Depending on how right S-E is, the letter might just be bullying tactics.

These hacks are generally released with tons of caveats, such as:
-The game is copyright Square Enix.
-The hack does not assume any copyrights on the content.
-No profit will be made from it.
-The hack is illegal except for those who own a legal copy of CT.

Frankly, I’d argue that the mod would get CT more attention than otherwise - at the very least, it wouldn’t lose any attention, and few people would be likely to play this game and not CT, since it builds on CT’s story. I’m just wondering what Square really thinks they’ll lose by this hack being released.

There is also a “fair use” question which belongs in this context and which the C&D letter does not discuss. In fact, the letter mentions something about breaking DRM, which sounds fishy to me (since when do SNES ROMs have DRM?).

It is probably bullying tactics, yes, but still not exactly unfair, in the rule of law at least.

As for fair use, I actually don’t think the modders have much room to stand on. They’re not borrowing bits and pieces for a non-profit project, the amount of changes they’ve made to the original data are minuscule, really. Unless they’ve delved into deeper ASM hacking than I can tell, it is still essentially the same game, structurally. The events were changed, the script was changed, and some graphics were changed, but it’s still Chrono Trigger. It’s not as if they stripped Chrono Trigger down to it’s most basic foundation and built a new structure on top of it, they just redecorated the interior and gave the exterior a new coat of paint. I’d guess over 70% of the original data is the same, and I don’t think that qualifies under fair use. Fair use, as I understand it, covers stuff like using the name, referencing the scenario, parts of the music, some of the images, under reasonable limits. It does not cover something like this, far too much of the original game is still intact in this mod. But I’m not a legal expert, I could be wrong.

I also disagree that the mod would gain a significant amount of attention for Chrono Trigger. The RPG fans out there that haven’t played CT probably wouldn’t be interested in a hack of it, and probably wouldn’t seek out the original even if they were. As the same time, the risk of losing some sales of the DS version because of this may be equally small, but SE still has the right to defend their IP.

Anyway, my point is not to necessarily support SE’s position so much as it is to play devil’s advocate. There’s far too much ‘righteous nerd fury’ in all of those threads, so many ridiculous and baseless threats lobbied in SE’s direction, and just the usual type of nonsense that plagues the internet. I’m just pointing out that there’s still two sides to this issue, and calling SE bullies just oversimplifies matters.

As far as the DRM stuff, yeah you got me there. I dunno what it’s doing in there. Maybe CT-DS had some stuff, but I wasn’t aware the original did. However, DRMs DID exist in those days, they were just rare and largely ineffective. I’ve heard some stories about some SNES games being able to detect, under certain circumstances, whether or not they were copied, but they were unreliable and pretty easy to get around. I think Earthbound was one, but I’m not positive. Either way, it’s not like the DRMs we hear about today, one way or another.

It’s sad that a good intentioned project got shot down. I think SE may be turning into jerks in regards to some things. I wonder what they’re going to do next. Target fan translations? An excellent one for Breath of Fire II was recently released, with a new intro and all, and I’d hate it if Capcom started getting ideas too. Especially because the GBA version still has the same lousy translation and it’s commendable that some fans would use their time to improve the game like that.

They’re not borrowing bits and pieces for a non-profit project, the amount of changes they’ve made to the original data are minuscule, really.

But there’s the point - they are not distributing the original material with some changes. They are releasing a patch that executes changes on the original material that someone must have already downloaded. So if they’re arguing that they’re copying their material… well, they’re not. They’re leaving the material exactly as is while providing a patch that goes on top of it.

Also, forget not that “law” and “justice” are very different. Even if Square does end up being legally allowed to do this, it’s both fairly silly and not particularly just to shut it down, considering the potential losses (negligible, and possibly turned into gains) and the sheer amount of work that’s gone into it, as well as the backlash that it’s generated, rightly or wrongly.

But Square ISN’T arguing that they’re ‘copying’ their material, they’re arguing that they’re modifying it without their permission. They don’t want people looking into and modifying their code, and their game. Sure it’s been done a thousand times before, but it’s up to individual companies to say whether or not they’re ok with their work being modded. In the case of CT, they’ve said no. Is it paranoid, unnecessary, or shortsighted? Probably. Unjust? I don’t think so.

Let’s put this in a different perspective. I think the biggest reason it’s easy to make Square out to be the bad guy is because they’re a big company and they make money off the franchise. But what difference does that make? Let’s say for argument’s sake that the original team that made Chrono Trigger were all still at Square, and were the ones who directly requested the C&D? Would that make a difference?

Even if the people involved aren’t there anymore, SE still owns the IP. This is all just another ‘little people vs the man’ scenario. Imagine if the situation were reversed. Imagine if a big company, say Capcom, took a popular fan-made game, say Cave Story, made an unofficial sequel using the original game as a base and released a patch you could apply to the original Cave Story for free. Sure, some might say the creator should be happy his work received that kind of attention and it’s not like Capcom made any money off of it anyway, but I think most of us would be infuriated. They would never do this, of course, besides the whole ‘we like to make money’ thing, because it’s unprofessional. Chrono Trigger, game, story, characters, code and engine belong to Square.

