The Problem with the Pinkertons

So stick to your guns, and don’t let the Pinkertons take you alive.

Recently, the security company that owns the IP attached to the vernarable complicated and tarnished name of Pinkerton decided to send a cease and desist letter to Rockstar games requesting payment for use of their name in Red Dead Redemption 2. Take-Two, the publisher of the game, has since countersued the Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations, which is owned by Securitas AB, for attempting to infringe upon its freedom of speech.

To me what’s so interesting about this story is not a company attempting to profit, again, off the popularity of a name, but the fact that the United States intellectual property systems essentially allow companies to feel that it is there right to squeeze profits from their IP’s no matter how old or cultural significant. This is the unfortunate issue brought up by this case that will not go any where and will result in a loss for the Pinkertons.

Issues at Play

Some of the major issues at play with this case revolve trademark law, and it seems that the Pinkertons aren’t happy with the view of the Pinkertons as exhibited by the game. The issues with trademarks:

  • Trademarks can last forever as long as those marks are continually used in Commerce
  • Trademark law gives companies a lot of power to protest the use of words, often very common words (See Beer Trademarks)

Essentially, a company can make an effort at commerce and then keep up some sort of activity. They then secure the rights to that ip almost in perpetuity. Things that can be trademarked include:

  • Names
  • Phrases
  • Some Colors
  • Images (Arbitrary and fanciful trademarks) 

What can’t be trademark:

  • Terms and phrases that enter common usage
  • Descriptive and generic terms

What’s at stake

For large companies involved with these types of suits, usually, there are not any stakes. They’ll sue and either have the cases dismissed or settle out of court. The problem comes up with smaller comes run afoul of these IP issues the stakes are very high. They maybe forced to rework names or branding, or simply have to cancel projects as a result of a suit or trademark complaint.

Now archivist should heed this case as well, as more companies turn to their trademarks as a revenue stream, archivist may be impacted by exhibiting, displaying or providing online access to records that may portray these brands in bad lights if a brand decides to sue or utilize a legal mechanism to an archives change course. Why might this happen? Experience has taught me that archives are typically extremely risk-averse organizations, and the mere threat of legal action usually has an archive, or their counsel, back away from their right and responsibilities.

So stick to your guns, and don’t the let Pinkertons take you alive.

Follow Up Reading

The ROM Drama

A major site that hosts ROMS of classic video games has shut down because they are being sued by Nintendo. There’s a lot of discussion around this topic circulating in games journalism. Here’s a few pieces



What are this issue

There are some issues at play here that don’t seem complex at first, but upon examination reveal a level of complexity. On the surface you can say that the issue is one of access. Gamers want access to older games, and the organizations that own these games are not provided access of any kind. Most of the older games in question. In response to this, gamers found ways to make their own access to the older games. This access, often referred to as preserving/archiving, involves pulling the original game from a physical medium and running the game through an emulator.

  • cultural ownership of commercial products
  • lack of market availability when there’s an obvious market demand
  • rigorous control of of intellectual property that had previously been seen as not having monetary value

Video Games as Community Archives

One thing that’s at play here is that video game enthusiast have a strong sense of community, and it might be that they are functioning as kind of community archival operation. 

What maybe of concern is whether the enthusiast are able to preserve games and related information better than specialized archives? That’s up for debate, but communities of gamers should have a role to play in preserving them. 

Further Reading

I Read This: June 12, 2018



I didn’t see this coming

Georgia Open Records and the News

I won’t say that 2016 and the start of 2017 has been good for discussion of access to public records in Georgia. I will say that it’s been interesting. These stories help me teach students about the importance of governmental records management and archives. Specifically the importance of these activities for an open and transparent government.

Here’s a listing of some of the “fun” stories that I’ve found. I’ll update this post as I find new, exciting, and terrible occurrences of open government and the news.

Spring 2017