How to deal with a Kickstarter IP dispute

posted in: blog, kickstarter lesson | 14

I was unlucky enough to have to deal with Kickstarter’s integrity team and an IP dispute with my very first Kickstarter campaign.  It was incredibly stressful and frustrating, but in the end I was able to get everything back on track and definitely learned from the experience.  I decided to blog about some of the particulars of going through this for anyone else who may be unlucky enough to face a similar problem.  I should also mention that I did not receive any legal notices or cease and desist letters – this was strictly a Kickstarter issue.

How it happened

I don’t want to dwell on this too long but I named my game Steamcraft over a year ago.  Before settling on the name, I searched the internet, the US trademark database, grabbed steamcraftgame.com, checked Board Game Geek and a few other websites.  The only thing that I found at the time was a free community Minecraft mod called Steamcraft.  I proceeded to use the name in all my press, at conventions like PAX, in reviews etc and eventually launched my Kickstarter at the end of September and got funded in under 5 days.  During the 3rd week of my campaign, someone named Boris sent me a message asking if my game was related to the Steamcraft RPG kickstarter.   I told him it was not, but was definitely bummed when I searched and found this kickstarter that raised $7k back in 2012 – he ran a second one to even less success in 2014.  I was disappointed but told myself that a card game is very different from a RPG – especially one without components.  The Kickstarter only had 126 backers and I only had 10 days or so left so I felt that it was too late to really change anything on the Kickstarter campaign.  That all changed when the guy behind that Kickstarter opened an IP dispute.  The guy did email me before contacting Kickstarter and I responded with some questions – he never answered them and hasn’t responded to any emails after raising the issue with Kickstarter.

How a Kickstarter IP dispute works

Let’s get away from my personal plight and onto the nitty gritty of how Kickstarter’s IP dispute system works.  First thing to note is that Kickstarter accepted the fact that there were other Kickstarters with the name as proof of IP infringement.  Kickstarter didn’t contact me first or wait for my response.  My project was immediately hidden from public view and worst of all, backers were notified via that the project was locked because of the IP issue case.  When your project is in this dispute state, you cannot post updates to the project to notify all your backers and the only thing they can do is manage (aka cancel) their pledge or message you directly through Kickstarter.  The notice Kickstarter sends is very generic and I was immediately inundated with messages from backers asking what was going on.

Here’s the information that you receive from Kickstarter when this happens:

“Rather than immediately cancel your project, Kickstarter has a system that lets us simply remove it from public view. Your project’s funding (and the countdown to its deadline) is paused, but pledges and lines of communication stay intact. This leaves room for project recovery if the dispute is resolved with the trademark owner. If a project is successful, pledges will not be collected while a project remains in dispute. If the dispute is resolved, pledges can be collected and the project restored to public view.

The project will be hidden for 30 days. If you do not resolve the trademark dispute with the trademark owner in that time, the project will be canceled.”

Urgent isn’t so Urgent for Kickstarter

After you get this message, there is a big red notice that reads Urgent: your project is the subject of an IP dispute on your creator dashboard.  It felt pretty urgent and my clock was still counting down so I emailed Kickstarter immediately and told them that this was completely unintentional and coincidental.

email1

email2

This response pretty much ruined my weekend.  It sounded like because I scheduled my project to end at a particular time that it wouldn’t be paused and that I was going to lose days of my final week because of this.  I definitely felt like I was going to have to cancel, but first I needed to update my backers and get my project unlocked.  I spent the weekend renaming my project and editing my project page to reflect the name change.  I deleted all my graphics with Steamcraft on them, but didn’t remove my project video or all the 3rd party video reviews.  I was pretty confident that at 10am on Monday, I would be back up and operational.  Nope!

email3

So the important thing to takeaway from this process is to just delete or change everything mentioned in the IP dispute.  Eradicate everything related to the disputed title, word, song, or whatever because as you can see – there’s no urgency on Kickstarter’s end and it’s just going to prolong your pain.  After my page was a sad shadow of itself (and video-less), my project was reinstated that evening at 6pm.  Hurrah!

email4

I was delighted to see that despite my Kickstarter counting down while hidden, I didn’t lose any time once it was unhidden (even if it’s now ending at a terrible time in the USA).  All in all, I was pretty happy with Kickstarter’s support but just frustrated and stressed by the slow responses. It would’ve been a lot stressful if I knew for sure I wasn’t losing time.

