The Story of The Stolen Skin: The M4A4 | Howl
Nine years ago, in August 2013, the legendary first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive first implemented weapon skins and a trading economy. Since their humble origins, CS:GO skins have gained incredible traction, with 100s of millions of skins in circulation valued at over 4 billion dollars. For years, skins like the AWP | Dragon Lore and the AK-47 | Case Hardened have dominated the market, but no skin is more notorious than the M4A4 | Howl. The skin remains the only one to have been granted the "Contraband" status along with the Howling Dawn sticker that shares its artwork. However, many are yet to know the dark history behind the origins of the M4A4 | Howl and how it gained its notoriety, so let's dive into the story of the stolen skin.
Ten days after Valve rolled out play skins on August 14, 2013, they opened up the Steam Workshop for any community member to submit their ideas for skins. If skins received enough votes, Valve would even add the skin into the game and pay its creator(s). Soon after this was announced, thousands of talented creators began working hard in hopes of receiving the honor of having their ideas put into the game. Two of these creators were "Auzzii" and "sic," who submitted the M4A4 | Howling Dawn, which was renamed to simply M4A4 | Howl, to the workshop. The community loved the design and received over 4,000 positive votes, which granted them the honor of having their work cemented in the game forever. The skin was used as one of the Covert(red weapons) alongside the now famous AK-47 | Vulcan and 15 other community designs in the Huntsman Case. Interestingly enough, Auzzii, credited with the majority of the work on the skin, alleged that he was inspired to create the skin from a picture of his dog. This will be important later, so keep that in mind as you read.
Valve is DMCA'd by the Real Creator
Less than a month after Valve introduced the skin into the game, Valve was struck with a DMCA(Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedown from an artist by the name of CanisAlbus. The artist made a journal post to their DeviantArt account titled Art theft in Steam/Counter-Strike, which explained and showed evidence that Valve had stolen the artwork for the skin. In addition, Auzzii's claim about his dog inspiring the artwork was false. The artist stated the following:
"Someone has stolen one of my artworks to make a custom skin for a gun in a game called Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The name of the weapon is CS:GO M4A4 Howling Dawn. I designed this piece but didn't upload the items to the Steam marketplace, and the spineless worm who submitted it didn't have my permission to do so. However, I have reported both copyright infringements, and I hope the items will be removed soon, solving the case. Great way to ruin my day. Thank you for that."
Valve quickly responded to the claims of CanisAlbus. They released a professional statement regarding the incident and informed the community that Auzzii and sic had received a permanent ban. They were not given their share of the proceeds from the sales of the skin, and both the M4A4 | Howl and the Sticker | Howling Dawn were removed from the Huntsman Case and the game as a whole. However, Valve couldn't simply delete the items from the inventories of individuals who had unboxed or purchased the skin. Instead, they replaced the items with a similar design by skin developers at Valve. The skin and the sticker were given a new rarity: Contraband. Because the skins were removed from the Huntsman Case, they could no longer be unboxed, meaning that the 7,383 that existed before the incident would be the only M4A4 | Howl to exist. Although 7,383 may sound like a lot, keep in mind that this number is just over the amount of M4A4 | Howl. These skins were tradeable, but there was no longer any way to obtain them.
To this day, no skin has come close to the level of controversy that the M4A4 | Howl has achieved. It remains the only Contraband weapon skin, with the only other Contraband item being the Howling Dawn sticker. Since the supply of the skin was permanently closed over nine years ago, the price has increased significantly, and nowadays, it is hard to find them for sale. StatTrak™ M4A4 | Howl go for no less than $14,000, with only one for sale on BitSkins at $30,000.