Free content: When it goes wrong

11 minutes

A screenshot of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0) template from Wikimedia Commons. This license is one of the free content license that authors can choose. The template is used to indicate files that are licensed with the license. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

You just created a free content. You publish it on the public space and let people use your content freely. I said that you are cool. What’s that? Someone use your creation for money? I mean, didn’t you said that’s a free content? Here’s a little blabber of when it goes wrong.

This is a post that supposed to be a Twitter thread, but I decided to do it as a blog post.

Sometime around early December 2022, I played Funky Friday, a game/experience on Roblox. At that time the countdown has lapsed, and the Sonic Prime event is started. It was an interesting event, incorporating Sonic elements on something that is quite… unrelated. Nonetheless, I saw it as a nice event, even though I didn’t play the Sonic songs on it.

On the next day, I saw this tweet of the FNF creator.

ur right dave lets consult our lawyers about our options

— ninja_muffin99 🆖 (@ninja_muffin99), 11 December 2022

An interesting response, they are seeking for legal advice about it. It seems that it is quite a large problem to some. Let’s talk about it.

Some context

Funky Friday is a Roblox game/experience that is based on Friday Night Funkin’. If you know anything about StepMania, Pump It Up, osu!mania, etc, FNF is basically that game, having 4 keys that you have to tap to the rhythm, except that you have two single player charts, played by two players (some know this as a “couple mode”), and it is called a “rap battle,” but don’t worry about it.

Funky Friday is created by Lyte Interactive, a group of game developers, it seems. In May 2022, they are partnering with (or owned by, depending on how you intepret it) with Gamefam, which is a large game company, owning lots of games on Roblox and some Minecraft servers. In the portfolio of Gamefam, Funky Friday is third in terms of views with 1,5B views, followed by Tower of Misery with 3,3B views and All Star Tower Defense with 4,8B views.

One of games that Gamefam made is Sonic Speed Simulator, a game where you just run around and get faster (which I still don’t understand the appeal) and it is actually licensed by SEGA (or “official”, as shown on the first line of the game). You know what else Sonic in this post? Sonic Prime, of course, which is a TV series that is set to release on 15 December 2022 by Netflix.

With Gamefam holding the license of the Sonic francise, whose stopping them to hype it up, by holding a premiere event on the game? Yes, you can watch the first episode of it, inside Roblox, five days before the VOD release. Not only that, they also hype it on the other affiliated games, one of which is Funky Friday.

This seems like your usual marketing campaign, that doesn’t necessarily hurt anybody. Not for the authors of Friday Night Funkin’, which is quite disappointed.

A little bit of FNF history: Friday Night Funkin’ is a project that has roots of Newgrounds. You may say that it is like those old Flash games, but with new technolgies because Flash is a bust, with an exception that it is one of the project that reaches the recognition of the general audience, similar to the Henry Stickmin series. It may be next epitome of Newgrounds of this decade. The remix culture of which FNF embraced is basically sourced from the values of Newgrounds, in my opinion.

This remix culture allows people to create derivative works of other works. This is embraced by FNF, and why you see lots of mods and other kind of derivative that you can make. The equivalent of this on the software side is free and open-source software, which is also embraced by the game, as Apache-2.0 license is used. The short is FNF is one of the free content that you can have from the internet. We will discuss more about it later.

And here we are now: ninja_muffin99, the creator of Friday Night Funkin’, has sent a tweet that the team is now seeking legal advice of what has been done on Funky Friday. Let’s take a look what has been done here, about what has been done to the game.

Let’s take time to discuss whether it is legal, because there are some misunderstanding between the community.

As previously mention, Friday Night Funkin’ is licensed under the terms of the Apache License 2.0. It is a permissive license; you can basically do anything, as long the copyright notice is present (aka. credit given), allowing for remix culture to happen.

In terms of the concept of “vertical scrolling rhythm game”; no, you can’t copyright an idea or concept. That’s why the previosly mentioned games, such as StepMania, exists, and so is RoBeats.

In terms of the assets, code or not; it can be assumed that it is covered with this license (this is ambiguous, it may not true). This means Funky Friday is allowed to do these things, by the terms of Apache-2.0 license.

  • Modify/derivate and/or reuse the assets, code, etc to their liking
  • Patent and private usage
  • Distribute, or redistribute the software
  • Commercial and non-commercial usage

The usage by Funky Friday is commercial usage. Even before the “integration” of Sonic, they sell a variety of content and that is monetized. This is commercial use, and for the Sonic Prime context, it is safe to assume that the related dealings will result in a monetary gain. Again, the license allows it.

Keep in mind that…

  • This is regardless about how the other content is being used, which may have relevant permissions which varies a lot. For example, mod creators will give a different set of permission.
  • This is also regardless about the usage of the Roblox UCG content, which may have some sort of agreements/arrangements, either by other creators contributing by creating content, or some kind of comission work.

