Firewatch, Ford, And Copyright Infringement Online

Olly Moss’s work on Firewatch [official site] is so beautiful and distinctive. It’s how I became aware of the game before I even knew it was a game – pictures of his creations tweeted into my timeline. They tap into that glorious “See America” tradition of stylised, romanticised imagery of national parks and other awe-inspiring spaces.

I can see the appeal of that style when you’re marketing a brand which trades on its American history and focus. But it looks like a Ford dealership has swiped Firewatch imagery without permission for use in an email marketing campaign.

Here’s the image as per the Twitter account of Panic Inc who co-produced Firewatch:

The email blast only mentions the Quirk Ford dealership of Quincy, Massachusetts and, as far as I can tell it’s limited to that specific dealership.

Campo Santo designer and writer, Sean Vanaman has made it clear that the usage was unauthorised:

Game Informer has some more information on their site – they phoned the dealership in question and got a few quotes, although Vanaman later refuted the dealership’s version of events. Quirk later issued an apology:

I guess my interest here is in Vanaman’s later responses. They’re pretty pragmatic:

This particular incident made the news cycle because Firewatch is a distinctive game and Ford is a big name. Thus the copyright infringement centred around a recognisible artwork and a link to a globally recognised company. The initial impression I got reading about the story on multiple sites or via social media responses was a kind of mixture of “this is so flagrant” and “they should have known better”.

Vanaman’s point is an important one because he adds a reminder that “olly and his contemporaries get yoinked 100x a day”. Where we differ (or at least from this tweet I think we might but short form internet communication makes it so hard to tell!) is that I don’t think that’s a non-story, exactly. It’s more that it’s representative of an ongoing problem with copyright law, intellectual property and the internet. This particular incidence isn’t unusual – it’s a non-story in that it’s part of a drip drip drip of copyright infringement which happens every time someone creates something other people want to share or use. But it is a story in that it can help us talk about that online sharing culture and where it helps and where it falls short.

I like the Tumblr ability to reblog as a kind of “quote with attribution” function. Retweeting and the embedding of a tweet also help. Some image providers have also acknowledged changes in how we use content (and how they can’t control that beyond a certain extent) – for example, Getty have a function where bloggers can embed imagery direct to their site. The blogger gets the high quality image so that’s an incentive for them to do it, and the embed code adds Getty’s credit info, photographer credit and so on. It also has a function where if you click the image you’re taken to a page where you can buy it.

Here’s a blog about the Getty stuff because it’s really interesting. It only applies to editorial, non-commercial usage, by the way. For something like the Quirk ads you’d still have to pay to license the imagery.

Obviously the Getty solution is a very particular response and it’s by a company with the resources to come up with such a scheme and then support it through massive amounts of content. Millions and millions of images all redirecting attention to the purchase page at the click of a button. For smaller-scale projects and artists that’s not an option.

And so. The ease of saving and re-uploading an image. The lack of understanding of copyright law. The pervasive share culture of the internet which works for good as well as for ill and only haphazardly cares about attribution. That copyright law isn’t a global constant and is only in fits and starts attempting to keep pace with online culture. That public domain means different things in different locations. That jurisdiction is tricky as all hell on the internet. Murky discussions about transformative works. Questions of whether a monkey might own a picture and what monkey ownership means for copyright

What I’d actually like is to see intellectual property law taught as part of citizenship at schools. Not with the intent of turning kids into armchair lawyers, but more with a view to engendering understanding of how your actions online affect other people’s work and their ability to make a living. The main purpose of copyright law is to promote creativity and progress. I feel like knowledge becoming more widespread could really help with discussions of how to make that work online.

Update: Just in case you wanted official closure here’s the Campo Santo Twitter response to Quirk’s apology:

And here’s Panic Inc’s response:


  1. icecreamjones says:

    Citizenship classes? Is that a thing? I don’t think we even have an equivalent here. Unless you mean as part of migrating?

    Regardless the idea sounds dodgy at best. There’s so much better use for education than this that won’t ever get implemented. Like how not to grow up to be someone who reads the Mail, Sun, et al for you UK folk.

