Poll Question 332 – Does a modder have the moral right to block videos and screenshots of their work?

Earlier this year, a modder asked me not to livestream his release on the weekend of release. I wasn’t happy about it because once I had released it anybody could stream it and RTSL would have lost a small opportunity to gain some coverage. However, I agreed and that was that.

I did get me thinking about whether a modder has the right, either legally or morally to block people from posting videos and screenshots.

I know that Twitch carefully monitors the game people stream because some games prohibit broadcast of their games. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but it seems only fair. Just like I can’t read a book aloud in a public place or show movies to the public.

But modding is more of a grey area.

Those longer term readers may remember I briefly closed the site in a fit of rage after somebody on ModDB was using my files, description and screenshots to add those mods and maps to the site. Once I officially protested, ModDB immediately responded by having those things removed. I felt at the time that those images were mine as I had taken them, the same as the descriptions, which I had written. However, it’s not that simple. You can hold copyright on photographs, but what about screenshots? Probably another grey area.

So, if I can take screenshots and hold copyright (big if!) then surely the author of the mod holds some copyright too. Then we take a step deeper and the creator of the assets must have some rights too and what about the engine maker?

Clearly, it’s a can of worms.

So back to the real poll question: Does a modder have the moral right to block videos and screenshots of their work? Putting aside the legal aspects, when are left with the moral. Should users (players) of their work have to respect the modder’s wishes?

What do you think?

Time to Vote

Just a final note: The image used in the featured image is from The Southernmost Combine, a very promising, but don’t hold your breath for it, mod.

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  1. DaZ

    Did they give a reason why they didn’t want you to stream it?

    Personally, I think once the content is publicly available (and not a leak, mistake, etc) then you lose all control over how that content is covered. You can politely ask someone not to cover it, but it is up to them if they agree or not.

    I don’t really think that there is any legal recourse should someone cover your content without your permission. If there was you would see games publishers suing the shit out of any game reviewers who gave less than perfect scores of their latest releases.

    Honestly, it’s hard enough already to get people to pay your content any time, and I personally am always grateful whenever someone takes the time to play or simply look at anything I have made. The only reason I wouldn’t want them to cover my content is if it was released in error / was stolen / a absolutely game breaking show stopper was found.

    1. Salamancer

      I was going to comment, but you’ve put everything I was going to say forward word for word.
      Mods are not copyrighted or patented, so they are essentially public domain at any effective time. Indeed, one could NOT copyright a mod, given it’s using Valve’s engine and assets freely.
      Each person who has access to that work is able to make their own personal judgement on what to do with it in terms of livestreaming or screenshots, I believe anyway.

      It is entirely reasonable to ask people not to livestream their work before a date.
      It is entirely unreasonable to become angry or upset at a person if they do so.

    2. Miigga

      This is exactly my opinion so I might as well not rehash it and instead just leave this here as indication that I agree.

      Also if the mod is released, I really haven’t a clue why the modder wouldn’t want it covered. It’s just free publicity for the mod, plus it’s fun to see someone play something you made.

      1. Salamancer

        “plus it’s fun to see someone play something you made.”
        Right? I’m pretty sure the only reason I make stuff for HL2 is to watch people play it and have a good time.
        I guess my opinion might be altered if it’s a multi-year project though.

    3. Zekiran

      ^^ Pretty much my opinion on the matter too. The point behind making mods is, as far as I’m concerned, to get people to play them. Refusing to ‘allow’ someone to show off your mod is thus not just dumb, but a quick method to making me not want to play ANY of their mods at any time.

      Throwing a bone to the ‘but it’s monetized!’ camp – until you petition Valve or whatever company to allow you to accept donations, thems the breaks. Yes, it’s a sticky situation but it’s one which hasn’t come up very often because for the most part, modders are there to enjoy people playing their work.

      I’d be turned off of any given modder’s work if I knew which of the mods they were ‘refusing’ to ‘allow’ someone to stream. That kind of arrogance doesn’t have a place in the community.

  2. Legally? I’m sorry, but no, not even close. No matter how complex your mod, it’s still a modification and therefore not your intellectual property. Good luck trying to claim legal rights regarding anything related to your mod, I’m sure you’ll give the pencil pushers the effort of sending you a premade Cease & Desist e-mail.

    Same goes for the term “morally”, really, because there’s nothing inherently immoral about someone else posting about your content with no ill will after release. In fact, sometimes, such as the aforementioned case, it’s free publicity and you should swallow your pride and take it, because it’ll help you in the end. That said, in regards to author entitlement, I get that authors want to keep close control of their works, and I think we’ve all felt the same to various degrees, even if outside of mod work.

