EA’s License Fees to Gun Makers

Over at gamedev.net a forum dweller asked about implementing “real guns” (i.e. computer versions of existing firearms) into a video game without paying the gun maker(s) a license fee. As the response from Hodgman (below) indicates, Electronic Arts adheres to a FTS protocol. It uses “real” guns in its games without kissing Gaston’s GLOCK. Or something like that. In fact, they never have. They simply stopped promoting gun makers inside their games when the post-Newtown civilian disarmament deal hit the headlines. Just thought you’d like to know.

It’s a bit of a grey area.

– If a character in a book uses a real-world product, that’s just the author trying to make his world seem real, and to relate to the reader.

– If a person on TV uses a product, the TV station will usually blur out the branding, so that they’re not accused of trying to create a false association.

– If a person in a film uses a real product, you can be sure that a lot of money changed hands in an advertising deal 

These are all basically the same situation, but the precedents set in each medium are different…

In shooter games, many companies in the past have been threatened with IP infringement lawsuits for including real guns, tanks, helicopters (names and forms that are trademarked and under copyright), which has caused many games to use fake names for their guns.

However, recently EA notoriously decided to stop bowing to these threats, and they have started using real names and looks in their shooter games again (without paying the licensing fees). This is a dangerous game — the product owners may sue them at any time. They might win the lawsuit, because they’re just “depicting real products in real settings”, or they might lose, and be forced to pay licensing fees to acquire the rights to use this IP…

If I was making an indie shooter game set in the real world, I’d probably just shoulder that risk and use real products for the sake of authenticity… and because I think the lawsuits are BS… but it is a risk.

comments

  1. avatar ST says:

    It’s my impression that most games use real guns with fake names.Ergo,the “Tactical Carbine” in GTA which is an M4.

    1. avatar Skeev says:

      I’ve noticed that as well. One I’ve played recently, War Inc. has a mix of real names and fake names. Most of the fake names will mean something to you if you know the gun in real life.

  2. avatar PhoenixNFA says:

    Payday 2 is a relatively independent game and it uses names that are sometimes similar to the real thing (bernetti 9) (mark 10), but te likenesses are almost exactly the same.

    1. avatar mllopilato says:

      My buddy and I have been trying to pull off a stealth framing frame for a week.

      1. avatar PhoenixNFA says:

        I’m more of a run and gun type guy myself. The stealth has its place. I did the safe in the office of the jewelry store by myself stealth right up until I broke another window and a civvy called the cops on it. Shit sandwich after that. The AI is damn near useless.

  3. avatar Blehtastic says:

    Copyright and Patent law is a hot mess in this country.

  4. avatar HEF51 says:

    You should consider changing the video. A article talking about EA, showing a video of call of duty. Thats equal to a article about Glock and showing an AR15.

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      Text amended.

    2. avatar Semper Why says:

      Heh. Good analogy.

  5. avatar B says:

    EA is quite familiar with stealing other people’s likenesses with their NCAA games. I hope the gun makers all band together for one giant class action lawsuit against them. These games are all about the guns. Stats, unlocking them, using one that puts you at a disadvantage to school your buddies. The whole multiplayer is built around the guns as the stars. I personally hate the games, but whatever floats people’s boats.

    1. avatar Semper Why says:

      It’s a little more complicated than that. EA can’t pay the NCAA players for their likeness because NCAA rules prohibit the athletes for being payed for their position on the team. If they get paid, then they lose their amateur status as a “student athlete” and aren’t eligible to play.

      It sucks, but it’s a legal question not a greed question.

  6. avatar crzapy says:

    Guns are icky and gun makers are evil so it is okay to steal from them and ‘pirate’ their copyrighted images and names. Hollywood and Silicon Valley hypocrisy.

  7. avatar cmonty says:

    If gun manufacturers are too stupid to recognize the absolute best free advertising any product in the history of the stinking world has ever received I certainly hope they lose.

    1. avatar (Formerly) MN Matt says:

      Absolutely this. While I wouldn’t describe video games as being my “gateway,” it absolutely tickles me pink to look down an M4 with an EOTech mounted on top in Battlefield 3. It’s charmingly familiar.

      1. avatar Mecha75 says:

        Yup. Games like Call of Duty and Battlefield have actually been good for the gun business. It is a fact that a lot of these kids grow up and buy some of the guns they have played with.

  8. avatar disthunder says:

    Pfft. Free advertising. That’s why gun companies don’t say jack about it. It should really be the other way around- gun companies can’t buy this kind of exposure from any other venue. Hell, there is no bigger venue than call of duty.

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      There are plenty of manufacturers who pay “product placement fees” to Hollywood so that their products will be prominently displayed in films. If that’s the case, how could it be logical for manufacturers to contend that they should be paid “licensing fees” for an image of their product that shows up in a video game? In my view their copyright extends to the actual product, not to representations of that product, absent “product disparagement” (which is a while different kettle of fish).

      On the other hand, I have a completely different opinion about ripping of likenesses of real people. Athletes and movie stars alike have a monetary interest in their representation–they sell their face to advertisers. And when represented in a game, the game maker is selling his product based on the likenesses in the game–he is selling their face/body etc. Glock can only sell its gun, not its likeness.

      1. avatar cmonty says:

        It’s not a copyright issue. Unless they can argue trade dress (which they wouldn’t as you’d have to argue your design is not functional) it’s a trademark issue. You can’t use “Colt” in commerce without their permission barring fair use. Trademark protection is very broad.

    2. avatar Semper Why says:

      This is a great point and one I suspect is not lost on the gun manufacturers. Where else can you virtually try out hundreds of different firearms in an evening? Okay, yeah it’s not particularly realistic. But how else are you going to hear/see/experience about guns such as the Vector, the FS2000 or the WA2000?