    • anHorse says:

      In the UK we have Religious Education which is largely used to teach ethics and how people have different opinions, towards the end of school that gets replaced/accompanied by Citizenship which focuses more specifically on stuff like job applications, sex education and basic legal stuff.

      The idea seems to be to cover essential life stuff that doesn’t really fit into the rest of the curriculum

      • Unruly says:

        I don’t really see how sex education would fit in with citizenship and not health classes, but most of the other stuff used to be covered in US schools as Home Economics. At some point that class typically became “learn basic cooking skills, and maybe to sew a little bit,” abandoning home finances almost entirely. I know at my high school that particular part was moved to an “Intro to Business” type class, and even that only touched on things like investments, and didn’t do anything to explain how credit and loans actually work.

        Legal stuff should be at least partially covered in Civics, but I didn’t take Civics in high school, so I can’t say if it was in mine or not.

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          Philippa Warr says:

          In the UK we have PSHE. Sometimes it was colloquially referred to as “citizenship” where I lived because it’s Personal, Social, Health [And Economic] Education but sometimes the citizenship bit is a slightly separate part of that effort iirc.

          It basically aims to cover some things that might otherwise fall through the cracks or entirely depend on whether your parents/carers were able to provide them – bits about looking after yourself and functioning in wider society as part of a community. I see awareness of the very basic ideas of copyright as being part of the wider subject of respecting the work/needs of others in an increasingly online culture, hence it might fit within PSHE in the UK.

          • Unruly says:

            Ah, yea, that’s basically what Home Economics is supposed to be as well, but over the years it’s been, for lack of a better term, dumbed down to the point that actual classes tend to be cooking and general homemaking more than anything else, unless you’re taking one of the adult classes offered at a night school or something.

          • RaunakS says:

            That is a very cool idea! I wish we had anything remotely similar in India.

    • Fat Tony says:

      We do. Or at least we use to. When I was in high school (88-92) you took Social Studies. And part of your graduation requirement was passing a Constitution Exam.

  2. trjp says:

    The ad was run by a Ford DEALER, not by Ford themselves

    Imagine a game store ran ads for Forza using a photo from a car brochure and the motor trade talked about how Microsoft was infringing copyright…

    How dumb does that sound?

    • anHorse says:

      Could always read the article

      • trjp says:

        I read it and whilst it acknowedges that fact, the title implies the opposite – the developers response is similarly dumb and – frankly – I suspect they’re glad of the publicity…

        • Erayos says:

          Quirk Ford is the Ford dealer, and the developer only mentions Quirk Ford, not Ford. I can get why people would be mislead by the title though, but that’s about it.

        • thedosbox says:

          the developers response is similarly dumb

          Calling attention to the unattributed theft of your work is dumb?

          • trjp says:

            It’s not the most heinous example of this I’ve ever seen – at worst it’s someone not understanding copyright and the endless references to Ford (see also tags) are just sloppy.

            Meanwhile on Reddit, a developer who sought help to get their game (Orion) restored after a DMCA takedown (from Activision) has been exposed as a serial asset thief – that’s a story, this isn’t…

          • trjp says:

            Also, comments like “we’ve had a good laugh over a crappy car dealership flier” is kinda condescending/assholeish

            I mean they made what I consider a crappy game (if it’s a game at all?) but I didn’t apply that decision to what I think about this situation and neither should they…

          • Fat Tony says:

            As a graphic designer, I’ll tell you this actually is pretty heinous. An image lifted and used for a commercial solicitation to create revenue with no permission from or compensation to the original creator doesn’t get much worse.

            The idea of “there should be free use of everything” doesn’t pay the bills. The mortgage company doesn’t take payment in good will.

          • trjp says:

            In the real world, people seek out graphical assets almost oblivious of the legal implications and a LOT of this stuff goes on, completely unnoticed and – frankly – harming no-one.

            I’ve done web work for years – my partner was a graphic designer for a decade – the amount of stuff we’ve been shown/asked to “make things something like” or just asked to use as-is without any license/permission is almost uncountable (and often above our paygrade to refuse)

            In this case, our ‘walking simulator maker’ gets some publicity AND an apology AND gets to behave like an asshole – that’s a win, surely?