    I think, after you’ve released your work publicly for everyone to enjoy and/or exploit (even if you don’t want the latter), you really have no right or entitlement to try to force them to not touch it. It’s yours to the point that you made it, of course, but once you let others play it – which is the whole point of releasing them -, you’ve got to accept that they’ll have their own opinions and do their own things (e.g. the livestreaming) with it that won’t always involve you personally. Some people are just overprotective, which is understandable, but you can’t force others to conform to your every whim in regards to what you made, even if it is yours. Especially since, as I mentioned before, you technically don’t own it at all.

    On the other hand, in extreme cases such as unauthorized theft of content or plagiarism, go ahead and give ’em Hell. But if they’ve done nothing wrong and you’re just not comfortable with what they’re doing (such as the RTSL livestream mentioned in the post, which would’ve put it under the spotlight), you can’t block it. All you can do is respectfully ask for the person not to do it and understand that it’s their choice.

  3. Once a work is out in the wild you can’t really control what happens to it.

    I could understand not wanting info on a pre-release version coming out, but it seems unfair to you and people who enjoy the RTSL content (streams, articles) that a finished released version cannot be shared on a platform built for sharing the work and works like it.

    Maybe I’m a bit bias because I’ve never had a huge audience for anything I do, but no matter what, I always want as much coverage as possible for something I put out.

  4. Hec

    I don’t thinks so… A mod is just a mod, no matter if is a TC… You know, I think is only right if they develop a game from a native engine, or they’re a fully profitable game developer, like GTA or some official franchise like those… And even them aren’t quite too much exaggerated about it.

    I think that’s a kind of rude attitude by any modder.

  5. I didn’t vote, because there’s no option I totally agree with. “Yes, but they shouldn’t exercise it” would be the best summary of how I feel.

    Both mindsets seem a little selfish to me. Screenshots and videos are mostly innocuous things, so asking other people not to share the thing you decided to share is weird, but willfully ignoring the feelings of the person whose content you’re so interested in is a bit petty.

    If we’re talking about monetized screenshots/videos, however, I skew ever so slightly toward the modders. What they built obviously has some value to you, or you wouldn’t be focusing on it. They may not have a legal right to the assets themselves, but you know they produced the particular arrangement of said assets that you find compelling. Now the situation arises that you’re making money in some part due to work they did, but they’re not, which seems unfair.

    Having produced a collection of primitive content of my own, I personally don’t care, and I get really excited when someone like DaZ does videos about any of my stuff. I tend to look at the money going to people like him, and support coming from viewers, as being due overwhelmingly to the personality of the host. The content itself is minimally important, and though people may have an interest in it, they’re mostly there for the person making the videos, which incidentally is also my answer to “why watch people play videogames when you could play them yourself?”

    Nonetheless, when companies like Nintendo or people like Phil Fish express consternation over their work being monetized on Youtube, I’m hard pressed to disagree with their positions. I’ve uploaded my own videos of others’ work, actually, so of course I’d appreciate them permitting me to do so, but if they asked me not to do it, or wanted me to remove an existing video, I’d feel awful if I didn’t respect their wishes.

    Ultimately yes, you do have to be prepared for people ignoring the way you want your content to be treated (though Gary Larson’s open letter proving effective shows they will sometimes work with you), but I don’t accept that as an excuse for choosing to do it. “Yes, officer, I ran that red light on purpose, but people should have been prepared for something like that, why am I getting arrested?”

    You have a moral right to try keeping your work under your control, but things are much more fun when you’re friendly enough to waive it.

    We have an ability to ignore the desires of overprotective artists, but as decent people I feel we have a moral obligation not to do so.

    1. asking other people not to share the thing you decided to share is weird, but willfully ignoring the feelings of the person whose content you’re so interested in is a bit petty.


  6. The only reason I could think for asking people not to post screenshots or stream your mod is if you’ve not had any testing done and don’t know how well it will play. In that sense, you shouldn’t be releasing it. Simple as.

    With regards to the question, I’d say no. If the mod is leaked then sure, you have a right to be upset with people who chose to post gameplay online. When you’re calling a project DONE, or at least done to a stage where you are happy for people to play it, you should have no right to say “Don’t post this online.” It’s already online. You put it there!

