Update: We’ve made some corrections to this piece to clarify that, while this is a victory for Jim Sterling, it’s a result of Digital Homicide agreeing to a settlement, rather than the court tossing the lawsuit, as the original suggested.
The saga of game developer Digital Homicide whipped through our pages like an idiotic windstorm. This gust of blustery nonsense started with the company’s lawsuit against a game critic, Jim Sterling, then moved on to it suing Steam users over reviews they wrote, before twirling into the stage where Valve banned Digital Homicide games from Steam entirely and the company stated it planned to shut down operations. All of that happened in the span of six months, which would be impressive if it weren’t so sad.
Still, the resolution of the threats against Steam users wasn’t the end of the story. The lawsuit against Sterling was still out there, a $10 million dollar anvil hanging over the game critic’s head. Until this week, that is, when the court in which the suit had been filed dismissed it with prejudice as part of a settlement agreement between the two parties.
Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), the parties hereby stipulate and agree to the dismissal of all claims in this action, including the claims raised in the Amended Complaint of February 3, 2017, with prejudice with each party to bear its own costs and attorneys’ fees.
Plaintiff agrees to forever refrain from directly or indirectly filing against Defendant any cause of action arising from the same facts or circumstances alleged in the Amended Complaint. Plaintiff also agrees to refrain from taking action against Defendant’s business, such as sending DMCA takedown notices, without first considering whether Defendant is engaged in fair use of a copyright under 17 U.S.C. § 107, as required under federal law and Lenz v. Universal Music Corp., 801 F.3d 1126 (9th Cir. 2015).
And that will be the end of that. But Sterling wasn’t the only one casting a wary glance at this lawsuit. Many in the game-critiquing world watched on, wondering whether or not a court was going to allow a critic to be punished for doing his job. Were it to have happened, that would have sent a chilling effect through the gaming industry. Fortunately, it didn’t.
Which isn’t to say that this all ends without any blood being drawn.
What’s particularly disturbing about lawsuits like this is that, even in cases where they are clearly frivolous, as this was, they can force critics to spend significant amounts of money on legal defenses. Sterling had to hire a lawyer, Bradley Hartman, who helped convince the court to dismiss this case, which, in Sterling’s words, involved “series of allegations that were difficult to comprehend even for the one accused of them.”
“Not all threats from the Internet are idle ones, and I wouldn’t recommend anybody brush them off,” Sterling concluded.
Which is again why this country is desperately crying out for strong Anti-SLAPP laws at the federal level. Having to fend off these vacuous lawsuits with no recourse at the end is a burden without justification.