And they may not have been set to make money from the patch, but they WOULD get popularity, attention, and potential donations. All on the back of Chrono Trigger’s code. It’s not a fortune, but don’t treat it as if they would receive zero benefit from it.

I also think it’s silly to even make the ‘backlash’ into a big deal, and it’s nothing but the same ‘screw the man!’ attitude that I see in most of the threads regarding this topic. Like it or not, the ‘backlash’ that might come about over this, if any, is completely insignificant. They’ve done stuff like this before, they’ll do stuff like this again, and we’re all going to buy their crap anyway when they make something we like. All this is just posturing by forum nerds pretending that SE might actually read their message and change their minds so they can think for a moment their opinion matters. *

That might sound a little harsh, but really, that’s what I’m railing against here. The kneejerk outrage of ‘MAN SCREW SQUARE FOR THAT’ which will amount to nothing. Yes, it sucks that their work of five years has gone down the drain, and it especially sucks that SE waited until now to send out the C&D instead of when it started. But when you have a hobby that modifies other people’s intellectual property, no matter how innocent and harmless, you risk this happening and you really don’t have any right to complain when it does.

  • (So says a person making a post criticizing people for posting a certain way pretending those people would read it and change their minds so I might pretend I actually matter :stuck_out_tongue: )

Still, to use the patch, you have to download an illegal copy of the game. There’s tacit encouragement to pirate the game in order to play the patch. Then, if you have the ROM, why not play the original instead of purchasing the re-releases?

Besides, what’s just is in the eye of the beholder. I find it perfectly just for a company to vigorously protect its IP. I know very little (nothing) of IP, but there may very well be some jurisdictions which estop companies from protecting their interests in some cases if they don’t vigorously protect it in all cases. If not estop, there may be a general disdain for companies if they did that. While it may appear heavy-handed, SE is actually being fairer if they go after all IP violations equally.

Sure, it sucks their work is going down the drain. However, that’s the risk they ran when they first started the project. It surely should have crossed one of their minds that, hey, they might be doing something which infringes on IP rights.

The problem is that this attitude, taken to its extreme, destroys the very idea of fanfic, fanart, fan sites, even fan discussions. This avatar of mine? Ripped from Tales of Phantasia and modified. I shouldn’t be allowed to do that. If they really want to protect their IPs that much, why wouldn’t they go after anyone who writes stories about their characters, or anyone who makes YouTube videos starring them, or anyone who remixes their music without their permission? Hell, RPGClassics reprints images of their characters and screenshots from their games all the time without permission. Why shouldn’t our site be shut down? It’s still part of their IP, and we even have ads on our site making money from it. We get benefits (an e-mail address, publicity) from it.

There’s always going to be fan activity, and generally it’s a good thing. It all comes down to how heavily they want to go after people about it. Some companies and creators are more laid-back about it, some come down like a ton of bricks on anything at all. There are doujin games (hell, even hentai games) released in Japan all the time, often starring Final Fantasy characters. So no, I don’t buy that it’s entirely “just”.

I’m not trying to paint this as “little guy against the MAN” and take umbrage that you’re treating it that way. It’s no more “little guy against the MAN” than it is “poor company trying to protect their precious property”. The truth is in the middle somewhere. The two questions are a) whether Square has the law on their side, and b) whether doing this is a good idea for them and for their fans, or not. The two are not necessarily related and while I don’t know the answer for a), I still haven’t heard a really good argument for b).

Has the fact that it’s illegal stopped anyone in the states from doing it, on a wide scale?

I must clarify what I meant. When I referred to IP, I meant specifically the coding.

Artistic stuff such as your avatar, fanfics, etc would be protected by the fair use doctrine. I believe music remixes would be protected as artistic homages (until they start charging money for it). Fan discussions have no commercial effect. The law specifically protects those uses as well as our Shrines using images. Our images and Shrines are educational and encompass a very, very small portion of the copyrighted material. There is no slippery slope. Completely specious argument.

As for the Japanese reasons, there’s a chance under Japanese law that they have a much broader standard for fair use which allows various copyrighted material to be used more freely. You can’t point to the differences between SE’s actions under American law and their actions under Japanese law then say “See! They’re not as diligent there!” Different jurisdictions, different legal standards, and, at the risk of bringing up moral relativism, different societal standards of what makes something “just.”

Had this sequel or whatever been made on a new game engine, SE would likely not have cared as much. If all it used were characters and whatnot, there’s little to be concerned about. However, the mod relies on downloading an illegal copy of the game, one which categorically DOES infringe on their IP rights. Given the proclivity for companies to release remakes and re-releases on handhelds, and the very fact that SE actually is doing so, illegal ROMs infringe upon these companies’ abilities to profit from what they created.

What is good for companies? Ultimately, it’s protecting their interests in a manner which does not negatively affect their ability to make money. Sorry. That’s the nature of companies. Stifling fan discussion, going after minor image uses, and preventing wholly original works would negatively affect a company when attempting to create a buzz or what have you. The problem for the mod, as I see it, is specifically because it relies on using something which directly cuts into SE’s profits.