  7. I said “Maybe”, but I wouldn’t count a TC in there (they’re more work, but my reason applies equally to a mod that just replaces one texture and a mod like Black Mesa). Once it’s officially released to the public, it’s out of your hands. If it gets leaked, then I understand wanting to block videos, since it wasn’t meant for anyone to see yet.

  8. why would they .. if they blocked screenshots or video,s then they dont want their work published for everyone to see,and if thats the case whats the use of releasing a mod(or map )
    what ive found the most talented modders ( eg leon,miigga,jason gimba ) dont have a problem with others seeing their screenshots and thats what stands those guys out from others ( who would block screenshots )
    allthough a modder has the right to censor his work the hl2 modding community has allways been unrestrictive and ive never come across any modder who censors his work or screenshots
    so my answer is “no”

  9. Snowball Fight

    If you don’t want it out there, don’t make it public. If you want it public and don’t want people talking about it, then, HEY! we have freedom of speech problem here.

  10. hey phillip … theres been several posts that i like … so could you include a “like” button next to the post so we can see the most popular posts … obviously theres a bit of facebook with the “like” button allthough other forums include a similar idea ! .. would it be possible ?

    1. It’s probably possible, but not something I want to have. I have looked at something similar but it comes down to creating new code and that’s not possible at the moment.

  11. Can I ask whats the mod in the pic ?

    1. It’s linked to in the main post, under the actual poll.

  12. I said “Maybe” just on the grounds that if you didn’t intend for it to be out there for public consumption, like if a tester wound up leaking it, I think you have the moral right to demand that it not be.

    Legally, of course, we have no rights at all.

    But I’ve started to request certain things in the readme files of my work, like forbidding the work from being transferred to another game without my permission (like the guy who made Forest Train into a Garry’s Mod map without asking). One guy posted my work on ModDB without any permission or even credit and distributed his own archive. That’s sketchy as heck to me and it should be to you as well. I can’t verify that archive or what he may have done to it. Also using assets from the VMFs I provide in your own map. Don’t do that. Feel free to be inspired by it, or pick apart how it works, but don’t steal the setup outright.

  13. Anton

    You can do anything with the mod except making money of it, simple.

  14. please I would love someone to finish my mod that I could never finish…. lol

    you can film yourself making it.

  15. Duke

    I don’t understand why, if someone has gone to all that effort to create something they are likely proud of, doesn’t want as much publicity for their work they can get..I mean, you can create something, but then to just hope someone might hear of it, let alone play it…well..

  16. Bastion

    Since the modder relies on fair use to release and make the mod possible, it seems to be quite unfair to try and deny a reviewer or other media from access when they were not under any sort of embargo (Like you could put a embargo on a fan mod).
    I would almost call it ‘Bloody Stupid’ to try and take down fan or consumer content when your work is the same, just in a different form.

  17. i would actually agree in a case when the modder knows the certain video is going to reach a terrible audiance, or the streamer/youtuber is famous for bragging about bugs. and basicly this might show the mod in a terrible way. for example i wouldnt give any kind of product to angry joe, and any other mentally ill yt celeb.

    however he has no right to do so technicly, but its the “moral” right in this case what the poll is interested in.

    but if we are talking about philip, who has been playing custom maps for half of his life, gives productive critisism/feedback…its just wrong not letting him play it. its free freakin advert for your damn mod.

  18. I’d like to say that the modder in question, didn’t ask me to never livestream his release, but not livestream it on the same weekend as release. Sorry if there was any confusion there.

    That said, I feel it’s like saying we are going to release a film this weekend but not advertise it until next weekend.

    The argument goes that livestreaming spoils the mod for other people and I can see that but nobody is forced to watch the streams. Just like I have always out the download link ABOVE the screenshots, so that nobody is forced to see them before they play.

    There was one time when a modder asked me to remove a couple of screenshots from his mod page because he wanted that section to be a surprise for players and I understood and respect that. In fact, I try to avoid too many screenshots for scary mods or mods with surprises because I feel that can spoil things for viewers.

    Lastly, I am not sure I agree with the idea that just because a mod is on the internet, anybody can post images of it. I see it as just because I walk down the street, doesn’t mean you can take photos of me and show your friends.

  19. Kasperg

    I’d say a modder has the right to ask, but not much more than that.

