Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Nutaku caught abusing DMCA takedowns to censor evidence of censorship

Nutaku has a long history of undisclosed censorship, but this is surprisingly little known among eroge fans. DMCA abuses suggest a deliberate cover-up.

Disclosure: One of my image galleries was affected by these DMCA takedowns. I have an active affiliate marketing relationship with Nutaku (and Nutaku knows this) and thus I have an incentive NOT to report this.



Censorship is alive and well in the video game industry (incomplete list of censored games on Wikipedia).  Yet while companies like NIS America are widely panned for censoring games for English release, they disclose that their games are censored and publicize the alterations.  Adult game companies are held to an even higher standard, and disclosure of censorship incites sharp criticism from fans and pledges to boycott.  Yet despite this, companies like JAST USA still disclose censorship to their fans because they recognize they have the responsibility to do so.

Rising adult gaming star Nutaku deliberately hides the fact that its games are censored from its customers

And then we have Nutaku.  This upstart company, launched in December 2014, has experienced explosive growth.  As of May 2016, Nutaku boasts 13 million monthly visitors to its site, likely orders of magnitude greater than competitors JAST USA and MangaGamer.  Buoyed by their success, Nutaku has launched an adult gaming store and cajoled JAST USA and MangaGamer into paying them royalties for the privilege of selling their games on Nutaku's "Steam for adult games".  To achieve this rush of support, surely Nutaku must be doing something right?

Or is Nutaku just very good at telling people what they want to hear?

Nutaku has been lying to its users since their inception.  They lure users in with cartoon porn advertisements and claims that they're "fighting gaming censorship".  Meanwhile, they've been quietly censoring their own games without telling a soul, seemingly crossing their fingers that no one would notice.  Well, we noticed.

A brief history of Nutaku censorship

Nutaku has been censoring games from the very start.  Their removal of many characters from their most popular title, Millennium Wars Aigis, severely disrupted game balance and caused considerable outcry from the few users who found out about it.

Characters removed from Nutaku's Millenium Wars Aigis

These characters were removed because they were considered too young-looking for Western audiences.  In response to the backlash, Nutaku experimented with other types of censorship that would be better tolerated.  Nutaku retained all characters in Osawari Island, instead completely redrawing character faces and bodies to make them look more "mature".

Comparison shots demonstrating Nutaku's censorship of Osawari Island (gone, likely DMCA'd; second gallery linked by Justin iZ Here in the comments)

Nutaku was taken by surprise when the small group of fans who found about it were still unhappy.  Perhaps learning from these incidents, Nutaku made alterations in subsequent titles more subtle.  Lolis were given ample breasts, since breast size clearly indicates sexual maturity and readiness for sex.  Scenes involving tentacle rape were stealthily substituted with other creative options.  Nutaku indicates that tentacles represent bestiality, the exploitation of a creature that is incapable of giving meaningful consent to sex, and therefore tentacle rape would represent statutory rape of the tentacles.  Yet still some fans weren't satisfied, and privately Nutaku discussed quietly rolling back these much-maligned alterations.

Girls Kingdom also did not escape the censors' brush.  I gathered a pair of comparison shots of the DMM and Nutaku versions as a sample of the censorship in Girls Kingdom.  These are likely just the tip of the iceberg, and the cuts could very well run much deeper.

Girls Kingdom DMM vs. Nutaku Image Comparisons (DMCA'd but re-uploaded 9/5/16)

Even with me drawing attention to it on a small island of the Internet, only a tiny fraction of Girls Kingdom users will likely ever realize they're playing a censored game.

In all, Nutaku has censored a wide variety of content in their games including: lolis, tentacle scenes (bestiality), blood, religious garb and symbols, and symbols of bondage.  To my knowledge, they have not once told their audience what games and what content are censored, or specific alterations made to each game.

Nutaku's Dark Pact

All of this might make it seem like Nutaku are a bunch of SJWs intent on cleansing porn of distasteful elements that offend their sensibilities.  I don't think this is true.  No, they're just cowards who have made a pact with the Dark Lord to gain access to resources that no mere eroge company should have.

Nutaku, with offices in Montreal, Canada and Bucharest, Romania, appears to be a subsidiary of porn giant MindGeek.  MindGeek is the massive conglomerate which oversees the PornHub network and has a near-monopoly over the online pornography market.  MindGeek is the Microsoft of Internet porn, and Nutaku's pact with them is how they've grown so fast.  MindGeek, with offices in Canada and a focus on live-action porn, is likely subject to Canada's infamously draconian restrictions on adult content (directly or indirectly; companies don't like to talk about this), and they appear to have passed some or all of these suffocating regulatory burdens down to Nutaku.  A JAST forums user in 2011 compiled a list of eroge that have been banned by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA).  The list includes typical eroge such as Lightning Warrior Raidy and The Sagara Family.

