Ford Dealership Swipes Game Image For Ad, Thinks It's Kosher Because It Came From A DMCA Compliant Site

from the mmmmm-no dept

A brief review of the many, many posts we've done here about the DMCA and its notice and takedown platform will reveal to even the casual reader that the whole thing is rife with complications, abuse, and inconsistencies. It can be a difficult realm to navigate, but there are times when an entity's claims of ignorance just don't ring true.

Which brings us to one independent Ford dealership that decided to simply yoink an image from a relatively new video game and use it to advertise automobiles.

A Boston-area Ford dealership is dealing with some internet blowback this afternoon after folks realized that the car-seller had swiped artwork from the indie game Firewatch to promote the “Ford Freedom” sales event.

The Consumerist link then provides a side by side comparison of the image from the game and the ad that the Ford dealership put out. As you will see, there wasn't even the barest attempt made to obscure the original image in any way.


So, yeah, they pretty much took an image from the game and slapped some copy on the front and pushed it out to potential car-buyers. That's pretty much as infringe-y as copyright infringement gets. And the use of the image is even somewhat ironic, given that Firewatch is a game that tasks you with traversing the wilderness entirely on foot and this is an ad for a car dealership.

The media began contacting Ford once folks on Twitter alerted the makers of the game to what the dealership had done. Ford washed its hands of the whole thing, stating that the dealership acted as an independent entity. The dealership, when contacted, pushed the calls off onto the dealership's advertising department. The advertising department just flat hung up on some inquirers, before emailing out its, um, "explanation."

The ad exec then wrote back to say clarify that “We always use DMCA compliant sites when getting images,” referring to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The ad guy claimed that the Firewatch image was obtained from a DMCA-compliant digital “wallpaper” site, but he seems to be confused about complying with the DMCA actually means.

Very confused, because obtaining an image from a site that complies with the DMCA doesn't suddenly make those images royalty-free, free to use in commerce, or even non-infringing themselves. All it means is that the site would comply with the notice and takedown procedure once alerted to an infringing work on its site. If no notice happens, the takedown might not happen either, which doesn't in any way render the image non-infringing.

The fact that we don't hear of this kind of thing happening more often is likely an indication that the actual rules within the DMCA and how copyrighted images can and can't be used in commercial ad copy is within the lexicon of most companies' advertising departments. This particular Ford dealership might want to give HR a call and get the ball rolling on some staff turnover.

Filed Under: car dealership, copyright, dmca, images, infringement


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  1. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, 6 Jul 2016 @ 6:16am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: No harm, no foul?

    I'm with Old Mugwump here. The artist providing the artwork to the video game makers would have either been paid or supplied the artwork subject to an agreement with them. The agreement either did or didn't assume sole exclusive use by the video game company, ergo the infringement would have been against the video game company's exclusive right to use that image, but the artwork was most likely paid for.

    RE: Paul's arguments, sorry mate, I can't agree. Let's take a closer look.

    Artistic, personal, reputation, stylistic, just off the top of my head.

    Copyright not only doesn't, but shouldn't cover those values, which I agree are real. I've been battling the ownership mentality that copyright holders and creative artists attach to the works in question because they are cultural artifacts; once an image or text or song, etc., is published, it belongs to all of us in principle. That is why copyright terms were short to begin with, on both sides of the Atlantic, though only the Americans thought to ring-fence the public interest in their Constitution. This fact does not negate the values outlined above, but if copyright did extend to them, you could forget about remixing, parodies, and other uses of cultural items as they would be subject to licensing agreements and copyright terms would have to last forever in order to properly reflect those values.


    Now, you can argue that these are less relevant in a commercial proposition and you can certainly state that you personally don't care. But, some people value more than money even if you don't value anything over and above a dollar price, and those people won't be satisfied with "well I didn't lose you any *money* when I infringed on your work".

    Okay, you win this one, but there's something you forgot. Assuming that the agreement with the artist was for the video game makers to have the sole exclusive right to the work when they got the artwork (let's assume it was paid for such that the artist was paid once and forever, and does not receive a percentage of video game sales, so no royalties are due), that sole exclusive right has been infringed. The image was supposed to be a component of world-building in the game and is therefore integral to the visual experience thereof.

    Infringing on the sole exclusive right to use that image in order to flog motor vehicles dilutes the image's value because people will no longer associate it only with the game and its particular creative universe, but also with cars. This might spoil a game about walking through the wilderness by making you think about cars while you're playing it, which may well impact on the sales thereof. Or not. But the video game makers' sole right to use the image has indeed been infringed and they are entitled to seek remedy.

    That dealership needs to apologise, stop using the image to push their cars and pimp the game. I'd be satisfied with that.

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