    A modder might follow a process not unlike what a real game goes through, releasing tidbits of information at a time and choosing the screenshots, videos or any promotional work to be displayed carefully until the time of release. But once that time arrives, those “secrets”, so to speak, are a download and noclip + flyaround away from anyone in the planet. Once it’s out, it’s out. People will decide what they think of it, what aspects to comment on, what tone to do that in, and what screenshots/videos to support all of that.
    In a sense, the Moddb (or TWHL, Snarkpit etc) page that the modder releases their work in, is the official one, just the same as games and movies have their own. The rest is press and fan-based sites over which they really don’t have any control. Not just about what is shown but how it’s shown and spoken about.
    I do agree that posting malicious media (say, someone deciding to post fullbright screenshots of your level or only the bugs) would drive me to ask them to change that, but it woudn’t be my “right”.
    In the end, what is at stake with a mod is not economical, and people will know the truth about the mod once they play it via other sites etc. I don’t think even the worst case scenario would be that much of a problem.

    1. Zekiran

      The flip side of the argument that “there are mean people who post bugs” thing is the ‘know the reviewer’s habits’ angle.

      If a guy’s going to go around to mods or maps and show only their ‘bad side’ that’s what one would *expect* to see from that player, and as such both their viewers/readers as well as the mod makers have to be prepared for that. ‘Oh I didn’t test it on hard because I didn’t have the time, but thanks for showing how brutal / easy it was, maybe I’ll go back and change that’. ‘No one else in playing has had that bug, maybe your computer’s running something that has messed with the settings.’ There are plenty of ways to work *with* even an asshat that chooses to run toward the flaws instead of the glorious good stuff.

      They have their place, in other words – though fairly, if they do it right, critique is welcome for most artistic pursuits, when handled properly. As a player, I’d be far less likely to put any weight on those ‘negative reviews’ when all they do is bash or use tactics that don’t follow a normal play through. “When I tried to break the game, it broke!! lol it’s bad!” isn’t representative of anything in my mind, but “it had flaws like gaps in the geometry and a lot of optimization should have been done” certainly IS a more quality critique.

      Knowing the method of that specific critic, obviously, is the key to not having to defend the mod from them. Some people are going to do that regardless – I say let them, the people who would ‘trust’ their word about a mod are the same ones who give one word reviews or yell ‘that sucks’ but won’t elaborate. When there’s valid criticism to be had, in my mind, a modder *should* pay attention to it. When they’re just spouting nonsense and insults, there’s no reason to even give them a pageview.

      1. Kasperg

        You are right on all points.
        The situation I was putting as an example (never actually seen it happen) would be someone taking a lot of screenshots/videos of only the terrible stuff, giving an overall image of the content that while not necessarily depicting anything false (if the screenshots are taken in regular game time), wouldn’t be representative of the overall quality of the content in question.

        It would be something extremely easy to do, by the way. One could even make a review of Half-life 2 posting only images taken in the level-change hallways (blandest and blockiest parts of the game by far) and of the numerous warped textures and sloppy UV mapping of the oldest props and would be painting a very different overall picture of the masterpiece we all know.

  20. p2k

    It is always good to ask the author of the mod. It’s fair.
    Always remember with all the consequences – if you are making walkthrough video from singleplayer mod – you are making a full spoiler! Perhaps what really happens after that – nobody will play that mod… because they watched it. And I thought that mod-makers do mods for players… not for sheeps (spectators,watchers,etc).

    I understand only these exceptions: multiplayer maps, or very old single-player mods, which you cannot play on modern HW/OS or have a compatibility issue.

    1. Zekiran

      But ‘it’s a spoiler’ also applies to every movie, game, story, or product out there. People know it’s a spoiler if they haven’t played it yet. Why would a mod be any different once it’s released, than any game?

      If Phillip didn’t put screenshots or information in here about any of these, me coming on to play them sometimes 10+ years after they were released, they’re *still spoilers* if you haven’t played it yet.

      1. Well, maybe you want a “blind sample” to start with.

        For example, I’ve never been fond of how Phillip posts playthroughs of the Villes before posting the mod itself. While it’s certainly up to the player whether or not they want to spoil everything before playing it, the modder doesn’t know who has or who hasn’t unless the reviewer says as much. And most do, honestly. But maybe you’d prefer it if those same people would have provided a blind impression and could have seen their reaction.

        Not saying it’s right, just playing devil’s advocate here.

  21. SPY

    Its all already said, still, as a modder i would like to comment still.
    I do agree with that when you put a screen/movie or info out there then you
    can’t ask for control anymore over it. When you place something on the net
    then you may suspect that people will use it in any way. So, to ask then to
    not cover it, is a bit silly. Even more so as you said Phillip, when other can
    cover it on there sites and or youtube channels.


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