      1. avatar Mecha75 says:

        The only issue is the guns don’t perform the same as they would in the real world. I dunno anyone who can accurately “quick scope” someone with a Barrett 50 while merely shouldering the rifle.

    3. avatar Not So 1337 says:

      I’m almost 100% certain Remington paid Activision some serious dough for COD MW3. For those who don’t know or don’t remember, several of the rifles had “REMINGTON” plastered across them in large, hard-not-to-notice letters.

  9. avatar Gabriel Martin says:

    Ea destroys everything it touches, if I was a gun maker I would keep them as far away from my products as I can.

    1. avatar eshank881 says:

      This is totally true from a videogame franchise acquisition standpoint (see Command & Conquer as an example to name just one). But I would counter that when EA creates games around things that already exist in the real world, those things continue on just fine. NCAA, NFL, etc. I don’t know how Polyphony Digital handles licensing for all the cars and tracks in their Gran Turismo series, but that’s where I’d start if I were looking for “the right way” to do guns in a Battlefield, CoD, or MoH game.

  10. avatar Crashbbear says:

    90% of the guns i own I purchased because i liked them in a game. Its free advertising to the next generation of gun owners.

  11. avatar Ralph says:

    In other news, a 7 year old boy was sued for patent infringement after he accidentally chewed a Pop Tart into the shape of a Glock.

    Meanwhile in St. Petersburg fka Leninfrad, a teenager chewed his hoagie into the shape of an SKS, and the sandwich was named a Hero of the Russian Federation.

  12. avatar JRP says:

    EA, and every other video game company, have a simple workaround by using military designations instead of actual copyrighted/trademarked name. Example: Using the US military designation (M240 or M9) instead of the manufacturer’s (FN MAG or Beretta 92). The US military doesn’t care nor is even eligible to claim copyright infringement. A similar tactic works for (against?) Glock, G19 is too undefined a name to be grounds for a suit. However, you will note, there are practically no Ruger firearms in any video game (AFAIK), because no military uses them. Hence, no option to use a cool sounding military designation.

    Besides, wasn’t there a story not to long ago about hoplophobes freaking about in-game advertising for firearm related accessories? The further a company stays away from being “too real”, the less negative attention they will acquire from the gun grabbers.

    1. avatar Nine says:

      I only know of teo instances in which a Ruger firearm was in a game.

      The AC556 in Fallout Tactics.

      And the Mini-30 was in Max Payne 3, unless someone wants to correct me on that one.

  13. avatar Jeh says:

    If a gun company sues a game for using its guns names without proper licensing, that just seems like an excuse to fill their wallets. If one of my firearms made it to a game like MoH, id be excited for the publicity. Hell Tom Clancy games always feature HK “shaizen” and the backlash is more people dying for their products. Grant it, by the time a person is playing the game, they know what the firearm is already in realty, but that can just force the argument that the lawsuit is frivolous to start.

  14. avatar Resident CT says:

    There was an article in the CT Patch newspaper about Democrat Connecticut House Speaker Brendan Sharkey (yes that is his real name), writing video game manufacturer reps to stop licensing real guns. Notably Sharkey credits EA for:

    “Sharkey credited Electronic Arts (EA) for announcing it was ending its practice of licensing deals with gun makers, of which he said he hopes would become an industry standard.”

    Sharkey also “acknowledged that research has shown little connection between violent video games and actual gun violence in America.”

    His letter is here and it is pretty propaganda rich and fact poor.

    http://www.housedems.ct.gov/Sharkey/pubs/Letter_2013-08-14.pdf

    Also mentioned is a farce of a report by Moms that Demand Action for Gun Sense. I would expect this “report” to show up along with efforts to ban video game guns. In CT there has been efforts to ban toy guns and video games last legislative session, not just real guns.

    http://mom.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/GAME-OVER-RESETTING-THE-RELATIONSHIP-BETWEEN-VIDEO-GAME-AND-GUN-MANUFACTURERS.pdf

  15. avatar Out_Fang_Thief says:

    I don’t think gun manufacturers are worried about their product being used to defend
    liberty, freedom, etc., they’re worried that their product could be used in GTA, or some
    other less than law-abiding video game. If they don’t protect their product for uses they
    agree with, they won’t be able to protect their product for uses they don’t agree with.

  16. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

    It’s bad business to sue someone giving you free advertising.

  17. avatar Defens says:

    Is it just me, or did the protagonist in that little clip have his carbine pointed at the asses or backs of his buddies for about half of that clip? Is it impossible to use muzzle discipline in these games, or is it just an artifact of having to move in the direction that the muzzle is pointed?

    1. avatar CarlosT says:

      It’s pretty much impossible, because the gun always points where you’re looking. There’s no such thing as low ready in an FPS.

      1. avatar Nine says:

        Not (entirely) true.

        Rainbow Six goes into a low ready if you point at an ally/civilian.

        S.T.A.L.K.E.R requires you to put your gun away before people will talk to you

  18. avatar David PA/NJ says:

    They’ve had the “Holographic” sight in COD since Call of Duty 4, but notably in the latest game Black Ops II, it’s called the EoTech and you can use a number of holo configurations they sell in real life including the zombie biohazard one. Black Ops II also features several guns from FN, by name, such as the Ballista, SCAR, and FNH45

  19. avatar sindaan says:

    Who cares what they call these weapons.

  20. The gun makers should see it as free advertising for their wares, that might be far more valuable than license fees. In fact, I’m surprised car companies haven’t made a deal with Grand Theft Auto to feature their products, you’d think that be a perfect opportunity to create brand awareness.

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