Lessons Learned:

  • Search Kickstarter before naming your project or game since they accept that as evidence of IP infringement
  • People don’t need a registered trademark to open a dispute with Kickstarter (USPTO search)
  • If you project is hidden you don’t lose time! Even if you had a set end date like I did instead of a simple 30 day campaign.
  • Be patient with Kickstarter Support – they are pretty slow.
  • Remove and delete everything brought up in the dispute – including your video! (you can do a terrible job redubbing it afterwards like I did). You can always edit your project page after your project is unlocked.
  • Get your project back online and publicly viewable ASAP so that you can post an update to backers and stop messaging people one at a time.
  • Message all of the backers that canceled while you were hidden (It was still a net loss for me, but I did get a few back after messaging them)

Anyways I hope this is helpful for anyone unlucky enough to have this happen to them, but I don’t wish it on any of you! I’ve decided to keep going with my campaign (there’s still a few days left) rather than cancel and relaunch, but I think there is an argument to be made about trying to relaunch as well.  I just didn’t want to have to re-spend all of my advertising money. Special thanks to all of my amazing backers who sent me positive messages while my project was hidden.

 

14 Responses

  1. That’s interesting that “Kickstarter Copyright” was the one to email you, given that the Copyright Act does not protect names, titles, or short phrases!

    They are correct, however, that a trademark does not have to be registered with the USPTO to be valid; it just has to be in use in commerce. The registration of a trademark provides a variety of advantages if you ever need to enforce your mark in court, but it’s not required. See: http://www.uspto.gov/trademarks/basics/register.jsp

    • Yeah I get that. It just sucks that a relatively unheard of Kickstarter constitutes ip rights. I mean 130 people that’s it. It’s not like this was scythe or exploding kittens.

      • Charles j. Geringer

        It think it is great that a relatively unheard of Kickstarter constitutes ip rights.

        It is a good thing that the popularity of the project does not affect the holding. After all if it were otherwise someone with marketing budget could see a cool project they liked and make the name their own trough marketing. That must never be allowed.

        • My comment was about overall knowledge and name recognition of something – not that small or indie guys shouldn’t have IP rights. It’s not like I was trying to profit off of his IP, his world or anything having to do with his RPG. I just happened to come up with the same name and owned steamcraftgame.com. A tabletop RPG book is very different from a card game and the only reason that the IP owner was upset was because he was planning a tabletop game and card game behind closed doors – not because there would be any confusion about his existing product and my game. He actually suggested that I change my name to Steamcrafters. I’m pretty sure I could have changed the name to SteamKraft and avoided the IP dispute (which is stupid). Once I found out about the RPG, it wasn’t worth it to me and I wanted to differentiate myself from his RPG.

  2. Fuck that. You were clearly the IP holder in this case. I’d lawyer up and get a restraining order against KickStarter. Force them to reinstate your project immediately.

    • Not worth it to me since his rpg did exist. I blogged about how I renamed and got the Kickstarter back up.

    • Charles j. Geringer

      why would you say he was the IP holder? The name was used by the other team since at least 2012.

      It sucks and I know that he arrived at the name legitimaly and independently, but the other team was using the name earlier.

  3. Derik @ Lagniappe

    Wow. That really stinks. Sorry you had to ensure that mess, but I really appreciate you sharing the experience and lessons learned 😀

  4. What happens when your Kickstarter is suspended for trademark infringement? - Zachary C. Strebeck: Attorney at Law

    […] Brian Henk of Overworld Games sent me a link to a story by game designer Michael Gnade. The blog post detailed a recent Kickstarter IP dispute over the Rock Manor Games release “Steamcraft” (now […]

  5. What happens when your Kickstarter is suspended for trademark infringement? - GeekTechTalk

    […] of Overworld Games sent me a link to a story by game designer Michael Gnade. The blog post detailed a recent Kickstarter IP dispute over the Rock Manor Games release […]

  6. Cosmo Stargood

    I think it’s rather odd that your Google search would not pick up the SteamCraft RPG. Right now a “steamcraft” search shows a Kickstarter project with your old name as hit #3 and the RPG Kickstarter project as hit #4. Plus there are other hits for the RPG. I suppose that maybe those RPG hits wouldn’t have shown up a few months ago when you looked.

    • As mentioned in the post – when I came up with the name it was over a year ago so a current google search is not the same results that you would’ve gotten October 2014.

  7. […] kind of amazing how quickly this escalated. There have been document cases in the past in which Kickstarter has used another option when dealing with IP disputes. Sometimes, […]

  8. […] of you may have read my blog post about the whole IP debacle (How to Deal with a Kickstarter IP dispute) – in a lot of ways it was for the best and has yielded a much better game name (IMO), but from a […]

Leave a Reply