Developers call for Flightsim.to boycott over proposed changes
UPDATE: On February 20, Flightsim.to announced proposed changes to its deletion policy following days of mounting pressure from developers. Read our coverage of the announcement here.
Flightsim.to, the popular distributor of addons for Microsoft Flight Simulator, has faced a vocal backlash among developers over proposed changes to its platform, with one developer saying it would be organising, alongside a “large group of content creators”, a boycott of the site “until Terms of Service are changed.”
On February 11, the site announced that “a Premium Membership in combination with a Creators Reward program is the best approach to meet our objectives”.
The premium membership
This premium membership, it said, would include a range of exclusive benefits such as “ad-free browsing, guaranteed lightning-fast downloads, [and] no countdowns.” The site also announced that “the funds generated from Premium Memberships will be used to help creators earn more through our platform”, without elaborating on the means of this.
It emphasized however that the core offering of the site would remain free, saying: “All of our current features and functionalities will remain available to all users, regardless of whether or not they choose to upgrade to Premium…We will not introduce any new limitations or change our core features…We remain committed to providing a valuable and enjoyable experience for everyone who participates in the community, whether Premium or not.”
Somewhat more contentious among the community however has been the announcement of a Creators Program, intended to allow developers to benefit financially from their work.
The site announced: “With this program, creators have the opportunity to earn money directly through their downloads, allowing them to receive recognition and compensation for their hard work and creativity”, adding that developers could earn in four ways:
- “Revenue from unique downloads of your creations.”
- “Additional income through updates and maintenance of your existing creations”.
- “Bonuses for good ratings on your uploads”
- A new donation system
Explaining the new donation system, Flightsim.to said: “We understand that many users want to support their favorite creators, but the process of donating through third-party platforms such as PayPal can be complex, cumbersome and a privacy-critical topic.”
To address this, the site said users would be able to “purchase donation credit directly on the website (such as $5, $10, $25…), and then allocate the credit to the creators of their choice. This eliminates the need to pass private information to third-parties, and ensures that all donations are made in a secure and streamlined manner.”
It was not confirmed whether the intended recipient of the donation would receive the amount in full, or whether Flightsim.to would receive a share.
Finally, the site said the the Creator Program was expected to launch between March and April 2023.
Terms of service
The announcement has placed renewed focus on the site’s overall terms of service, which the site says have not been changed since 2020. MSFS Addons has however noted a recent change to the terms of service, removing the site’s right to “modify” content.
Archived terms of service, January 21 2023: (4.3) By submitting or posting User Content to the Service (either directly or through a Third Party Service) you grant this Site a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, sublicensable, assignable, unrestricted, worldwide license to use the User Content, together with all consents or waivers (if any) necessary to distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, transmit, communicate to the public and modify the User Content, by any means and in all media formats and channels now known or hereafter devised in perpetuity, and to advertise and promote such use, without further notice to, or permission from, you or any other person, and without compensation or reference to you or any other person.
Changed terms of service February 19 2023: (4.3) When you submit or post User Content to the Service, either directly or through a Third Party Service, you are granting this Site a worldwide, non-exclusive, assignable, unrestricted, sublicensable, perpetual, irrevocable, and royalty-free license to use the User Content. This license includes all consents or waivers necessary to distribute, publicly perform, publicly display, transmit, host, share, keep available, communicate to the public, and advertise, feature, or promote the User Content in connection with the service provided by the Website and across different media now known or developed in the future, (if applicable) only to the extent that such license grant is not limited or restricted by any third-party EULA of content that is included in your User Content. You are not authorized to grant us, and we do not claim, any intellectual property rights or copyrights of third parties. In either case, you grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, unrestricted, perpetual, irrevocable and royalty-free license to distribute, host, keep available and publicy display your User Content.These licenses do also allow us to advertise and promote your User Content without further notice or permission from you or any other person, and without compensation to you or any other person.
This change – removing the phrase “modify the User Content” – seems to be confirmed by a post from Flightsim.to on Twitter, stating: “We have recently introduced updates to our terms to provide more clarity on the use and ownership of user-generated content. We assure you that we do not claim ownership of any content uploaded by our users. You can hide / unhide content at anytime.”
However, the site’s FAQs appears to deny this entirely, stating: “Although we have revised our terms to increase transparency, we have not made any modifications to our licenses or policies.”
