GTA creator reports Rockstar put copyright strikes on his prototype videos

Grand Theft Auto 1
(Image credit: DMA Design)

One of the founding members of DMA Design, the studio that created the Grand Theft Auto franchise, is the latest victim of Take-Two and Rockstar's itchy copyright trigger finger. Videos posted to YouTube by developer Mike Dailly from his early time at DMA Design were taken down on copyright strikes. Dailly was the first employee at DMA Design and later created the graphics engine for GTA, the bedrock for the series' now-famous style.

Dailly first reported the event on Twitter, where he said that Rockstar were "issuing copyright strikes to any GTA video they can find - including both my prototype videos. So now they're trying to block all release of anyone's work on a game - and any old development footage." Dailly's Twitter was also affected, forcing the removal of a link to download a 25-year-old GTA 2 design document.

Two videos posted to Dailly's YouTube channel were renders from prototype graphics styles Dailly developed in the early 1990s. One was a rotating, isometric prototype, the other a top-down prototype, both of city streets and buildings. The third was footage from an old beta copy of Grand Theft Auto. Contacted for comment, Dailly told PC Gamer that the listed reason for the takedown was posting development footage without permission.

DMA Design was acquired by Rockstar in 1999 and renamed Rockstar North. It was responsible for the creation of Grand Theft Auto, establishing the energy of a now quite long-lived series. Dailly's time at DMA Design also produced Lemmings, which went on to be a widely-loved series. Dailly left DMA Design shortly before the acquisition. The other DMA Design founders left around the same time, with official founder David Jones departing just after GTA2 released.

The original Grand Theft Auto is not currently available for sale in any format, other than second-hand physical copies.

Dailly has since taken obvious steps to protect himself from Rockstar's legal department across his social media. "I've now removed all GTA dev stuff. Only direct examples of my own work are left - work that was never used in GTA, but "inspired" parts of its evolution," he said.

Dailly seems understandably frustrated by the circumstances. "Developers should always be allowed to show their work, especially works that are 28 years old!" he said in a message. 

Dailly's point is well made. It's genuinely hard to imagine what legitimate business or copyright interest Take-Two could have here, while only those interested in history and preservation are harmed by the removal of the videos and design document for games Take-Two can't even be bothered to sell. Dailly's YouTube channel has less than 2,000 subscribers, and the videos themselves had a few hundred views.

The GTA series is no stranger to controversy, but it feels like lately that's almost entirely down to the behavior of Take-Two's legal department or for how it treats its workers.

PC Gamer has reached out to both Take-Two and Rockstar for comment, but did not receive a response by publication.

Jon Bolding is a games writer and critic with an extensive background in strategy games. When he's not on his PC, he can be found playing every tabletop game under the sun.