Rockstar Ironically Goes On The Trademark Muscle To Silence BBC Documentary

from the think-twice dept

If you’re amongst that odd combination of gaming enthusiast and strident supporter of the First Amendment, Rockstar is likely one of your hero-companies. The maker of the Grand Theft Auto series has long relied on free speech principles both for the outlandish (and entertaining) content in its games, but also as a defense against every last crazy sorta-famous person out there that thinks the company has appropriated their likeness in what amounts to at worst parody and more likely an amalgam composite of pop culture characters.

And, as it is with any kind of hero, it truly hurts when they fall to the dark side of the force. Rockstar has announced, for reasons I can’t even imagine, that it has filed suit against the BBC over an upcoming film called Game Changer, which is to focus on the stories of GTA creator Sam Houser and all-around great human being Jack Thompson. The basis for the suit is — sigh — trademark violations.

The game company told IGN that it has filed a lawsuit to ensure its trademarks “are not misused in the BBC’s pursuit of an unofficial depiction of purported events related to Rockstar Games.” Now, Take-Two is claiming that the BBC’s movie infringes its intellectual property, though the substance of its arguments remain vague. The company wouldn’t provide a copy of the complaint that it had filed against BBC.

The obvious part of this is that a filmmaker ought to be able to rely on the same sort of principles of fair use in order to make a dramatic telling that deals with real-life figures, companies and games. The US, the UK, wherever; this should be a no-brainer. No amount of use of gameplay footage or company logos ought silence artistic speech as a general rule, but it’s absolutely insane for this argument to be made by Rockstar of all companies. Allowing these kinds of restrictions to prevent speech is the exact misdeed Rockstar is still fighting against in the Lindsay Lohan suit, after all.

If a lawsuit that objects to a film covering a First Amendment battle isn’t sufficiently on the wild side, the complaint comes as Take-Two and Rockstar are still in court defending themselves against Lindsay Lohan’s allegation that Grand Theft Auto V ripped off her image and persona. In that dispute, Take-Two has sought to sanction Lohan for filing a frivolous lawsuit and has told the judge, “Artistic works like GTAV simply cannot form the basis for right of publicity claims under either New York law or the First Amendment.”

While trademark law and publicity rights laws aren’t the exact same thing, the moral ground is the same in both arguments. For Rockstar to champion free speech in one court while seeking to plainly undermine it in another brings to mind names like Judas and Brutus. Why, when free speech has served it so well, is Rockstar seeking to undermine the very tool it’s used to produce so many great games? Nothing in this BBC movie could be worth this betrayal. Hell, we all know that Jack Thompson is an asshat, guys.

Don’t make us think you are too.

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Companies: rockstar

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Comments on “Rockstar Ironically Goes On The Trademark Muscle To Silence BBC Documentary”

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17 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Jack Thompson did not loose his license to practice law for no reason. It was stripped from him for filing law suit after law suit over trivial games issues which to him were major. He cost the state of Florida millions of dollars to defend against case after case involving games and state laws. I believe he left Florida for California after being disbarred and I dropped interest in him, figuring not to hear his name again after such a public disgrace as being removed from the legal profession.

Anonymous Coward says:

For Rockstar to champion free speech in one court while seeking to plainly undermine it in another brings to mind names like Judas and Brutus.

Those at the upper level of politics, which includes company management, only have one moral imperative, win and impose their desires onto the world. Therefore they always fight for that which is to their advantage in any situation, and not any consistent principle.

Anonymous Coward says:

Erm, yeah, Rockstar is the publisher that fucked their fanbase royally with Securom in 2007, yeah?

Like fans who BOUGHT the game Bioshock couldn’t play their PAID FOR games due to Securom activation issues?

This company paved the way for activation bullshit that has only ingrained itself like freaking scabies in today’s gaming – oh, sorry, LICENSING – landscape.

Bish, please.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Bioshock was published by 2K Games, not Rockstar. They both have the same parent company, Take-Two Interactive, but 2K was making the publishing decisions on Bioshock and Take-Two had only acquired 2K 2 years prior in 2005. It’s entirely possible TT had influence on SecuROM’s deployment, as they were distributor on all Bioshock titles, but for all the legitimate reasons to have a bone to pick with Rockstar, this particular accusation doesn’t have much substance.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Not quite as black and white here.

This isn’t a documentary, it’s a fictionalized drama around two big players in the game-controversy that Thompson stirred up. As a fictional, for-profit movie, it has a different set of rules to play by when using real-life product names. Some companies will pay to use their products in your movie (product placement we all know and love), while others will require you to pay to use their products in the movie. Seems Rockstar is of the latter than the former.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Not quite as black and white here.

“As a fictional, for-profit movie, it has a different set of rules to play by when using real-life product names.”

Not really. To the extent that the rules are different, they are more restrictive in works of nonfiction than fiction. Using real brand names is a trademark issue, and the particular one that is most likely to come into play is disparagement. Disparagement is only a concern if you say something nasty about the brand that isn’t true and the audience is likely to believe that it is true.

Payment (in either direction) is not required to make the use of a brand name legal, as long as you’re staying within the lines of trademark law.

Hollywood confuses this whole thing because movies tend to try to avoid using real brand names unless they’re getting paid to do so. Not because that’s required, but because they want to get paid.

YouTube Expert says:

For what it's worth...

Rockstar Games has always been particularly heavy-handed with their DMCA takedowns. Any video that had any trace of an element that they considered story would result in an unretractable copyright strike. To say this is a big step in the wrong direction for them implies this is a change in their stance at all.

Anonymous Coward says:

Rockstar lost all self-respect since GTA V was announced for PC. Screw-up after screw-up, delays after delays, ridiculous bans after rididuclous bans for their own lack of coding abilities.

They’ve been punishing their users for stuff they couldn’t get right. How can anyone be surprised by this? Rockstar are one of the worst gaming companies out there.

amoshias (profile) says:

Am I missing something?

So… Rockstar has defended itself in court against a bunch of nutjobs. This makes them “first amendment heroes”? How? Since when? Did you think that, if they were “first amendment bad guys” they would have just shut up and paid Lindsey Lohan (I think) millions of bucks?

You know it’s possible to report on interesting news in this area without the parties being either heroes or villains, right? Rockstar ain’t no hero, never has been. Are they villains? No more so than any other company in the same situation, probably.

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