Following Flightsim.to’s announcement, the developer for Global AI Ship Traffic, whose work has more than 170.000 downloads, announced that it would stop uploading to the site, saying: “I have discussed this with a number of developers and we will stop uploading to Flightsim.to until Terms of Service are changed as our files were not uploaded in the first place with this business model in mind. I have asked for removal of Global AI Ship Traffic from flightsim.to, but it is in the hands of flightsim.to to do that as we can as users not do it. It is a pitty because it was a good site; I have nothing against Premium supscriptions, but the model introduced is not acceptable in combination with the Terms of Service which removes all rights for content providers who are the fundament for Flightsim.to.”
The developer subsequently said it had received a “a denial of deleting Global AI Ship Traffic”, adding that as a result, it would be organising, alongside a “large group of content creators”, a boycott of Flightsim.to “until Terms of Service are changed.” It is not clear which specific element of the Terms of Service the boycott is calling for.
Meanwhile PuffinFlight, the developer of the We Love VFR series of addons, with more 192,000 downloads, also made a statement: “Having no control of my files is a big no no. Nothing against premium, but how can I be sure that flightsim.to won’t go behind a paywall one day? They can. It’s their business, nothing against that. But then I don’t want my files on a paywalled site. Unfortunately with these terms I can do nothing about it.”
The post on Flightsim.to’s site has over 130 comments. At the time of writing, MSFS Addons has counted six developers saying they would either boycott the site, or remove their content from it.
The predominant developer concern appears to center on both the terms of service, the direction of Flightsim.to’s business model, and not being permitted to fully delete their work from the site.
In response to the backlash, a user on Reddit who regular posts as a FlyByWire team member, offered its distribution platform as an alternative: “At FBW we already have an established distribution platform via our installer – we would love to make it a bigger platform for freeware creators to host their content! If you’re interested in working together, shoot me a DM or talk to us on the installer channel on our Discord.”
MSFS Addons has contacted FlyByWire to confirm this offer.
On February 18, Flightsim.to issued a formal statement on Twitter, saying: “We’ve heard your concerns about changes in our terms – and to the most extent, they base on false assumptions.”
“We do not claim ownership, copyright or intellectual property to any of our user’s uploads. We do not intend to sell, lease, rent or otherwise make profit through any User Content or to use content beyond the confines of Flightsim.to. You retain full ownership and copyrights to your User Content – what is yours, belongs to you. You only grant us a license to distribute your content, which is the core mission and idea of our platform and always has been. We will not and we are in no way entitled to claim ownership of your content, nor will we ever place your content behind a paywall or similar.“
Flightsim.to reaffirmed however: “We have made a conscious and well-reasoned decision that once mods are published, they cannot be deleted”, adding that deletions could be requested, and “in most cases, we will adhere with this request.”
The statement linked to a page on Flightsim.to’s website, last updated on February 19, saying that while files could not normally be deleted, “as a gesture of goodwill, you can delete all files you wish to delete until March 05, 2023. The policy will only apply to files not deleted by that date or uploaded on this date on.”
It added: “We will not lease, rent, sell, modify or otherwise abuse it, nor will we claim ownership of your content or similar. Flightsim.to’s core concepts haven’t changed since our founding”. This clam appears to conflict with an earlier iteration of the site’s terms of service, examined above, which did permit the site to “modify the User Content.”
The February 19 statement is also in contast to the now updated terms of service on the site, stating: “We reserve the right to keep your User Content indefinitely and are not obligated to remove it or stop distributing it if you request so, in accordence with the licenses you have granted us described above. The rights you have given us remain in effect even after this Agreement ends or if we discontinue your access to the Website. We might have a legitimate interest in continuing to share or to keep available your User Content.”
Similarly, a new FAQ section on the site, updated on February 19, also states: “We have explicitly stated that we are not obliged to delete your file once you have decided to share it with Flightsim.to and the modding community. This clause has been part of your license grant since 2020, but has now been explicitly explained. However, you can still permanently hide or archive your mods.”
It is not yet clear how widespread and effective this apparent boycott will prove to be, nor the exact changes the developers are calling for. Should the site issue further statements or amend any of its policies or terms, we will update this article accordingly.
MSFS Addons approached Flightsim.to for comment.