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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. It appears the police and prosecutors are allowed to change the rules halfway through the game to suit themselves. I am surprised that the congress has not yet eliminated the right to a trial in cases involving any type of forensic evidence. That would suit their foolish law and order police state views. I say we eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes committed by members of congress and other government employees. Of course they would never do that. They are all corrupt cowards!!!

  2. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  3. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  4. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  5. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

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