984 just brought up the only really big issue here: This thing needs a ROM.

Consider the amount of Mods available for loads upon loads of computer games. Thousands upon thousands. Baldur’s Gate 2 alone has several hundred. Do companies complain? Hell fucking no, modding communities are not only acceptable, but even vital to the longevity of their titles. The guys working on the huge Planescape Torment bugfix pack even periodically consulted Chris Avellone and other creators about it. There is no logical reason for those guys to complain, all these people are doing is increasing the amount of reasons someone would play the game. It’s in their best interest for them to have modding communities. Many games now even come with modding tools ready.

But this only goes for PC games. Console titles are not mod-friendly. Modding a console title requires getting a digital copy, hacking it and then making it playable either in emulators or in consoles modded to play illegal copies. Any patched PS2 game, for example, implies having a PS2 that can play illegal copies, and having a DVD image, which most people get by downloading. A patched SNES title just outright requires you to emulate the game.

Unlike PC mods, or even doujin games with hilariously stolen characters, console mods pretty much REQUIRE you to procure illegal copies of the real stuff. It’s not just intellectual propiety, they encourage and mostly force you to pirate the stuff. There’s a big difference there.

Also, yeah, the parody thing is far more laid back over there than here. It’s pretty much ingrained into nerd culture to make doujins of stuff, they just take it as free publicity, and can’t really do much about it since the law protects them. But once again, reading a doujin on FFVII does not imply pirating a copy of the game.

The modified rom qualifies as a derivative work, the making, copying and distribution of which is covered by copyright. The theory is that Square has the right to sell derivative rights and reap the profits thereof, and that fanmade works detract from that.

As for fair use, it’s possible. There are four factors. The first is purpose of use. A nonprofit purpose is good, and for profit is bad. More importantly, the new work should be transformative. It should not touch up the original, redress it slightly, or merely add to it. It should not capitalize on what made the original appealing.

For instance, parodies and reviews that quote works have a huge presumption of being fair use. There are two reasons. First, the purpose is obviously not to use the expression of another author for the same artistic effect, but rather to subvert or criticize that material. Second, most authors would hesitate to license parodies or negative reviews, because they tend to shed disrepute on the original. Refusal to license would raise first amendment free speech issues. It would also thwart the purpose of the Constitution’s Copyright Clause, which suggests that copyright solely exists to foster <i>new</i> art.

So the bottom line here is, if this work is transformative enough, the purpose is good.

The second factor is the nature of the work copied: whether is falls within the “protected core” of copyright (like a novel or song), or is more on the fringes of copyright (like sweepstakes rules). Referring to CT’s story and using its characters probably locates this close to the core of copyright, which weighs heavily against fair use.

The third factor is the amount and substantiality of what’s copied. Quoting a couple paragraphs from a novel is fine, while quoting three chapters is not. This probably falls in between. The events may be new, but the characters are not, and there are continual references to the world Square developed. This factor would probably weigh mildly against fair use.

Last, and sometimes most important, is how the new work would affect the marketability of the original. Like I mentioned, the question is not just the marketability of Chrono Trigger. Arguably, Chrono Trigger may sell just as well or better, thanks to the popularizing effect of the derivative work. The question is whether Square could effectively sell derivative rights, if <i>all</i> fans knew they had permission to make and download fan-modified roms. This is always a tricky question. I think the answer is yes, that fan-made works tend to propagate the popularity of original works, more than enough to cancel out the deterrence from buying derivatives. But most courts would probably decide this factor weighed against fair use.

So the issue is whether the fan-made work is <i>so</i> transformative that its good purpose dwarfs all the other fair use factors. It sounds unlikely, but the Supreme Court has ruled that way about other works. If you think it’s ridiculous that fan-made works are barred for 95 years after the publication of the originals, and that their authors have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to effectively litigate their fair use defenses against huge corporations, read Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig.

Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig is free. 10 seconds on google and I have a new book. Awesome.

So how does this factor for other fan translations and such? I mean, for Mother 3, Nintendo basically knew about it and did nothing to impede it. (Granted, the situation there basically had it where Mother 3 was never gonna be localized anyways.) Pretty much any cartridge-based game that gets edited requires you get an emulator and the ROM for it. (Or you get a flashcart and work it from there.) So that’s kinda promoting piracy right there.

But I can see why SE would choose to go after these guys, seeing as they could lose money over CT, with the remake they came out with recently. Hell, they have the right to. There was a similar situation some months back, where some guys were trying to do texture hacks for Brawl, and got slapped with a C&D from Nintendo right before they were gonna release the hacks. The only way you were gonna apply these hacks involved getting a copy of the game, and with Wii so easy to mod as it is, Nintendo was likely gonna lose some money. (Not to mention whatever copyright infringements were associated with the character hacks.)

It’s worth mentioning that no one outside of the development team has been able to confirm whether it’s a real C&D or not. And when dealing with the drama llamas in the scene, it’s better to have third party confirmation on these things. Just saying.