By Zachary Landau | Asst. A&E Editor
Last Tuesday Feb. 21, a year-long lawsuit against video game journalist Jim Sterling finally ended. Romine v. Stanton was dismissed with prejudice after both parties agreed to not continue with the case.
As a brief primer, Stanton, better known as Jim Sterling, covered one of Romine’s games back in 2014 by producing a first impressions video for his YouTube channel. This game, “The Slaughtering Grounds,” failed to impress Sterling, who lambasted it for poor controls, bugs and terrible visuals, among other things.
In response, Romine, acting under his company’s name, Digital Homicide Studios, filed a copyright claim on Sterling’s video a week after the studio began making remarks against Sterling and his review. Copyright claims are more advanced than typical content-ID claims that occur automatically on YouTube. Not only do such claims take down a video, but they partially shut down a person’s control over his or her channel. According to YouTube’s support page on the matter, this “may affect [the person’s] ability to monetize.”
Sterling decided to pursue a counter notification, and the takedown lifted after the time for Digital Homicide to take legal action ended.
Animosity between Sterling and DHS grew throughout the following year with Sterling continuing to cover the studio and DHS speaking out on social media. The two parties also occasionally had private, one-to-one contact, including a phone call and a conversation that both agreed to publish online.
This hostility between Romine and Stanton reached a fevered pitch last year when Romine filed a lawsuit against Sterling/Stanton in federal court in the District of Arizona, claiming that what Stanton wrote and said constituted “assault, libel, and slander.” Romine launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to raise money to afford an attorney, but that effort was quickly abandoned. Romine instead represented himself as a “pro se litigant.”
Not only were Romine’s initial filings riddled with common grammar and format errors (YouTube occasionally appears uncapitalized, for instance), but the basic thrust of Romine’s argument had a crucial flaw: He did not have one.
At least, that was the claim Stanton and his legal team made. Their stance, since the initial filing, was to move to dismiss on the grounds that Sterling’s comments were either opinion, and thus not subject to libel laws, or were true, verifiable statements — and that he never availed himself to Arizona, as he does not operate out of the state, nor was he subject to the state’s long-arm statutes. Sterling in fact lives and works in Jackson, Mississippi, and he uses the crowdfunding platform Patreon as a form of income.
Since filing the suit, Romine moved to amend his original claim twice. However, on Jan. 13, Judge John J. Tuchi ordered for Romine to appear in court as Digital Homicide with an attorney, or the case would be dismissed.
This stipulation was never met, as the lawyer representing Sterling, Bradley Hartman reached out to Romine and explained how Romine would not win the case.
As such, on Feb. 21, Romine v. Stanton was dismissed with prejudice, with both parties agreeing to cover their own legal costs. This type of decision is based on the merits of the case; “with prejudice” means that the same case cannot be filed by Romine against Sterling again.
Duquesne Journalism and Multimedia Arts Professor Jim Vota, who teaches Media Law for the department, emphasized that the claims levied against Sterling are unsubstantiated, considering the basis of libel claims.
“The question of libel is when you are making any false and defamatory statement,” Vota said. “And one of the rules of a defamatory statement is that they got to be based on some underlying fact. So if there are no underlying facts, what are you arguing?”
If this case were to actually find its way into court, it could potentially lead other journalists (and, frankly, all persons) to have to defend their opinions in court, according to Vota.
“Journalists voicing opinions would have to go into lower courts … to at least answer [to the] opinions they gave as if there is a possibility to do that,” Vota said. “What it would simply mean is that if somebody voiced their opinion and somebody didn’t like it, they would potentially be called into a court outside of their own jurisdiction … to defend the comment.”