Grand Theft Auto BBC Drama Hit With Take Two Lawsuit

Our Graham was the one to post about the BBC making a “factual drama” about the Grand Theft Auto series and Jack Thompson’s crusade against video games, perhaps because I could only frame my response as a series of contorted facial expressions. But no, really, they are doing it, and it’ll star Daniel Radcliffe and Bill Paxton. Well, if they don’t get shut down.

Take Two Interactive, the owners of GTA makers Rockstar Games, have filed a lawsuit against the BBC for trademark infringement. See, they’re none too pleased that they haven’t been consulted.

The BBC Two drama, which has the rubbish working title of Game Changer, is described by the BBC thusly: “Conceived for an adult audience, this special 90-minute drama tells the story of the controversy surrounding the computer game Grand Theft Auto – arguably the greatest British coding success story since Bletchley Park.” A touch overblown, perhaps.

Daniel Radcliffe, young Harry Potter himself, is playing Rockstar North co-founder Sam Houser. You’ll best know Paxton from Aliens, the film which I’ll semi-facetiously declare continues to exert more influence over video games than anything Rockstar’s done; he’ll be playing Jack Thompson, the now-disbarred attorney whose moral crusading turned its focus from rap to video games as he spewed statements about games training children to kill. It’s struck me that some of you will be too young to remember that so here, go read.

Anyway! Take Two are not happy about this. In a statement provided to IGN, they said:

“Take-Two Interactive has filed suit against the BBC for trademark infringement based on their movie currently titled ‘Game Changer’ as it relates to Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto video game series.

“While holders of the trademarks referenced in the film title and its promotion, Rockstar Games has had no involvement with this project. Our goal is to ensure that our trademarks are not misused in the BBC’s pursuit of an unofficial depiction of purported events related to Rockstar Games. We have attempted multiple times to resolve this matter with the BBC without any meaningful resolution. It is our obligation to protect our intellectual property and unfortunately in this case litigation was necessary.”

Ooh! What drama! If it all goes wrong, I’d suggest Auntie go ahead anyway using a little Rockstar-grade satire: make a drama about a game called Big Kill Driver, with Radcliffe playing developer Barry Bungalow and Paxton as rival attorney John Tubthumper.

51 Comments

  1. drewski says:

    I’ve read all the articles I can find on this and I’ve still not got the faintest idea what they’re actually suing over.

    • Philippa Warr says:

      Trademark infringement. They say so and go into a bit more detail in the statement above.

      • John O says:

        Wow, Pip struck gold with the automatic Avatar creation thingy.

      • jaypettitt says:

        Although it’s not at all clear that the BBC are trading using any of Take-Two’s Trademarks.

        Which returns us to the question ‘what exactly are they suing for?’ Which bit of the unfinished, unseen, unbroadcast TV programme does Take-Two think they’ve been damaged by?

        • Sin Vega says:

          It seems pretty unlikely the BBC of all people would be daft enough to attempt to use trademarked stuff – particularly ones owned by a company that’s the whole point of the programme.

          I’d imagine what they mean is “the BBC refused to give us enough swimming pools filled with doubloons, but we’re dressing this up as a copyright issue because we’re part of the games industry and that lie just comes automatically these days”.

      • airmikee says:

        Sounds like Take-Two and their team of apparently {intelligent and thorough} lawyers need to read up on the Fair Use Exceptions to trademark and copyright law.

        Oh, I get it. The BBC is British and therefore doesn’t enjoy the same First Amendment protections, eh, Take-Two? Fucking twats, just another reason I’m glad I haven’t really enjoyed anything made by them since GTA3.

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          Harlander says:

          The UK equivalent, fair dealing, is somewhat more restrictive. Though not, I suspect, so much so that Take Two can’t be seen as just being arses.

        • solidsquid says:

          This doesn’t even need fair use though as far as I’m aware. They’re suing under trademark law rather than copyright, and that’s almost always exclusive to the industry which you do trade in

      • drewski says:

        No, I get that. I just can’t fathom how they’ve concluded the BBC are infringing their trademark(s) here.

      • PancakeWizard says:

        Surely it’s all legal posturing though? I thought things like documentaries/dramatizations where pretty safe.

  2. Kerbal_Rocketry says:

    The story of the making of “Large Car Theft” and the controversy behind it.

  3. Luminolza says:

    Rockstar’s PR has always been pretty effective.

