Virtual Strip Club In GTA Doesn't Violate Trademarks Of Real Strip Club

from the has-rockstar-opened-a-strip-club dept

Against Monopoly points us to a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in a trademark lawsuit that is worth the read, not just for the absurdity of the case, but also for the court's reasoning. The lawsuit involves a strip club in Los Angeles, called The Play Pen, that apparently got pissed off over a strip club found in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. As players of recent GTA's well know, the designers of the game try to make the cities in the game look somewhat realistic (in an extreme manner) compared to the real cities they're supposed to be portraying. They usually change up names just slightly to highlight that it's fictional. Thus, Los Angeles becomes Los Santos and The Play Pen becomes The Pig Pen.

It's already surprising enough that the strip club owners would be upset by this. After all, I would think that being known as the strip club found in GTA might actually drive more business to the club. However, the court reasonably found no trademark infringement and no "unfair competition" as the strip club owners' charged. Beyond the fact that the strip club in the game looks pretty different from the one in real life, the court found the likelihood of confusion to be quite limited:
The San Andreas Game is not complementary to the Play Pen; video games and strip clubs do not go together like a horse and carriage or, perish the thought, love and marriage. Nothing indicates that the buying public would reasonably have believed that ESS produced the video game or, for that matter, that Rockstar operated a strip club. A player can enter the virtual strip club in Los Santos, but ESS has provided no evidence that the setting is anything but generic. It also seems far-fetched that someone playing San Andreas would think ESS had provided whatever expertise, support, or unique strip-club knowledge it possesses to the production of the game. After all, the Game does not revolve around running or patronizing a strip club. Whatever one can do at the Pig Pen seems quite incidental to the overall story of the Game. A reasonable consumer would not think a company that owns one strip club in East Los Angeles, which is not well known to the public at large, also produces a technologically sophisticated video game like San Andreas.

Undeterred, ESS also argues that, because players are free to ignore the storyline and spend as much time as they want at the Pig Pen, the Pig Pen can be considered a significant part of the Game, leading to confusion. But fans can spend all nine innings of a baseball game at the hot dog stand; that hardly makes Dodger Stadium a butcher's shop. In other words, the chance to attend a virtual strip club is unambiguously not the main selling point of the Game.
That butcher shop line is a classic. If you want to read the entire lawsuit, you can see it here:


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