Throughout the events of the past week, a truly mind-boggling ordeal which has seen the Formula One organization crack down on both the Sim Racing Community as well as South American developer Reiza Studios, it can be easy to let your emotions get the best of you and immediately condemn the actions of power tripping lawyers. With Formula One up for sale, and increasing pressure for the brand to be protective of its Intellectual Properties, nearly 80 mods spanning three popular racing games were removed from RaceDepartment on March 23rd, thanks to copyright claims from the Formula One World Championship. A mere handful of days later, the brand new title from Reiza Studios, Automobilista, was yanked from Steam without any warning. Like virtually everyone else, I blasted the decision by Formula One. Community car livery modifications were harmless to the brand’s international image, acted as free publicity for what is now a struggling auto racing series, and in some cases served to increase the authenticity of the game. Intentionally attacking your own hardcore fans seemed like one of the most retarded things any sports organization could possibly do.
The news hit late last night that Automobilista had been temporarily taken off of Steam’s virtual shelves, arriving through a messenger who was usually credible. We here at PRC.net ended up being Reiza Studio to the official announcement themselves, and obviously all hell broke loose. For starters, the worst part of a mod being removed from RaceDepartment are the hurt feelings suffered on the part of the content creator; a large majority of sim racers opt not to venture down the path of third party mods in the first place, and those that do, don’t keep an active inventory of what’s available. However, an entire game abruptly disappearing from the online marketplace, that’s a bit odd. It’s important to note that you can still play Automobilista provided you had the game purchased and installed prior to the removal, but this was a game that was evolving in Steam’s Early Access program alongside the 2016 calendar year. The South American racing sim was still blossoming into something of a more complete product, and a slow but steady amount of sim racers were checking out the title with each passing day. In one swift strike by Formula One lawyers, Valve responded to the copyright claim and promptly took down what was a promising racing simulator.
If you make a thing, it’s yours. This is called copyright. If you’re a massive corporate entity, you can be granted an extra layer of protection to ensure that if you’ve made something truly awesome, others can’t take your thing and profit off of it. This is called a trademark. I can’t start printing and selling Metallica t-shirts out of my garage, because I’m not Metallica. I can’t design and sell posters featuring iconic race car liveries, because I don’t own the trademark to, say, Gulf Oil. If I’m in some shitty band and we cover The Offspring’s She’s Got Issues while high as fuck in the studio, we can’t put that on a record. It ain’t ours, so we don’t get to control what’s done with it, unless we ask permission. This is called a commercial license.
You also can’t indirectly infringe on the copyright of others via the use of what are called likenesses. We can’t re-record She’s Got Issues in a different key, and call it ours. I can’t put a fictional character in my video game that bares a pretty substantial resemblance to Lindsay Lohan. If I’m making a racing simulator, I can’t include several generic top tier open wheel cars painted up to resemble a full Formula One field, with little to no effort made to mask what I’m doing. If it were that simple, everybody would be doing it. There’s a reason they aren’t – eventually, the lawyers come knocking.
Sim Racers are obviously pissed at Automobilista’s removal from Steam, though again I must point out it only affects people who have not yet purchased the game. The FBI are also not paying individual Formula One enthusiasts a visit, and taking their a bat to their PC’s as if we’re in Office Space. The collective anger stems from the fact that the entire sim racing community resides in a dimly lit corner of the internet, and a major auto racing sanctioning body took the time out of their day to unnecessarily complicate things. With only 150 sim racers on average playing Automobilista at any given time, it’s hard to compare the scene surrounding these games to the underground bootleg cassette trading scene of the early 1980’s.
It also spells disaster for Reiza Studios. Depending on exactly what caused Automobilista to be yanked from Steam – details we’ll never know thanks to Reiza being forced to remain silent in regards to specifics – a copyright claim this severe sends a shockwave effect through the rest of the game’s development cycle. Reiza Studios simply can’t afford to acquire the rights to many of the cars featured in their racing simulators, and their development plan has been to use fictional marquees in an effort to acquire a diverse roster of cars; everything from a V8 Supercar-spec Holden Commodore, to several historic Formula One seasons, are represented by basically not calling them Holden’s or Ferrari’s. Already, their comprehensive post-release DLC plan features a Porsche GT3 entry – lovingly nicknamed the “Boxer Cup GT3”.
Formula One owns the direct copyright to Grand Prix events, usage of their official logos, and certain brand markings that have become synonymous with the most expensive and prestigious racing series in the world. The Formula One Group, otherwise known as Formula One Management, comprises of individual companies which control the various rights, management, and licensing operations of the whole championship. While individual cars may be licensed out to different video game companies – for example, an older Marussia entry appears as default content in rFactor 2 – you’re typically not supposed to build an entire fleet of Formula One-looking cars with Formula One-looking liveries. This falls under the “likeness” part of copyright rules, and it’s my personal belief that this is where Reiza ran afoul. While Reiza will obviously publicly deny any connection, to anyone with a few functioning brain cells, the South American team built multiple complete Formula One seasons within Automobilista, sans the appropriate brand logos.
The official press release by the developer team in question claims that Automobilista includes a list of licensed content alongside fictional, original creations. Let’s be real here, this is little more than generic jargon spit out to cover their asses. Unless you are the type of Formula One fan who obsesses over minor aero package oddities, it’s clear as day that Reiza have included several historic and modern Formula One seasons within Automobilista without the express written permission of Formula One themselves.
You can’t do this. You would have a compelling argument if the liveries were completely fictional, or featured a design for each Sim Racing news outlet (which would be kind of cool, though we’re sure we’d be left out), but when you’re recreating entire Formula One seasons to the point where any idiot can figure it out just by putting the pictures next to each other… Yeah, that’s not gonna fly.
So while I still think it’s horrible that an extremely small community who genuinely do not intend any harm are being chased around by the biggest auto racing series in the world, this is a situation that does not favor Reiza in the present, nor in the future. Alongside all of these totally not Formula One cars included in the default package, Automobilista is a title that was designed to live off of unlicensed content baring a striking resemblance to real-world brands and race cars. Even if they resolve the ordeal with Bernie’s boys, who’s to say Porsche won’t come knocking in a few months time?