Take-Two Interactive, publisher of Red Dead Redemption 2 and owner of its developer Rockstar, has become embroiled in a legal spat with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The Pinkertons are upset over their depiction in Red Dead 2, which we’re still pretty sure is coming to PC at some point.
According to a legal filing (via the Verge), the Pinkertons sent Take-Two a cease-and-desist notice on December 13 and demanded royalties, “apparently hoping to profit from the recent success of Red Dead 2”. Take-Two says they are ignoring “well-established First Amendment principles” that protect expressive works from exactly such claims, and that they “cannot use trademark law to own the past.”
The Pinkerton National Detective Agency – now simply known as Pinkerton – is, as you might guess, a private detective agency. It was founded in Chicago in 1850, and as Take-Two says, “played a key role in the history of American law enforcement and the taming of the Wild West”. Pinkerton agents were employed by the US Government to enforce federal law and hunt down fugitives, such as Jesse James, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and – in Red Dead 2 – the Van der Linde gang.
Take-Two claims that, “because of their centrality in the zeitgeist of the American West, Pinkerton agents have long been a staple in works of historical fiction”, and that “historical fiction – television, movies, plays, books, and games – would suffer greatly if trademark claims like [Pinkerton’s] could even possibly succeed.”
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Take-Two also takes the chance to brag about Red Dead Redemption 2’s sales success and critical acclaim, though I suppose that’s not irrelevant to its case. The suit also describes Red Dead 2 as “essentially an interactive film” – a way to explain it to non-gamer judges and lawyers, or interesting admission of the way Rockstar sees its work?