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.

Filed Under: documentary, first amendment, free speech, grand theft auto, jack thompson, publicity rights, trademark
Companies: rockstar


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2015 @ 1:45pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2015 @ 2:03pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2015 @ 3:00pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2015 @ 4:14pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2015 @ 8:03pm

        Re: Re:

        Thank you for clarifying. Been a while, details fuzzed.

        Will hang onto that grudge, though. Signaled a slide that made distrust a major purchasing factor that never improved.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      T, 31 May 2015 @ 10:25am

      Re:

      Rockstar developers you fucking moron

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 28 May 2015 @ 3:01pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2015 @ 3:18pm

      Re: Not quite as black and white here.

      Reminds me of their fictional game, GTA V

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 28 May 2015 @ 3:32pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    YouTube Expert, 28 May 2015 @ 4:04pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JP Jones (profile), 28 May 2015 @ 4:11pm

    After dealing with their horrific DRM "Social Club" for GTA V I'm not at all surprised at their hypocrisy. Thank god for The Witcher 3; a better open world game that doesn't bother with that BS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jeffrey, 29 May 2015 @ 4:38am

    "GTA creator Sam Houser"

    Facts are important. Sam Houser didn't create Grand Theft Auto, David Jones did, with his collaborators. Houser came along later, modified the franchise and turned it into the pop-culture phenomenon it is today.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2015 @ 4:59am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Reality bites, 29 May 2015 @ 5:46am

    Nothing on earth dumber or more parasitic than a lawyer.

    Its a great pity they can't be rounded up with the puritan defects and sent out to sea in a small leaky boat.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    amoshias (profile), 29 May 2015 @ 6:16am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 29 May 2015 @ 10:10am

    Rockstar is not, nor has never been one of the good guys.

    They've pushed the envelope into controversy, and thus extended what is acceptable expression in a game, but they're still heavy handed when it comes to DRM and critical press or treatment of end users with grievances.

    This incident is not uncharacteristic of Rockstar Games.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    chilling farts, 29 May 2015 @ 9:11pm

    BUSTED!

    Job failed

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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