  4. Michael Fogg says:

    Looks like corporate stupidity of the worst kind. TT doesn’t want the film to potentially show the game or its makers in a bad light so they sue for non-existing trademark infringement (the film would probably use different fictional brand names). This is a completely factitious attempt to stifle BBC’s right to creative expression.

    • iucounu says:

      No, the drama is depicting precisely Rockstar and GTA, unless Daniel Radcliffe is playing an entirely different “Sam Houser”.

      The point at issue will be whether the Beeb is in some way passing this off as a film authorised by the trademark holders, and while it might conceivably be some kind of bad-faith tactic to suppress the film, that sort of thing does happen. I work in licensed book publishing and have had to request innumerable takedowns of Kindle titles that are being falsely promoted as being ‘official’ – often to the extent of simply copying our distinctive cover designs and pretending the book is by us. People then buy the books and blame us when they’re crap.

      For example: let’s say the Beeb produced a poster for the film which copies the distinctive design of GTA’s cover art. People might well think that the film is authorised on the basis of that. You might think that only a moron in a hurry would make that mistake, but in fact that is exactly the legal test, in precisely those words (Morning Star Cooperative Society v Express Newspapers Limited, 1978.)

      Anyway, I’m going to wait to see the detail of what they’re complaining about before I try judging the merits of the complaint, because it’s not always clear-cut.

      • P.Funk says:

        But can you actually sue someone for doing something before they’ve done it? How can one act in bad faith before they’ve acted in bad faith?

        • iucounu says:

          They could be taking issue with pre-release publicity, or perhaps they’ve been shown material from the film as part of pre-release legal vetting, or they could have caught wind of something from someone who’s worked on it. There will have to be something to the complaint, however scant.

    • El Mariachi says:

      They don’t even have to use fictional brand names. Look at all these Steve Jobs biopics, they didn’t need to get permission to mention Apple or show its logo. The principal test in trademark cases is whether a reasonable person could be confused into thinking that the use of the mark indicates that the product (the movie, in this case) was produced or approved by the trademark holder. It’s very unlikely anyone would watch the BBC special under the mistaken impression that it’s an official Rockstar hagiography.

      • wild_quinine says:

        Arguably, the worse light they portray Rockstar in, the less likely it is to appear to be an authorised documentary. So provided they don’t stray into other legal hot waters by doing so, my thoroughly legal advice (no) would be to fling every bit of shit in the box at them, and see what sticks.

  5. damoqles says:

    “You’ll best know Paxton from Aliens, the film which I’ll semi-facetiously declare continues to exert more of an influence over video games than anything Rockstar’s done”
    That was definitely true – until the release of GTA III.

  6. aircool says:

    Am I the only person who apologises out loud after accidentally knocking over a pedestrian in GTA V?

    • ribby says:

      Yes

      I sweep the pavement of pedestrians with my vehicle

    • Bereil says:

      You are not alone. (only happens if I’m trying to drive according to road rules and such)

    • adelicatebalance says:

      I have hit a dog before, stopped, gotten out and just stood there thinking about “what I’d done”. People… not so much ;p

      • aircool says:

        I will go right out of my way to avoid the animals… shame there’s not way to turn them off. But hey, that’s the game I guess :(

      • caff says:

        The first time, yes.

        But since then I actively steer my vehicle to anything with a pulse. I actually try to hit deer in such a way that I can spin their ragdolling, lifeless corpses in amusing arcs.

    • SlimShanks says:

      If the game permits it, if I hit someone I stop,throw money at them, and phone an ambulance, then gtfo before someone calls the po. The protagonists in these sorts of games seem a lot less psychopathic and at odds with the games writing if you don’t play like a psychopath.

  7. Emeraude says:

    I haven’t slept in a couple of days and am even worse than my usual grumpy self, but am I understanding it right, are they using intellectual monopoly laws to try and prevent the making of what amounts to a documentary/mockumentary set piece?

    Or is the “factual drama” a euphemisms for “mostly made up stuff but using real people’s names” ?
    And in that case why are they not using libel laws ?

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      phuzz says:

      Neither, they’re using trademark law to argue that the BBC can’t use their name (or presumably the name “Grand Theft Auto” etc.) in their dramatisation.
      Presumably they’ve not seen any footage yet, so they can’t use libel law because they don’t know if or how they’ve been libelled. However, the BBC has openly released press releases containing trademarked names like Rockstar Games (TM), so that’s how they’re trying to go after them.
      Presumably this will just lead to more publicity for the BBC.
      If only there was an example of someone using legal threats against something, only to give a massive PR boost to that thing, for Take Two’s lawyers to think about…

      • Emeraude says:

        Neither, they’re using trademark law to argue that the BBC can’t use their name (or presumably the name “Grand Theft Auto” etc.) in their dramatisation.

