Skip Navigation | Accessibility Statement
All Your Heals Are Belong to Us February 17, 2006 – 4:31 p.m. – Permalink

This is a reprint of an article at Terra Nova by Dan Hunter, posted on February 9, 2006. In preparation of a rather long and time–comsuming article I am writing.

The Canadian Red Cross wants game developers to stop using the Red Cross logo in games, claiming trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and playing the “support the troops” card by suggesting that use of a red cross in games removes the “protective value” of the mark in real war zones. No, I’m not making this up. I wish I were. The Vancouver Sun quotes David Pratt, the international issues director of the Canadian Red Cross:

“The fact that the Red Cross is ... used in videos which contain strong language and violence is also of concern to us in that they directly conflict with the basic humanitarian principles espoused by the Red Cross movement,”

Pratt said in a Jan. 31 letter to a Vancouver law firm that represents several Canadian game developers.

“The crux of the problem is that the misuse of the Red Cross in video games is not only in contravention of the law, it also encourages others to believe that the emblem of the Red Cross is “public property” and can be freely used by any organization or indeed for commercial purposes.”

Now, let me stipulate for the record that the Red Cross/Crescent is just a peachy institution. Really, it ranks right up there with apple pie and my mum. But just as my mum has been wrong on occasion, the Red Cross is acting like a jackass here.

This is a bad, bad claim that the Red Cross is making here. It is wrongheaded, and stupid. Part of the problem is the demonization of games and the whole “Jack Thompson and Hilary Clinton and Every Other Politician vs The Games Industry” Punch–and–Judy show. In trademark law this issue gets played out as “tarnishment” and the implication here is that the Red Cross’s mark is somehow tarnished by association with a violent videogames. Please. I could maybe buy this if you built a videogame that had Red Cross workers as spawn of Satan, going round killing innocent babies under color of helping them. But the mere use of a Red Cross symbol within the game? C'mon.

Beyond this there is a more pernicious problem that demonstrates a lot of what is wrong in intellectual property policy. The Red Cross seems to think that the symbol is its property (it isn't exactly, but leave that be for the moment) and the concept of private property demands the ability to exclude others from using your stuff without your permission. But the problem with strong claims of property here is this means that we have to remove this symbol from the common pool of expression. That is, if we recognize a property claim in this red cross, then the only way that I can, for example, have red crosses float over my character when I heal myself is by striking some deal with the property owner. The owner (i.e. the Red Cross) can stop me from using it otherwise. But how else, exactly, am I supposed to communicate graphically the concept of healing? What about the representation of a hospital within a MMOG? Sure, I could put “The Edward Castronova Memorial Hospital and Treatment Center for MMOG Addiction“ on a generic building; but how much more expressive is this same building with a great big red cross on it? As my character races past this building, on his way to committing a foul murder or a random carjacking, I know that this is a representation of a hospital that may come in handy when the cops shoot me and I’m in need of some bandages.

This problem is an example of the way that the expansion of intellectual property claims restricts the ability of people to express themselves. If I wasn’t goofing around with loopy blog posts like this one, I would be finished the book I’m allegedly working on that is exactly on this topic, and I could upload it for you to see more examples. I’ll do that when I get a readable draft (in about ten years at the current rate).

In the meantime, someone contact the Red Cross and tell them that this is a daft idea. I tell you what, you can even infringe my intellectual property and copy this whole blog post in your letter to them.

In other news ugh. Via Twisted Intellect.