Judge: video games don't infringe on Dillinger trademark

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A federal judge has shot down a lawsuit brought by heirs of notorious bank robber John Dillinger over the depiction of the Dillinger name in video games based on the classic movie "The Godfather."

U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson wrote in a ruling Thursday that the Electronic Arts Inc. video games in which players can choose a "Dillinger" gun are protected under the First Amendment as "literary works."

Mooresville-based Dillinger LLC had filed suit in October 2009, claiming Redwood City, Calif.-based Electronic Arts violated its trademark to the Dillinger name and character by appropriating it without their consent. They claimed the use of Dillinger's name had no artistic relevance to the Godfather games for Sony Playstation, Microsoft Xbox and Nintendo Wii, and that the depiction misled players into thinking the games had the endorsement of Dillinger.

The judge disagreed, writing that the Dillinger name is "quite incidental to the overall story of the game" and not a main selling point. Dillinger, who was killed by FBI agents in a 1934 shootout, was not alive during the period depicted in Francis Ford Coppola's “The Godfather” films.

“The court cannot simply infer that the Dillinger name confuses the public, let alone that such confusion outweighs First Amendment concerns,” Judge Magnus-Stinson wrote. “All that is challenged here a single text-line used to identify one of many weapons within a visually complex videogame comprised of countless artistic elements.”

The judge also ruled that Dillinger LLC, which owns the trademark for the Depression-era bank robber, cannot challenge the depiction of the Dillinger name under Indiana's Rights of Publicity statute, since the law was enacted long after Dillinger died. The judge effectively sided with EA on all counts.

The Dillinger heirs, which are represented by Taft Stettinius & Hollister, are expected to appeal the ruling to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Local counsel for EA is Bose McKinney & Evans.

In the Electronic Arts games, players maneuver through a virtual world based on “The Godfather” films’ story line, facing rival gangs in a quest to become the most powerful mob family in America and Cuba. The lawsuit notes that, as the games progress, players must obtain weapons with greater firepower. Different iterations of the game offer various versions of the Dillinger Tommy Gun.

The heirs were seeking a permanent injunction restraining EA from selling any games using Dillinger’s name, for all unsold games to be turned over for destruction at Electronic Arts’ cost, and an order requiring EA to pay for rehabilitative advertising of the Dillinger trademark.

This story originally was published in the June 17, 2011, IBJ Daily.


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  1. Mr Smith, while most reading these posts are too busy making money or cranking out what passes for justice in our legal-techocrat order,I have often attempted to resist your cynicism, well thought out cynicism I admit. Please know that I give up, I can resist your logic no more. From Locknarian Platonic Guardians, through the incorporation doctine, to substantive due process, to Roe, to the latest demands that all states redefine the foundational stone of all civilized social order, the history of America's fall from Grace is inscribed on the dockets of the judiciary. From the federal judges' apostasy of a kind that would have caused John Jay to recommend capital punishment, to the state judges' refusal to protect the sanctuary of the state constitutions, seeing in them merely a font from which to protect pornographers, those who scream "f*ck the police" and pemubras and emanations following the federal apostates, it has been the judiciary, by and large, that has brought the Experiment in Ordered Liberty to an end. The Founders had great and high hopes that they had designed the third branch to save the Republic from such a time as this ... rather the third branch has allowed itself to be used to drag the Republic into rat infested sewers from which no nation has ever returned. Save me from tomorrow:

  2. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  3. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  4. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  5. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied