Video Game Voice Actor Strike Devolves Into Petty Trademark Dispute

from the bigger-fish-to-fry dept

For those who don't follow the video game industry closely, you may not be aware that there is currently a worker's strike by voiceover actors belonging to SAG-AFTRA against some of the larger game publishers out there. The union and ten or so publishers have been attempting to negotiate a new labor agreement for something like two years, with the sticking point being additional compensation based on game sales. While this concept may sound foreign to those of us that grew up with the gaming industry in its infancy, the explosion in the market and its evolution as an artform certainly warrants the same consideration talents get from other entertainment industries, such as television and film. After all, why shouldn't game voiceover actors be just as frustrated with Hollywood-style accounting as their on-screen counterparts?

And, yet, because this is a labor dispute, of course there had to be a petty wrong-turn along the way, which brings us to how SAG-AFTRA is now firing off demands that a PR firm hired by the game studios stop trying to influence the public because of a lame trademark claim. The key issue appears to be that this PR firm is using domain names and social media handles that include the SAG-AFTRA union name.

The order, addressed to San Francisco-based Singer Associates Inc., accuses the firm of “unauthorized registration and deceptive use” of SAG-AFTRA’s trademark through its use of the domain name sagaftravideogames.com and Twitter user handle of @SAGAFTRAVGames.

SAG-AFTRA cited the potential for confusion from the game companies’ use of SAG-AFTRA trademarks and “the absurdity of attempting such disingenuous tactics.”

Note that the union doesn't simply claim that the use of its name in website domains and social media handles is infringing, because it knows better. It claims instead what would be required for this to be a valid trademark claim: public confusion as to the source of the website and social media accounts. The problem is that even the briefest visit to sagaftravideogames.com makes the claim absurd. The entire site is a critique on the tactics undertaken by the union, as well as the strike itself. The "about" section lists the game publishers that are represented by the website. It's essentially a "SAG-AFTRA sucks" site, something that has long been adjudicated to be a valid use of another's trademark. The Twitter account of @sagaftravgames is more of the same. There is simply no confusion to be had here.

Which isn't to say that these particular tactics are a good look for the game publishers behind it. They aren't. Those companies come off looking underhanded and smarmy, which is something that the union should be hammering them for. But this isn't trademark infringement, and ginning up fears over customer confusion that are so absurd makes the union look petty at best.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 1:07am

    But this isn't trademark infringement, and ginning up fears over customer confusion that are so absurd makes the union look petty at best.

    Probably. What we see here is an expected consequence of what happens when anyone and everyone with monetary clout is permitted to weaponize intellectual property law for their own purposes, regardless of relevance.

    Small wonder most people outside of this privileged circle have close to no respect for it.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 10:23am

      Re:

      Well, given some of the absurd claims that certain games companies have made of SAG-AFTRA, I'm not bloody surprised.]

      For example, what would you do, if you could only work one long day every two weeks, but those same companies epected you to work for three weeks straight? Because that happens all the damned time. Moreover; that one day? You can't work your voice at all if you don't want to suffer any damage to your voice.

      So, yeah, I can absolutely understand how the trademark thing is stupid; but I can't, in all honesty, blame SAG-AFTRA for going after the site and Twitter handle.

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

  • icon
    art guerrilla (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 3:33am

    i don't know...

    i mean, IF they had a name like SAGAFTRASucksDonkeyKongBalls, i can see that being obvious parody/etc; BUT, a more conventional name WHICH DOES NOT GIVE AWAY THE PARODY GAME, and where the CONTENT makes it clear they are not SAGAFTRA seems like a valid claim to me...
    IF someone made a TechDirtIsFullOfCommies site, i would say obvious parody/fair use; but TechDirtOpEds or something, could very well 'fool' me, and not even in a hurry...
    besides being a jerk move, i think it traduces their name as well...

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

  • icon
    Geno0wl (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 6:37am

    Never agree to it

    The Industry will NEVER agree to any type of royalties. Never gonna happen. Honestly I am against it as well. Video Games are a different industry than movies or TV. While good acting and stuff will help certain games, the vast majority of games it literally is a bonus and not the selling point. The proof is literally in the pudding on this one. Over and over and over again you will find games that have little to no VAing selling MILLIONS. A game's VA is only 5-10% of what makes a product good. Even Products with well known stories and stories still require extreme work from programmers, designers, and producers. Why again should a VA who comes in and does three weeks of work get royalties? I agree with a lot of their points about screaming and other issues, but they are hilariously misguided if they think they are getting royalties.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 7:02am

      Re: Never agree to it

      Yep, I have overlooked the absolutely shitty and non-effort voice overs because the game play was good enough to spend my time on.

      It often funny to see the least useful aspects of humanity demand more than they deserve!

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 3 Nov 2016 @ 12:45pm

      Re: Never agree to it

      The proof is literally in the pudding on this one.

      So you don't know what "literally" means.

      In fact, I'm not even sure how you mean this figuratively. You don't cite any proof, just opinion and made-up numbers. I have no idea what "the proof" or "the pudding" are in your comment.

      A game's VA is only 5-10% of what makes a product good.