        I guess the point of my question is what’s the aim of the dramatization ? Is this entertainment or documentary ?
        Is this skating a manipulative fine line to freely take from both while overlooking the obligations of either ?

        The idea that you can be forbidden to mention hard facts because of trademark is kinda sobering – I mean obviously everyone will know what it is we’re talking about even if the BBC were to be forced to change the names, but either the fact are inaccurate, and that’ a libel issue, or they are true, and trademark shouldn’t be involved in this at all.

        I mean, again with the twisting of intent of intellectual monopoly: trademark was supposedly created to protect both buyers and companies from fraudulent copies, but it’s being used way beyond its scope.

    • Samwise Gamgee says:

      Have you not slept in two days because you are an insomniac or have you been dancing in a warehouse or something? I just ask because I am an insomniac and it’s shit and it’s ruining my life.

  8. iainl says:

    Company that justifies everything it does as “satire” can’t handle the idea that people might be taking them less than seriously. Thanks for reminding me why I haven’t got GTA V yet.

    • eggy toast says:

      I agree. Also it would melt my computer and never pay over 20 currency.

  9. Dale Winton says:

    Hope rockstar manage to get it blocked after the BBC have spent all that money making it. Fuck them

  10. Dale Winton says:

    Bastards would not give me a contract to co-host Eurovision

    • Ross Angus says:

      Surly you can take solace in the fact that your avatar matches your complexion precisely.

  11. mandrill says:

    ” It’s struck me that some of you will be too young to remember that…”

    Really…?
    Oh god it’s true!

    Now I feel old.

  12. chewbaccasdad says:

    Can they do this? Aren’t filmmakers free to make a documentary about whoever they please, businesses included? I mean, something like Bowling For Columbine would be far more liable for legal action if this was the case.

    My theory is, since the Beeb aren’t consulting with Rockstar for this, is that maybe Rockstar have got wind of ex-employees of Rockstar consulting and are attempting to prevent themselves being portrayed in a negative or otherwise unflattering way.

    • iucounu says:

      This is a trademark thing. They will be presumably be claiming that somehow the Beeb is misrepresenting this as an authorised film, when it isn’t; and which is something that could conceivably happen and could harm their reputation (see my reply upthread.)

      The Beeb is entitled to depict real people in unflattering ways, so long as they don’t defame or libel them – if they want to make damaging accusations, they will have lawyers make sure they stick strictly to what can be proved. What they can’t do is pretend those depictions are authorised and condoned by someone else when they’re not.

      • chewbaccasdad says:

        But what makes Rockstar think they have to ‘authorise’ the film at all, and that it can’t be made without this authorisation. It’s not like Pirates of Silicon Valley required the permission of Microsoft or the players involved.

      • chewbaccasdad says:

        I see what you wrote above, and it’s still not clear exactly what Rockstar have seen that makes them think the film infringes on their trademark.

        • iucounu says:

          I don’t know what they think they’ve seen either – all I know is at the top of the page. All I’m saying is, we can’t say this is bullshit simply based on the scant information in the article. Just because IP law is so often a quagmire of bullshit, indeed, and trademark trolls and SLAPP suits exist, doesn’t mean there isn’t justice to be done. I’d be interested to see what the precise claim is.

          • pepperfez says:

            It might not necessarily be bullshit, but that’s typically the way to bet. Using IP law to attack people making a film about your company is an awfully bad look.

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    FailX says:

    Looks like the drama has already started!

  14. sapien82 says:

    I hope they sue the shit out of the BBC , I fuckin hate them so much criminal , propaganda merchants !

    • Kerr Avon says:

      I agree with you, the BBC today is a huge waste of resources run by a bunch of money-junkies, junkies, sycophants, government lackeys and low-life criminals who are in need of a good spanking and that’s just the start of it. The BBC needs to die. Regarding this Rockstar thing though, I can’t help but suspect it’s just another of Rockstar’s infamous publicity stunts for which they are truly the masters of. Still can’t believe it isn’t more widely known that Jack Thompson is a Take Two Interactive shareholder. His whole “crusade” against them was a cleverly engineered marketing campaign designed to promote their games. Can’t help but admire the genius of that, eh?