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:

  1. Did Jim Sterling directly target Romine and Digital Homicide with malicious intent?
  2. Did Jim Sterling maliciously misrepresent Digital Homicide’s work?
  3. Does the court have jurisdiction to rule on this issue?
  4. 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.

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About Author

Founder of VNs Now.com. Long-Time Reader, Amateur Writer and Chef and Gundam Enthusiast. Opinions are Steve's, Facts are Mine.

  • trooper6

    I have to say, I didn’t think Juniper’s Knot was as good as everyone else seemed to. The art was very good, and the animations were very good. The writing…eh. It was okay…not great, but okay.

    Anyhow, one of the problems I saw with the Dischan collapse is that Miller was, has his core, a hobbyist rather than a professional. Let me explain. When you have the attitude of a professional (whether or not you are getting paid) you know that what you are doing is a job. And you do your job. I did theatre for years…and near the end of a long run, after having done the show dozens of times, sometimes you are tired and lose some interest. But you know what? The show must go on. You finish your job. Sometimes you don’t have “motivation” or “interest”…the professional attitude knows that art (or whatever) is a job and you have to do your job if you have committed to it. The hobbyist attitude often thinks…I am an artist waiting for inspiration…and if I’m not inspired I quite doing Dysfunctional Systems…and just move on to whatever other thing takes my fancy.

    I think the EVN community needs more people to cultivate a professional attitude..that would also include being willing to have more criticism…and not just criticism couched in compliments first.

  • Temere

    “to reach it’s full potential” should be “to reach its full potential”. “it’s going to take awhile” should be “it’s going to take a while”.

    I’d agree with Trooper6 on the idea that what doomed Miller is most likely to be the hobbyist attitude – I also found his comment about having lost interest quite perplexing. Having worked on a fair few creative endeavours, I found that I had to push through most of it by force of sheer determination, not with inspiration. The advice that I’d feel like giving is to try and focus on the good feeling that one gets from completing works and the idea that finishing stuff up gives us a good comparison to make better works in the future.

  • Renmazuo

    “to reach it’s full potential” should be “to reach its full potential”. “it’s going to take awhile” should be “it’s going to take a while”.

    I’d agree with Trooper6 on the idea that what doomed Miller is most likely to be the hobbyist attitude – I also found his comment about having lost interest quite perplexing. Having worked on a fair few creative endeavours, I found that I had to push through most of it by force of sheer determination, not with fleeting inspiration.

    The advice that I’d feel like giving is to try and focus on the good feeling that one gets from completing works and the idea that finishing stuff up gives us a good comparison to make better works in the future. Sometimes you have to compromise a bit and what you produce within deadlines isn’t as good as you envisioned, but I find that using that frustration helps me going further, because I want to create more so that I can reach my “ideal”.
    This way, it’s a self-sustaining movement. I have ended up drawing sprites or CGs well into the night sustained by this feeling and – while I’m not in any way as recognised or skilled as other artists, I feel that I can keep going on my own by taking this approach.

    I actually quite liked Juniper’s Knot, so I hope that Miller will write other things, but I also see the criticism you’ve raised here as valid in regards to the management of things. Additionally, I’d say that, actually, artists and programmers and musicians might have given him another try, had he had a completed script: what I found particularly off-putting was the idea that he was just asking to form a group, rather than want help with a specific project. So far, I’ve only joined projects with friends and the writer of ‘tuesday’ as a collaborator and there was always something there for me to be interested in – friends are friends and it’s fun to do stuff with them; while I liked the script and descriptions I got along with ‘tuesday’ and really wanted to see it in a VN and thought I could help after their previous artist left them. With Miller, there was just this vague want to form a group and as you say there seemed to be no guarantee any work would then be published.

    Ad an aside, I see you mention the partial refunds: weren’t they partial just because the first five dollars would be for the first episode of Dysfunctional Systems, which backers would get?

    (Let me know if you want me to delete the typo corrections once and if you get around to correcting them.)

  • Specie8470

    Now that Dischan Media has failed Jeremy Miller should release episode 0 and all material including artwork, story and music produced from the kickstarter because it is the backers of the kickstarter that deserve it not for Jeremy alone to have and sit on.