        • OfficerMeatbeef says:

          Pretty sure you’re misreading that statement. I’d bet it’s crappy car dealership FLYER, not crappy CAR DEALERSHIP flyer.

          I mean, it’s a flyer that stole their art to sell some cars. That’s a prrrrreeeetty crappy flyer. There’s absolutely nothing condescending or “assholeish” about it, it’s more or less an indisputable fact that that flyer is, indeed, crappy, whether the theft was knowing or otherwise.

    • X_kot says:

      I think you’re inferring a bit more than the writer is implying. Ford is relevant because the company has a specific way of branding itself, and their franchisees want to emulate and enhance that image. As the article notes, “I can see the appeal of that style when you’re marketing a brand which trades on its American history and focus.”

      Plus, companies like that have the resources to commission new art for their promotions, but they would rather be unethical skinflints so long as they’re not caught.

      • trjp says:

        To correct your ignorance, auto franchisees PAY for the privilege of reselling product – for which they are permitted to use logos etc with some fairly strict guidelines (widely ignored ofc)

        My example that it’s like blaming MS for a game store using unoffical pictures to sell Forza still stands – nothing to do with MS as this is nothing to do with Ford, whatsoever.

        Note: in the US, dealers must be independent by law – outside the US, some dealers may be ‘less independent’

  3. comic knight says:

    As an artist this really doesnt matter. This was just a internet department at a dealership just searching google images for a decent looking picture for their ad. Copywrite laws need to be changed anyway as they provide way to much entitlement to the creators. It is also such a basic picture that anyone could draw so why waste another persons time to draw it when its already been done?

    • trjp says:

      Whilst I dislike copyRIGHT laws as much as anyone, you’re absolute bonkers…

      What you said is “anyone should be able to copy anything” which is crazytalk.

      • MajorLag says:

        It’s only crazy because we’ve built an elaborate system of laws around ownership of ideas. A necessity of our economic system, sure, but ultimately completely silly in its own right.

        • trjp says:

          Except that it’s not because it everyone could use anything we’d have some sort of absolute chaos and absolutely no idea of the value of anything…

          It may be enough to people simply acknowledge the creator – imagine if this ad ran a small attribution which said “artwork from the lovely game of FireWatch which we really like – check their website …” – that would have been fine surely?

          It’s not like they’re selling slightly hipster walking simulators so no actual harm done and all – just credit where credit is due, backs scratched etc. etc.??

    • Tsumei says:

      Theft of creative works happens precisely because “anyone” can’t draw it.

      Christ I’ve met senior designers who couldn’t make something that good. You’re definitely speaking quite a lot of hot air.

      • trjp says:

        No idea what the people you’ve met did to get where they are, but being able to copy art goes a long way in graphic design and it’s not that hard at all

        I know a guy who’s 100% self-taught on guitar and plays a lot of Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen material just fine – CREATING it is rather harder than copying it

        Here’s a thought – what if that wallpaper had been Firewatch fanart – very much LIKE the game but not FROM the game – where would we be now (with an image almost identical and equally unlicensed??)

    • Michael Anson says:

      I am impressed by your willingness to completely waive all right to monetary compensation for your work, but to do so on behalf of all artists is more than a little presumptive.

  4. sosolidshoe says:

    “The main purpose of copyright law is to promote creativity and progress.”

    What a load of bunkum. That might have been the purpose, a century ago, when the law was written to give artists themselves total control of their work for a defined period so they could make a living from it before it passed into public domain(well within the artist’s lifetime), but today?

    No. The last century and especially the last 50 years, thanks to many corporations and uneducated, uncaring, or just flat out corrupt politicians, but most particularly thanks to Disney, copyright law has become a tool of control and stagnation where even non-commercial, attributed use of material can be shut down at a whim even in cases of demonstrable fair-use where there is explicit provision within the law.

    Some form of IP law is necessary in a scarcity-based economic system like Capitalism, that’s inarguable, otherwise the labour of artists and intellectuals ceases to have value, but as with all areas of the law the balance between owners and society has been tipped far too far towards the former – human creativity is fundamentally iterative, and the way modern copyright law can be used to bludgeon everything from critical review video content to non-profit fan projects into oblivion is a travesty.

