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Federal Court Dismisses  GTA  Strip Club Infringement Claims

Federal Court Dismisses GTA Strip Club Infringement Claims Exclusive

November 7, 2008 | By Chris Remo

November 7, 2008 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

A U.S. federal court has dismissed claims by a strip club owner that Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas' satirical depiction of the club infringes the club owner's trademark.

The legal battle, which pits the real-life East Los Angeles establishment The Play Pen against the game's fictional Pig Pen, has been raging for over three years.

In 2006, Gamasutra revealed that a California district court granted Rockstar's request for summary judgment on the basis of First Amendment protection.

Now, a ninth circuit federal court of appeal has upheld that decision, with circuit judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain rendering the court's opinion on the matter. (PDF link, via Against Monopoly.)

Much of O'Scannlain's opinion revolved around Rockstar's artistic adaptation of the real-life strip club in the service of a satirical interpretation of the Los Angeles area, which the game represented as the fictional city Los Santos.

"That neighborhood [East Los Angeles], with all that characterizes it, is relevant to Rockstar's artistic goal, which is to develop a cartoon-style parody of East Los Angeles," he writes. "Possibly the only way, and certainly a reasonable way, to do that is to recreate a critical mass of the businesses and buildings that constitute it."

In regards to copyright claims, O'Scannlain pointed out that no reasonable consumer could confuse San Andreas with the Play Pen or associated their corporate identities:

"The San Andreas Game is not complementary to the Play Pen; video games and strip clubs do not go together like a horse and carriage or, perish the thought, love and marriage. Nothing indicates that the buying public would reasonably have believed that ESS produced the video game or, for that matter, that Rockstar operated a strip club."

But the judge's most amusingly pointed comment, saved for the end of his opinion, is one that speaks to a broader disconnect between the open-world, player-driven nature of GTA, and common criticisms leveled at such games for supposedly disproportionately representing certain seedy activities:

"Undeterred, ESS also argues that, because players are free to ignore the storyline and spend as much time as they want at the Pig Pen, the Pig Pen can be considered a significant part of the Game, leading to confusion. But fans can spend all nine innings of a baseball game at the hot dog stand; that hardly makes Dodger Stadium a butcher's shop."

In conclusion, the ninth circuit upheld the earlier district ruling, confirming the summary judgment in Rockstar's favor on First Amendment grounds.

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