B-but, payment processors and credit cards are the bad guys!

Nutaku has contended privately, and recently more openly, that payment processors, banks, and credit card companies are imposing these restrictions, and Nutaku is merely complying like the good toadies they are.  And indeed, there is evidence of this.  The war on the porn industry is real.  Also take a look at adult payment processor Zombaio's rules for terms that should not appear anywhere on client sites.

Adult payment processor Zombaio: Bad Word Checklist

VISA appears to have similar rules: Brand Protection and Use of the Visa-Owned Marks
A Member must not use the Visa-Owned Marks:
  • In any manner that may bring the Visa-Owned Marks or Visa Inc. or its affiliates into disrepute
  • In relation to, or for the purchase or trade of, photographs, video imagery, computer-generated images, cartoons, simulation, or any other media or activities including, but not limited to, any of the following:
              – Child pornography
              – Bestiality
              – Rape (or any other non-consensual sexual behavior)
              – Non-consensual mutilation of a person or body part

So not Nutaku's fault, right?  That's what I thought at first.  Then I started questioning what Nutaku was telling me.

Let's review the content that has been removed from Nutaku's games: lolis, tentacle scenes (bestiality), blood, religious garb and symbols, and symbols of bondage.

JAST USA and MangaGamer, which mainly sell to customers in the US, have both published games featuring unaltered content from each of these categories.

In addition, I spoke to JAST USA about Nutaku's problems and asked them about their own experiences with their North American-based payment processor.  The JAST USA representative responded as follows:
We have many years of experience in the video game industry and a good relationship with our processor gateway, so the issue has never come up. Perhaps part of this can be attributed to the quality of our titles? I’d like to think so at least. 
Nutaku wants to become the global aggregate market for the “adult game” niche, so they face different problems than we do. 
When we agreed to partner with Nutaku, one of our chief concerns was their methods of selecting titles for their marketplace. Not in a censorship sense, but in terms of quality and country regulations. If their other partners have similar concerns then I would imagine Nutaku’s content guidelines are in part decided by the sum total of all these expectations. 
We don’t have many limiting factors when it comes to our titles, and so we try our best to release titles uncensored. When we can’t it’s due to legality concerns – we don’t self-censor, in other words. We’re pleased with the recent trends that point towards more freedom to allow mature content in games.
tldr; JAST USA hasn't had any issues with payment processors in two decades of selling Japanese pornographic games with more extreme content than anything currently on Nutaku.  Even JAST doesn't know WTF Nutaku is whining about.  Not convinced?  Check out:

J-List, partner company to JAST (both owned by Peter Payne), also carries MangaGamer's euphoria, which is literally torture porn.

But maybe finding an appropriate payment processor is hard.  Maybe JAST USA and MangaGamer have advantages because they're more established.  Ok.  But just this February MangaGamer was dropped by its payment processor when a credit card thief racked up thousands of dollars in fraudulent transactions.  A month later they'd found a new payment processor which STILL lets them publish games like euphoria that make even JAST's lineup look tame.

I'll admit: Nutaku had even me fooled with their sleight-of-hand and doubletalk.  But the evidence is damning.  Nutaku is just passing the blame for their own incompetence.

A project to document censorship in eroge

For a time, I took Nutaku's excuses at face value.  But regardless, I was unhappy with the coverup.  Customers should know that they're buying a censored product.  And thus I started my most ambitious project yet: a sortable list of all the eroge that had been censored for English release, descriptions of what had been censored, and where or how to get an uncensored version (when possible).

Nutaku's games feature prominently on this list (Non-English original, indie tab).  Since I have to rely on fragmented user reports (because Nutaku never discloses censorship), Nutaku titles are likely underrepresented.  ALL Nutaku adult browser games should be assumed to be censored; my list simply documents confirmed censorship.

Eroge with a censored official English release, a comprehensive list

This would be the anti-censorship warrior's Excalibur: a weapon to expose and slay the demons of censorship wherever they might hide.  I forged this sword in the fires of righteous indignation, tempered it in the smouldering embers of forgotten flame wars, and enchanted it with the divine wrath of Liberty.  I left this Sword of Light in a stone at the foot of my dwelling as a warning to those with wicked hearts, and then I continued on my next adventure.

But the Nutaku turned out to be no ordinary fiend, for when I returned the sword had been chipped.

Nutaku censors the evidence that it has censored

On 7/28/16 I received a notice from Imgur saying that 8 unspecified images had been taken down in response to a DMCA notice from an unspecified 3rd party.  I asked for a copy of the DMCA notice, which I've reproduced here.

Nutaku had DMCA'd a gallery of 4 pairs of HCG from 3 H-scenes in Girls Kingdom showing the differences between the DMM (Japanese) and Nutaku (English) versions.  The game has hundreds of such CG and at least 50 H-scenes.  A typical store page includes more sample images than I displayed.  In addition, the gallery was clearly labeled as depicting censorship, with a written description for each picture describing what had been censored.

