A Web3 platform has been found to have stolen assets in both its design and its content. W3itch.io claims it is a "free-as-freedom open marketplace" for games that emphasizes Web3 technology like cryptocurrency and NFTs, but it appears to have stolen code from Itch.io and content from various creators.
What has W3itch.io stolen and why?
W3itch.io's theft of Itch.io's CSS was first noticed by Itch.io proprietor Leaf Corcoran, who posted a screenshot of an exchange between himself and the website yesterday. Corcoran accuses W3itch.io of "[ripping] off" his website and of stealing content from RPGMaker.net "with no apparent consent from the creators". He also posted a request on the W3itch.io Github project to "remove stolen intellectual property", as the website is a pretty obvious ripoff of Itch.io's frontend. Corcoran also wants W3itch.io to change its name and "remove any likeness" to Itch.io from the project. One quick glance at W3itch.io's site makes it hard to disagree with Corcoran on this one, too. Not only is the name pretty blatantly just a shortened form of "Web3 Itch.io", but the design is near-identical. Here's a shot of Itch.io's Games page as it appears at time of writing.
Now, for comparison, here's a shot of the W3itch.io games page, which is remarkably similar.
Remarkably, in light of these accusations, W3itch.io admitted to stealing CSS from Itch.io, which goes beyond simple design similarity. If the two websites had merely looked identical, we would be in the realms of trade dress law, which dictates the look and feel of products. However, given that the code is lifted wholesale, this dispute could potentially enter the world of copyright law, which could have much more serious ramifications for W3itch.io. The website's theft can be seen everywhere; the look and feel are identical and large swathes of text are outright stolen from Itch.io with barely any modifications. An admission like this is very unusual, as it could potentially give Corcoran cause to issue a legal challenge on copyright grounds.
It's not just the code, though. W3itch.io also stands accused of stealing creators' games from noted RPG Maker repository RPGMaker.net, a claim supported by the website itself. Most if not all of the content on W3itch.io consists of games from the RPGMaker.net website, seemingly hosted on W3itch.io without creators' permission. Game creator AmonUK even filed a support issue on the W3itch.io Github page demanding the removal of one of their games, which the site does not have permission to host. It seems pretty clear that W3itch.io is, at best, a shady website built on stolen assets, and at worst, it resembles a naked attempt to defraud people. Given Corcoran and Itch.io's well-documented attitude towards NFTs, though, perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise.
How has W3itch.io responded to these claims?
Since Leaf's claims emerged yesterday, the person responsible for running the W3itch.io Twitter account (since the company structure is something of a mystery) has been contrite, self-pitying, and occasionally strangely critical of the W3itch.io project as a whole, assuming they're not being sarcastic. After being rounded on by the Itch.io community, W3itch.io asked if redesigning the whole website and reworking all of its content would meet with any approval, to which the answer appears to be a resounding "no". The site also seems to admit to buying a Twitter account with pre-baked followers and to ripping off the Itch.io frontend, although W3itch.io maintains that the code at the core of the site is different to that of Itch.io.
With regards to stealing content from RPGMaker.net, W3itch.io attempts to hide behind the excuse of preservation, claiming that many of the games hosted on its website are "in a dangerous state" and need to be preserved like Flash games or DOS titles. The site says that most of RPGMaker.net's content is in English, but that there is "a global community" for RPG Maker 2003 and that many games don't make it to different communities owing to translation issues. This, apparently, is why the site feels justified in hosting content to which it doesn't have any right. In general, the W3itch.io Twitter account is a rollercoaster ride of a read; it veers wildly between emotional states and claims, acknowledges theft and the need to start over from scratch, and attempts to garner sympathy from what seems to be a very hostile audience.
It's not clear how this situation will be resolved just yet. W3itch.io has expressed an intention to start from scratch and "clean the stuff all from the beginning to make it more legit", but the site has also said that most of its users didn't like its product and that the site is "doomed". It's also worth noting that at the time of writing, the entire website remains accessible, and none of the improperly-hosted content appears to have been taken down. We've reached out to Leaf Corcoran of Itch.io for clarification on this story and to ask whether he intends to file a legal claim against W3itch.io, and we've also reached out to a W3itch.io developer. We'll bring you more on this story as soon as we get it.