Court Declares “Grand Theft” Crime Free
By Briahna Gray – Edited by Miriam Weiler
E.S.S. Entertainment 2000, Inc., v. Rock Star Videos, Inc., November 5 2008, No. 06-56237
On November 5, 2008 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Central California District Court summary judgment ruling to dismiss the case brought by the operators of a Los Angeles strip club (“E.S.S.”) against Rock Star Videos (“Rockstar”), the manufacturer of the Grand Theft Auto video games, for trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act, California Business and Professions Code § 14320 and § 17200 and California common law.
E.E.S. had argued that Rockstar’s imitation of the strip club’s logo within the virtual world of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas had no artistic relevance and would mislead consumers, confusing them as to whether EES had endorsed or associated itself with the digital rendition. In resolving this claim, the court applied a balancing test to weigh Trademark interests against First Amendment rights, stating that the Lanham Act applies to artistic works “only where the public interest in avoiding consumer confusion outweighs the public interest in free expression” Rogers v. Grimaldi, 875 F.2d 994, 999 (2d Cir. 1989) (emphasis in the original).
The ruling affirming summary judgment in favor of the popular game has drawn attention from a number of commentators. The authors at Techdirt.com applaud the decision. Coverage is also offered by Gamastura.com, Techdirt.com and Filewrapper.com summarize the case. RealDealDocs.com lists other legal challenges Grand Theft Auto has faced in the past six years.