I immediately (7/28/16) contacted Nutaku by e-mail and Twitter to ask what was going on.  I regularly correspond with Nutaku PR representative Robert Mann, the person who sent the DMCA, and he hadn't once complained to me about the gallery since I uploaded it on 2/25/16.  As of 8/3/16, Nutaku has not responded.  Instead, they had a chat with the head of LewdGamer, who contacted me on 8/2/16 and confirmed that Nutaku didn't want to talk to me about this.  Coincidentally, Nutaku had grumbled to me on 7/21/16 about users linking my censored eroge list on Sankaku Complex.  Word was getting out, and perhaps that made Nutaku uncomfortable?

Ok, so maybe I pissed off Nutaku and they wanted to give me a nice slap.  I have that effect on people.  But then I checked my post on Harem-Battle where I originally reported (discreetly) on Nutaku's censorship.  Not only had MY Imgur gallery been DMCA'd; the other Imgur gallery by a different user with comparison pictures of Osawari Island was ALSO missing, likely DMCA'd as well.

Ok, so maybe my gallery was just caught in an automated sweep and taken down by mistake.  It happens.  But then--why would Nutaku refuse to talk to me?  They should be happy to withdraw the DMCA if it was a mistake.

The head of LewdGamer said Nutaku insisted that posting these images in a public image gallery was copyright infringement.  Unfortunately it was clear that he was just (badly) echoing Nutaku and didn't really understand the issue himself, so that left me back at square one.

So, I did what I usually do: I looked up Fair Use and taught myself.
Commentary and Criticism 
If you are commenting upon or critiquing a copyrighted work — for instance, writing a book review — fair use principles allow you to reproduce some of the work to achieve your purposes. Some examples of commentary and criticism include:
  • quoting a few lines from a Bob Dylan song in a music review
  • summarizing and quoting from a medical article on prostate cancer in a news report
  • copying a few paragraphs from a news article for use by a teacher or student in a lesson
  • copying a portion of a Sports Illustrated magazine article for use in a related court case.
The underlying rationale of this rule is that the public reaps benefits from your review, which is enhanced by including some of the copyrighted material. Additional examples of commentary or criticism are provided in the examples of fair use cases.
Why, what I and others have done sounds exactly like Fair Use!  Imagine that.  I knew I wasn't a pirate!

Nutaku of course knows what Fair Use is too, but they figure that users won't fight them.  And they are right.  Imgur offered to reinstate the gallery if I filed an official counterclaim and demonstrated the DMCA was invalid.  The catch: I'd have to give them my personal information, and they'd relay this to Nutaku.  Like Hell I'm going to fork over my personal information and open myself up to doxxing.

So we see that Nutaku has knowingly filed at least one (almost certainly) invalid DMCA, and likely many many more, in an effort to subvert revelations of censorship in their titles.  Do note that when people had spread the word about this censorship, they often just shared the galleries.  Now those galleries are gone and those links are dead.

Final words

I could continue on about Nutaku's incompetence and how they've utterly ruined the only game of their's I play (point 7, if you're interested).  But I've written enough and I'm sure 99.9% of those reading won't care about Nutaku's terribly mismanaged browser game.  Suffice to say I've never seen an English eroge publisher so badly screw up a game, and I've been around since 2003 and witnessed terrific incompetence.  From what I hear, Nutaku's most popular game, Millennium War Aigis, hasn't fared much better.

Nutaku promises that its downloadable game store will be 100% uncensored.  But after all this, do you really trust them?  Is this a company that can be trusted?  Is this a company that is even capable of delivering on its promises?  Or are they just saying they won't allow games on their store that have content that makes them uncomfortable?

It seems to me that Nutaku will tell whoever will listen whatever they want to hear.  And that's really where Nutaku shines: not as a gaming company, but as a political machine.  Sekai Project should be taking notes.

Edit 8/3/16: Nutaku has responded to the accusation of DMCA abuse (I've replied in that thread also).
Edit 9/5/16: I've re-uploaded the Girls Kingdom gallery since Nutaku has not challenged my claims of "Fair Use".

How to show your support

Don't like what Nutaku is doing?  Spread this around.  Retweet it.  Share it on your favorite subreddit.  Urge LewdGamer to cover it.  Wherever Nutaku might be, now or in the future, expose Nutaku's lies--until the day comes that they mend their ways and act like a responsible adult gaming company.  A sword is a mere ornament without a wielder.  Be that wielder.

If you would like to support me and help me expose censorship like this, follow me on Twitter and click my J-List affiliate link to purchase eroge from their store.

And don't forget to check out my censored eroge list.

Related: LewdGamer's Interview with Nutaku: Highlights and Analysis

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