You’ll have to forgive me that this isn’t a formal news post. However, it was important that I get my immediate thoughts to you guys on what was a good decent day for Jim Fucking Sterling (Son). The news broke today that Romine v. Stanton, a lawsuit brought by the former owners of Digital Homicide, against gaming critic Jim Sterling over his critical take on their work. The lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice, which means that Romine cannot file suit on those same charges again. It also adds a stipulation that Romine can’t take further actions against Jim Sterling: such as filing a DMCA claim on one of his YouTube videos. The full details of this winding road have been covered by better than I, so I will include links to how you can see their content for extensive recaps of the lawsuit. But what I can offer you guys with are the broad strokes of what was at stake in this suit and where we are now.
While James Romine did his best to use the justice system to hurl chicken entrails at Sterling to make something stick, the crux of his case is that Romine wanted to prove that Sterling was directly targeting his business without due cause. If this suit would’ve gone to trial, a judge or jury would’ve had to decide a few things in my opinion:
- Did Jim Sterling directly target Romine and Digital Homicide with malicious intent?
- Did Jim Sterling maliciously misrepresent Digital Homicide’s work?
- Does the court have jurisdiction to rule on this issue?
- If Jim Sterling did not maliciously misrepresent Digital Homicide’s work and had no malicious intent in discussing it, does he have a right to speak on the subject as he sees fit?
Again, these are my opinions after reading the legal briefs and not necessarily what the judge in the case would’ve determined is important. However, I’m willing to bet any ruling would’ve landed on one, if not all four points. In the end, because Romine can probably barely afford a Big Mac much less attorneys, he represented himself on this and that led directly to the suit being dismissed. It took over a year to do it, but with nowhere else to turn and his filings having less and less to do with the case at hand, an agreement was finally reached before the judge stepped in and potentially bankrupted him by forcing him to pay Sterling’s legal fees for the trouble.
I know there are several gaming sites and critics breathing a sigh of relief tonight, and I wish I could say I was joining them. I am certainly happy for Jim as there is no such things a ‘frivolous’ lawsuit when you must pay for attorneys and glad this is one less thing on his mind. But it doesn’t change that we, and by ‘we’ I mean anyone who dares to criticize anything online, are back to square one. I know it probably looked like I was just slamming on Romine for not having proper representation in court, but that is the key reason the lawsuit is over. As such, the dismissal and caveats are a product of Romine wasting everyone’s time with his revenge fantasy; not based on the merits of the case.
Because of that, any definitive case-law that have come from this lawsuit is now postponed. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that Jim should’ve burned every resource to take this to trial. I am saying that someone, someday soon will have no choice but to take this to trial. The points that I mentioned above must be directly answered to make it clear whether a developer can target an individual or group of critics in the digital square for speaking their opinion.
Beyond issues dealing with fair use, the ability of anyone to post their opinions without fear of retaliation is paramount. Currently, the only case law on the books specifically dealing with retaliatory practices is Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox. More cases on this point are needed to make definitive law on the subject, but unfortunately that’s one issue no one is trying to solve at this point.
So, this will happen again. Maybe not to Jim, but to someone who a vengeful idiot (whether that be another Digital Homicide or someone bigger who can’t take criticism coughKonamicough) thinks cannot fight back and so will shut up instead of spend the money necessary to defend themselves. It is the unfortunate situation of the current American judiciary and it desperately needs change. Until then, critics and honest developers need to do everything they can to prepare for that eventuality by seeking out legal non-profits and advocate groups. I suggest looking into the Online Media Legal Network and New Media Rights. These are important tools and ones that could be pivotal to you and I in the years ahead. I also want to give a shout out to Leonard French: a copyright lawyer on YouTube who has followed and analyzed Romine v. Stanton from the beginning. Please check out his videos here for more detailed analysis of the case and its conclusion. And finally, here’s Jim Sterling’s statement on all of this being finally over echoing some of the issues I brought up here.
So, three cheers for Jim. And here’s hoping that the future will see the end of the law being used as a weapon of personal vengeance…one can dream right? JP3: OUT.