    Is this an example of such behaviour? No, of course not, using someone else’s work to promote your profit-making business long before any reasonable IP Law construct would have made it public domain is clearly utterly unreasonable. However, the cynical way in which advocates of restrictive copyright try and create the impression modern, actual laws are equivalent to a general principle that some form of such laws are necessary must be challenged, especially since they always seem to be ready with an example of the poor struggling little guy rather than the lumbering, regressive, anti-creator corporations who the modern, actual law has been written to benefit.

    • trjp says:

      The purpose of copyright is to protect a creator’s right to earn from their work – whether that be reputation or hard cash.

      The idea that “without copyright, no-one would create” is absolute horseshit spouted by people who have not a single creative fibre in their bodies…

      • Nosada says:

        “The idea that “without copyright, no-one would create” is absolute horseshit spouted by people who have not a single creative fibre in their bodies…”
        I don’t have a single creative fiber in my body and I’ll have you know that even I find that sentiment highly ridiculous. Current copyright laws aren’t helping true creativity emerge. They ARE helping Apple sue Samsung for making their tablets rectangular though.

        • trjp says:

          I think we’re agreeing in a highly argumentative fashion – this is odd but hey, whatever…

          Screw those guys – all of those guys – screw – them…


    • Unruly says:

      The Berne convention is what started it all, what with its introducing the idea of automatically granted copyright upon creation, rather than needing to register a work with the government to obtain copyright status, and the rather massive term of “50 years after death of the author.” If you wanted to point fingers at a particular country, it would be France. For a particular person it would be Victor Hugo.

      It’s one thing to have a convention declaring international recognition of copyrights between signatory nations. That’s something I’d support. It’s another to have one that massively expands copyright terms and only allows for their furthering extension indefinitely. And the Berne Convention did both.

  5. wyrm4701 says:

    My experience (graphic designer for multinational professional services, among others) has been that the problem isn’t a lack of education, it’s a lack of consequence. I’ve been yelled at by partners, directors, and one CFO for refusing to appropriate other people’s work without compensation. I’ve nearly been fired for explaining the potential consequences for violating copyright. And it’s not that the people with the six-figure salaries don’t understand – the sanctity of their brand must be inviolable, after all – it’s that they don’t take it seriously until the legal department insists on a serious meeting.

  6. Kefren says:

    To teach it in schools it would probably need to be simple and globally consistent … oh, the joys I had teaching information literacy for an ever-changing topic. What gets me is that in many cases it is only the bigger corporations with the time and money to prosecute, but that’s more of a general law problem in many areas.
    For what it’s worth, I wrote a bit about infringement and the law and a case where it gets totally unbalanced last week. link to

  7. caerphoto says:

    We regret the error and to would like to issue an apology to @camposanto

    So did they actually issue an apology, or merely express a desire to do so?

    • trjp says:

      Educated people know that it’s only an apology if the other party accepts it – hence they express their wish to do so and await a reply.

      Decent people obviously accept – understanding that’s how it works.

      This is why people who just say “we’re sorry – OK” are assholes – they don’t understand social interaction.

      • caerphoto says:

        I would like to reply to this post.

        • trjp says:

          Accept sir – and congratulations, a fine acceptable

          *tips Tophat*

      • caerphoto says:

        Having now gained the requisite permission to reply, I now find myself in the inexpressibly vulgar position of having not the first notion of what I actually wished to opine in the first place.

    • X_kot says:

      Totally – whenever I hear that phrase from a company, Road to Perdition springs to mind.

  8. Merus says:

    It’s probably worth pointing out that ‘twitter user @panic’ is in fact the software firm Panic, who bankrolled Firewatch and thus have a stake in its intellectual property staying valuable.

    Panic themselves used to maintain a semi-serious page on their website where they detail all the instances they’re aware of where someone’s ripped off their art. Unfortunately, not updated for Firewatch, because there’s some doozies. They’re pretty sure Gillette lifted the logo.

  9. Eukatheude says:

    hahahahaha been seeing shit like this for years and years here in italy

  10. trjp says:

    I’m looking forward to the guy who designed the first Firewatch tower like that suing everyone – because that’s what copyright ultimately becomes…

    “Hey – I invented the circle, you wheels and letter Os are mine!”