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.
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!
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!
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.
- 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.