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.