Disclaimer and introductory note: I am not a lawyer nor do I have any kind of knowledge about laws. This article is based on my own interpretation of the rules and terms that are public on the Flightsim.to website. I have discussed these with other people that share the same perspective that I do. Do not take my opinions on this matter as legal advice. These are just my thoughts – and doubts – on the matter.
I have reached out to Flightsim.to for comments on this matter and they were very quick to reply. While I am not allowed to add any quotes from that email, I will, to the best of my ability, use the content of that reply throughout the email, through my own words, when I deem it necessary to add any information, as per the written authorization I got from the Flightsim.to rep that replied to my request.
Update: this article was updated on February 21, 2023.
Update 2: this article was updated on February 24, 2023.
Flightsim.to popped up pretty much at the same time Microsoft Flight Simulator did. And, perhaps because of its approach to file sharing and community tools, it became popular quite fast. So much so that it eventually became the go-to resource to download mods and files for MSFS.
The project offers both free and paid products and quite a few renowned developers and companies have been associated with it.
The statistics, which you can find at the bottom of the website show that the website has a portfolio of almost 50,000 add-ons and over half a million members. Impressive numbers.
A lot of people are hosting files using their service, which is fantastic for the community, but some creators have been concerned since it seems like it’s not possible to delete files once you upload them. A recent update of their Terms of Service brought that matter to the surface once again.
Let’s start with the beginning.
If you take a look at their upload system, you will find the following warning:
Once your file has been uploaded, it is public and can usually no longer be deleted. You grant us a license to distribute, make available and host your file, and you cannot revoke this license if you later change your mind, but your file may be archived under certain circumstances. Read more.
If you click that link, you’ll find a wall of text explaining the reasoning, with a nice TL;DR at the top, saying that you cannot delete the files but you can archive them. What does this mean?
Archiving means it is not being publicly advertised anymore and people will see a warning message that the file is no longer supported, but your file can still be accessed and downloaded.
While reading through the page above, though, I found the following:
We need these licenses to be able to effectively run our business, and we must rely on you to not remove your mod or add-on from the site from one day to the next. Flightsim.to is a mod hosting platform, and we believe that mods are made for everyone to benefit from: We display, distribute and share your mods to the whole world. Our philosophy is to make modding easy, hassle-free and simple for everyone. Once a mod has been uploaded, it is our belief that this mod should be distributed as widely as possible so that the entire gaming community can benefit from it. That's what mods are made for, that's what brought us all together and that's why Flightsim.to was ultimately created for. That is the story behind Flightsim.to, it is our core.
As a rule, we do not allow mods to be deleted once they have been uploaded. There are many reasons for this. Imagine someone creates a library and you use this library for your scenery. Now, overnight, the library uploader has - for whatver reason - decided to delete their library. As soon as this happens, your contribution is essentially worthless too, until you can replace or remove the particular library. Users would no longer be able to download the underlying library, and your efforts are lost. That would be a worst case scenario. In the same way, it would be a worst case scenario if you had created dozens of liveries for a freeware aircraft, but the uploader of the freeware aircraft suddenly decides to delete their freeware aircraft from the site, and it can no longer be downloaded. Flightsim.to was created to exactly remedy this undesired situation and to provide a central platform for all modding needs without cumbersome searches. Not to mention that your work would be - once again - for nothing. A lot of mods are reliant on one another. It can be disaster if a mod is suddenly removed, as there are many mods which require dozens of other mods to run. As much as scenery builders and livery creators have to rely on that libraries or respective aircraft will stay online, we at Flightsim.to have to rely that mods will stay online so that we can effectively keep our business model running. Our business model is to make modding more accessible. The success of our platform - of our community - builds on this foundation.
When asked to clarify about this matter, Flightsim.to assured me that deletion of files is possible and authors only need to ask for the content to be deleted. But they also add that they may need to deny these requests as per their rules.
Which makes me wonder what will the criteria be for a file to be removed since removal is possible only if the conditions fit the rules.
Does this mean that the right for other people to use your library or make repaints for your aircraft overrides your right to control your work, for example?
While I understand the situation of having an add-on rendered useless because a library was removed – it has happened in the past – this should not override an author’s ability to stop making his/her work available for use. Or, at least, available to download.
Using a library is an advantage – and a risk – the author of an add-on decides to take. What if the author of the library removes the buildings you are using, for example? Or if the creator of an aircraft changes the UV mapping of the model?
By the same logic, developers and authors would be forced to keep their add-ons compatible with whatever uses them as well, to prevent those to stop working.
While I understand the archiving strategy to keep those assets available, I don’t believe this is the best course of action as it limits or removes rights from authors and creators.
This policy doesn’t seem to be convincing developers. I have talked to some of them about this and a few are considering pulling out from Flightsim.to. Emerald Designs is going forth with this and, in a recent post on Facebook, they mentioned the ToS change (which we cover below).
Regarding the deletion of files, Emerald Designs also added that “[…] if a user truly needs to honor a take-down request, they are unable to do so”, and stated concerns about the control of content.
When asked about any situations where creators have asked about having their content deleted and seeing those requests denied, the Flightsim.to rep that replied to my email said that, to the best of his knowledge, this hasn't happened.
