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Former Aeon Must Die developer uses copyright claim to force trailer off publisher's YouTube channel

Dispute rumbles on.

A former Aeon Must Die developer has used a copyright claim to force the game's trailer off its publisher's YouTube channel.

Arsen Shakhbabyan, an animator who helped make the controversial Aeon Must Die trailer that first premiered during last year's PlayStation State of Play broadcast, had his attorney file the copyright claim after the trailer re-emerged on publisher Focus Home Interactive's YouTube channel last month.

The trailer for the game shown during the August 2020 State of Play, below, depicts a visually arresting beat-'em-up that caught the attention of PlayStation fans.

Cover image for YouTube videoAeon Must Die - World Premiere Trailer | PS4

But immediately following Aeon Must Die's high-profile video showcase airing, a version of the announcement trailer appeared on YouTube accompanied by a description alleging it had been created "with abuse, manipulation, theft" at Estonian studio Limestone Games.

"People who have worked on every shot of this are no longer with the company holding IP rights," the statement continued.

"Some were not even paid for their work. This trailer has a pending conflict of IP. The real IP for the game was stolen from the creators via foul play."

After the developers' complaint hit the headlines, Focus Home Interactive responded to what it called "serious allegations" relating to the alleged mistreatment of staff, and that "these grievances are directed at Limestone, their direct employer".

Fast forward a year to August's re-emergence of Aeon Must Die - when the trailer mysteriously popped up on Focus Home Interactive's YouTube page with no mention of last year's allegations - and no word on any conclusions drawn from its investigation.

The video, which had a number of negative comments pointing out last year's allegations, sparked a tweet from the former developers at Limestone Games, now working on a game called Immortal as part of a new studio called Mishura Games.

"We the former developers of Aeon Must Die! are confused and baffled by the announcement of Aeon Must Die!" the tweet read.

"No legal matters pertaining to the situation were solved and even more arose in the aftermath.

"The IP issues are not solved. The trademark for the product does not exist. No publisher investigation was conducted. Work for the trailer remains unpaid. Most of the animations in the game remain unpaid.

"Multiple legal attempts at REAL compromise have yielded nothing for the last year."

In response, Focus said it and Limestone "co-own" the Aeon Must Die IP, having signed a partnership in early 2019, and denied it had been stolen. "No party, legal or natural person could appropriate, steal or exploit the IP by its own will," Focus said.

Focus also denied it pushed for crunch on the project.

But Shakhbabyan was sufficiently angered by what happened that he moved to have the trailer removed from YouTube on 24th August - an effort that was, ultimately, successful.

"I was very angry, they had the audacity (or lack of brains) to upload the same trailer to YouTube, without any changes and new fragments, as well as delete comments from any people who write the truth about them," Shakhbabyan told Eurogamer in a conversation over Discord.

"Including myself, I wrote a comment under the video, like, 'Wow, cool that you are posting a trailer that I worked on without pay.' And you know what, they deleted the comment after 10 seconds. And this was repeated many times, I wrote more on purpose. And not only my comments were deleted.

"Oh yeah, marketing geniuses, they got 700,000 views, while the video had 550 likes and 350 dislikes... just idiots."

Focus Home Interactive has so far failed to respond to Eurogamer's repeated requests for comment.

The Aeon Must Die trailer is still up on the PlayStation YouTube channel, and Shakhbabyan told Eurogamer he does not intend to hit it with a similar copyright claim.

"I have no complaints about Sony, at least they do not delete comments," he said.

"It's a shame that Sony's event had to be spoiled like that last year. And at least in the team we have a lot of respect for them for not removing the trailer all this time with those comments and like-dislike... oooff."

With the trailer offline, Shakhbabyan told Eurogamer he now wants Focus Home Interactive to resolve all issues related to Aeon Must Die, and to pay him the money he says he is owed.

"And in the end, to start respecting the developers."

Meanwhile, Focus is working with Limestone Games, which appears to have rebuilt itself following last year's events, to get Aeon Must Die out at some point this year.