      If a VA is 5-10% of what makes a product good, then what the hell is wrong with giving her less than 1% of the game's profits?

      Even Products with well known stories and stories still require extreme work from programmers, designers, and producers.

      That's right. And they should be getting royalties too.

      Why again should a VA who comes in and does three weeks of work get royalties?

      Because the purpose of royalties is that you can't know how much a creative work is going to be worth before it's released. Here's a good piece from Mark Evanier explaining why residuals exist:

      http://www.newsfromme.com/2015/06/13/about-residuals/

      Residuals exist for a couple of reasons. One is that they are deferred compensation. Let's say you want to hire me to write your TV special and there's no WGA and no residuals and we're negotiating out in the wild. I suggest $10,000 would be a rational price. You were thinking more like $5,000. I point out to you that this is likely to be a great show that will rerun for many years to come and that you'll be able to sell it again and again and again. If we could be certain it would be, ten grand to me wouldn't seem unfair but as you point out, we can't be sure that it will have all those resales. So how do we resolve this?

      Simple. We invent residuals. We agree that I'll write the show for $5000 or maybe even a little less, and that I'll receive another $5000 if you can sell it for a second run and then maybe $2000 if there's a third run and $1000 for a fourth and so on. The reuse fees are not a gift to me. They're part of the deal…and by the way, this is not all that hypothetical a scenario. I've made deals with this kind of structure for animation projects where the WGA did not have jurisdiction. Even some pretty stingy cartoon producers were glad to make them because it lessened their initial investments to have me, in effect, share a little of the risk.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 7:38am

    DO actors in tvs or films get royaltys ,i doubt it,
    unless you are in the lead role,
    you do a job,you get paid a fair wage .
    There should be rules on safety ,no of hours worked ,breaks etc asking for royaltys is a step to far.
    most games are not call of duty or madden ,
    The average game makes a small profit .
    Most Games are like drama,s or a play ,
    eg long scenes of screaming is not required.
    or game companys could just move to canada to avoid
    expensive union rules anyway .
    AS they already do in the case of tv drama,s .

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 3 Nov 2016 @ 5:30pm

      Re:

      DO actors in tvs or films get royaltys ,i doubt it,

      You could have typed that question into a search engine instead of a comment box. Then you might have actually found out the answer instead of just making shit up.

      But, in answer to your question: many actors' contracts do indeed include profit-sharing agreements. That doesn't always mean royalties; for some, it's an occasional bonus check.

      you do a job,you get paid a fair wage .

      The actors are contending that the wage they are being paid is unfair.

      most games are not call of duty or madden , The average game makes a small profit .

      Then they won't have to pay very much in royalties, will they?

      Most Games are like drama,s or a play , eg long scenes of screaming is not required.

      Yeah, so few games include things that can be stressful on vocal chords, such as fighting or dying.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 7:57am

    I just did they 'meep' and they looped it so they could pay me less.

    In 10 years a parent wants to show their kid a game they loved as a child, but the memory will be different because they didn't get the super duper extension in the contract for the voices, so they have to apply a patch removing the original voices and replacing them with computer generated voices that are tuned to not even be close to the original sound.

    The 'my creations should support me forever' mentality is spreading... I blame the lawyers.

    If you want higher fees for VO work, negotiate them... but let the concept of you read a script that someone else wrote, to fit the actions someone else spent months programming, someone else crafted the characters... and somehow you are the only one who should get paid royalties...

    Also figure out that the computer is getting much closer to human voice with all of the emotion, your contribution could be replaced with a very small shell script.

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

    • icon
      That Anonymous Coward (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 8:07am

      Re:

      Its getting really sad that 'Simpsons Did It!' is bleeding into reality now...

      https://twitter.com/That_AC/status/793831522012831744

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

    • identicon
      Thad, 3 Nov 2016 @ 5:36pm

      Re:

      The 'my creations should support me forever' mentality is spreading... I blame the lawyers.

      That's weird, I blame the executives paying themselves obscene salaries while overworking and underpaying the people who do the actual work of making the products they're selling.

      If you want higher fees for VO work, negotiate them...

      Yes, exactly. That is the exact thing that they are doing.

      but let the concept of you read a script that someone else wrote, to fit the actions someone else spent months programming, someone else crafted the characters... and somehow you are the only one who should get paid royalties...

      I don't see anyone saying actors are the only ones who should get paid royalties.

      "Lots of people work hard to make games" is an excellent argument for giving royalties to lots of people. It's a piss-poor argument for not giving them to anybody.

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

  • icon
    Nick (profile), 2 Nov 2016 @ 2:54pm

    I'm actually in favor of the actors guild. I didn't know about their strike (and they can do that all they want for benefits, it's their right), but this does smell of abuse.

    For instance, I cannot make a restaurant called Walmart Plus, and make it a bar or whatever. Sure, you walk in and realize this isn't Walmart itself, but you had no way of knowing that before you entered the place.

    Same thing with domain names and twitter handles. After analyzing many many tweets or actually consuming the content of the site, you MAY be able to realize it isn't something put up by the original group targeted. As a consumer, it should not require being burned (wasting time and/or money) to determine if this oddly worded name is legit or not.

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


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