Flightsim.to also states there’s a difference between copyright and distribution rights. But how can someone distribute something that the copyright owner does not wish to see distributed anymore? They can't. But they are not doing that since authors are giving the perpetual permission to distribute their work, without the possibility of revoking that permission.
Flightsim.to’s Terms of Service exist since 2020 and people that have added their content since then, consented to it. Nonetheless, the ToS was updated back in 2022, apparently to make everything clearer, which is a tell-sign that someting does, indeed, need to be clarified and the previous ToS caused some confusion.
One could say it’s up to everyone to know exactly what they are consenting to and that’s correct. It is up to us. But if a company decides to make something more clear, it may mean that it was a bit confusing and people may have had the wrong impression of what the rules really were.
The Tos change: section 4.3
The change Emerald Designs talks about is in section 4.3 of the website’s Terms of Service. You can see a screenshot above, but I am pasting it here too if that makes it easier to read and/or copy if necessary.
(4.3) Licenses you are granting us: 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.
Within that section, you can read that Flightsim.to is allowed to “modify the User Content”, which raised a red flag, of course. What type of modification? Can they just change someone’s addon?
Wrapping it up
Flightsim.to places itself as a modding/community platform. Their main goal is to make add-ons available to everyone and to keep those files available to everyone.
I can understand that.
But, as a creator, shouldn’t that be my call? It’s my work, my intellectual property, and my decision. If I put something out there and I decide to take it down a week later because I am no longer happy about how it came out or there’s something else made by someone else that’s better or just because I woke up grumpy, shouldn’t it be my prerogative to be able to disable access to my file?
The right to provide a good service to the community should not override the right of the creator of an addon, a product, a piece of art, or whatever, to either make it available to the public or not.
Yes, it’s possible to ask for a deletion. No, it’s not guaranteed that will happen.
Even with the best intentions, Flightsim.to is overriding your right, as a creator, to disable access to your work if you decide to host your files on their platform. The problem they are trying to solve is tricky, I give them that, but it cannot and it should not be solved at the cost of the author’s rights to distribute or, in this case, stop distributing their work if they so wish to.
As we exchanged a couple of emails about this matter, Flightsim.to told me that they are going to allow creators not to agree with these terms and delete their files from the website as they will re-ask everyone to consent to these terms. A reset button, so to speak.
This is completely fair, especially since the Terms of Service did change since 2020 (section 4.3 was added in September 2022). Either by changing those terms or providing clarification, it’s always good to allow people to step back if they don’t agree with the Terms of Service update. This update should include the removal of the right the company now has to change creators’ content as well.
I also hope we can get a better system than forcing developers to have something available that they no longer want to have out there. As much as I understand the possible consequences and the line of thought behind it, I cannot agree with an author not having the ability to prevent future access to their work. It’s a basic right of someone that creates something.
Got any comments on this? Please feel free to let us know in the comments below.
I would like to thank Flightsim.to for their quick reply and the time they took to answer my request for comments. The company stated to me that they are looking into making the terms clearer and reducing any ambiguity so that everyone feels comfortable using their platform, based on the feedback they are gathering so we should expect some changes in the future.
Update (February 21, 2023)
Flightsim.to has created a channel on their Discord server and they have added a post where they cover a possible solution for the problem.
They haven't decided anything yet but, in my opinion, it's a good step towards protecting authors and their work while still providing other authors and end-users the ability to download files before they are taken from good from the website.
Here's what they added on that channel:
Alright folks, we're planning to revise our deletion policy based on your feedback [...] and find a compromise, allowing everyone to delete their files immediately as they wish, unless there are specific reasons that would allow us to keep the file for a specific, reasonable period of time. This has been suggested a few times before. Reasons would be:
- Libraries: 60 days deletion period
- Standalone aircraft: 30 days deletion period
- Popular file, at least 100K+ downloads: 7 days deletion period
- Featured file, e.g. on social media or our news: 30 days deletion period
During the deletion period, we would inform other users/creators that an add-on is queued for deletion, but it will still be available for that time, and deleted after. In all other cases not covered by the explicitly stated reasons above, we would delete the file immediately. These periods would also not apply if there are critical matters that require immediate deletion, such as a legal problem or similar. We would put it similar to this in our written terms. Please share with us what you think of this approach, whether you have any more reasons that we should add or actually remove, and your general thoughts about the periods provided. Do you have any ideas for implementation or design, what is important to you as a creator? ATTENTION: We only accept feedback directly and ONLY related to this question in this channel. All other posts deviating from this specific topic will be removed. Feel free to share your feedback, we might not answer, but we will take note of it. I make no commitments as to whether or when these changes will be implemented, this is merely a plan and it is still to be approved by our lawyers, but we want to hear your thoughts.
Update 2 (February 24, 2023)
Flightsim.to is updating their ToS, which will take effect from March 5, 2023.
The article is a lot bigger than just the part below, so make sure you check it out.
Can I delete my mods from Flightsim.to?
Yes, you can delete your mods from the website at any time without reason, unless otherwise stated in the terms of service. When you delete your mod, we will discontinue distributing, hosting, or making it available and irrevocably delete it from our servers, except where you have permitted further use of your mods after your removal or where the law requires otherwise. However, certain mods may not be removed or deleted without giving us prior notice of such deletion, and we reserve the right to keep your mod available for others to retrieve, access, and download until the File Termination Period has elapsed. These very few certain cases are defined below.
Find the whole article here.