“Ethical or not” is irrelevant here, but will be discussed in the next section.

So, what can be concluded is that Funky Friday did is within the terms of the license and hence, is legal. It is fine, legally.

Is it “ethical”?

Apart of the legality, most of the readers would point out the ethical standpoint. I want to address this in a short manner.

In a capitalistic world, you would focus on profit. Let’s be honest, when you have a business, would you focus on profit first or ethical first? You probably chose the latter if that could increase your profit.

When there is chance, you would try to seize it. This includes money. It sucks, but that’s what it is.

Is it “licensed”?

Here’s another question which is a little bit unrelated, but I think it is still good to address it.

Take this tweet for example.

Part of the Sonic Prime event also expands to other Roblox games, and it’s… weird.

Funky Friday is a licensed Friday Night Funkin’ game for Roblox. It also has a Sonic EXE in there, and I watched someone play Sonic Heroes’ Bingo Highway in the Sonic Schoolhouse.

— Sonic The Hedgeblog (@Sonic_Hedgeblog), 10 December 2022

Some people really put weight on the word licensed. People also assume that people will assume that with the Gamefam dealings, it gives the validation that Funky Friday is licensed. So let’s get it straight, is it licensed?

One popular answer is this: No, there is not explicit, specific authorizaztion, permission, license, or anything that allows creators of Funky Friday to use Friday Night Funkin’. There is no something like “we gave you the permission to do this, that, etc,” or “we are affiliated to you,” or something like that. Notice that it doesn’t directly answer the question “is it licensed”. This is the misconception.

There is a reason why the Apache License 2.0 is a license. That’s what it is described in the previous section. If we want to be technical, the definition of a “license” is “an official document that gives you permission to own, do, or use something” or “to give someone permission to make, produce, or use something that you have created or that belongs to you”. The Apache-2.0 license is a document that gives you certain permissions as described.

So when some say that it is unlicensed, it doesn’t hold that much weight.

It is technically true that everything that is derived from FNF is licensed, but it is also true that you don’t often hear the word “licensed” in this kind of world where remix culture is normal.

A surfacing challenge; awareness is important

It is safe to assume Gamefam knows what they are doing here; stretching what can they do with a free project. I also assume that they may ready to face legal challenges. If there’s such a thing, it could be a precedence on the existence of derivatives of FNF.

For such general work, it may be going to be one of the same stories where some actor uses a free content with permissive license to their gain, like where someone got mad when his tool get “used” or when Getty Images get sued for licensing a public domain collection of images.

With that, it is important for creators to really, really know what they are doing when it comes on creating free content. It is important to know that creators have these default rights on their own work, and they are able to give people proper permission of someone to the work. One example is by using premade licenses which anyone can pick one and use it on their work, permitting certain permissions as the authors wish, with significantly no doubts or assumptions. One example is the Creative Commons licenses. You may also modify it, whatever works. Creating your own license that explicitly describes what people can do is also a way, but this may be a hurdle to some.

This also true if you want to say “I allow people to do whatever they want, no exceptions” or “I allow people to do that, but please give me credit”. You should still state it.

Releasing these kinds of contents would require at least a little bit of consideration. They have to understand the possible positive and negative consequences. It can’t be emphasized more to describe how important all of these to be understand, especially when you have some kind of either emotional or economical weight on it.

I have to point out that this is not a word for discouragement for sharing what you love. Your work, your rules, but please be aware on the copyright rights that you have, in which you can either keep it or waive it, whole or in part. You want to make sure that you don’t want to be angry when someone does the unthinkable.

None of this is legal advice.

Law is complicated. So much things can be intepreted in one way or another. That’s why some people would prefer to play safe. For example, if you intent to let people use your work, but you don’t state your intentions, the safest bet that people take is to keep it alone.

This is why lawyers exists, and also why I think it is justified for ninja_muffin99 to seek these legal advice, especially since some people still think it is “unethical”.

People also find these as a stretch. As someone who deals with software licenses, I may get things wrong. If you know better about this case, please let me know.

On the final note, here’s a comment from Hacker News. It says “software” on it, but this also true for any free content.

I hate to be that guy, but idealism in software needs to die.

Don’t use a license that’s more permissive than you’re willing to tolerate.

It’s absurd to me for a project to publish something with a 100% open source license and then complain when somebody tries to profit off of it.

Doesn’t really matter how egregious or large the perpetrator is. If you want exceptions, write it into the license. People want the goodwill that comes with open source, without accepting the consequences.

That being said, I do empathize with the plight of the author. Perhaps they were naive to this possibility.

— adam_arthur, 23 May 2021


  • With the Apache 2.0 license, what is Funky Friday done is not prohibited.
  • Copyright owners should learn their rights on their work, even if they are lenient on it.
  • Friday Night Funkin’ is “licensed”, in terms of “it is licensed under the terms of Apache 2.0 license”.

Tags: en, copyright

Category: Article