9 Rockstar Lawsuits You Might Not Have Heard About
Rockstar is a subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive. Since December 1998, it has been operating and is based in New York City. The American giant specializes in the publishing of video games. Take-Two has been acquiring new video game companies contributing to its broadening. Some of them include Rockstar Canada in 1999 and Rockstar Dundee in 2020. All these companies are managed under the umbrella of the Rockstar Games. Most of the games published by the company are based on action adventures, with a few succeeding as racing games.
The games include Grand Theft Auto, Manhunt, Max Payne, Midnight Club, Red Dead, and Bully. Grand Theft Auto 5 is rated as the most-sold video game, with more than 170 million copies sold. By 2018, the company had employed more than 2000 employees. The Sports Unfold the net worth of the Rockstar Games is more than $5 billion. With such a high number of sales and employees, one would expect that the company has been embroiled in one of the toughest legal battles. Here are the 9 Rockstar lawsuits you may not have heard about.
9. Shawn Lee Versus Rockstar Games
The Grand Theft Auto Series remains the most controversial game owned by the Rockstar Games company. In almost a matter similar to Lindsay Lohan’s Versus Rockstar Games, An Attempt to Accuse Rockstar of Identity Theft (see in a separate part of the article), the game was accused of copyright infringement by Shawn Lee.
The plaintiff is a musician and composer. Earlier, the musician had done a cover song for the Bully game. When the respondent requested him to provide them with a song for ‘an upcoming game,’ he provided them with a ‘spec track.’ The company rejected the song, and each party moved on. Lee later released the ‘spec track’ as the fully-fledged track named’ Biker Chick.’
According to the lawsuit reported by SVG, some components and stems of the song are reflected in the Grand Theft Auto Series game. Together with his recording house, Ubiquity Records sued Rockstar. In his filings, he said that he was not consulted on whether there were elements of his songs that they would use in the game.
8. Rockstar Games Lawsuits Against Cheat Makers
In February 2020, the U.K. Intellectual Property and Enterprise court found that two men were involved in the ‘mod menu’ cheat Epsilon. The ‘mod menu’ was illegally designed by persons in the dark market to help players win games more easily. To Rockstar, this amounted to interference with its software and infringement of property rights.
The company had identified five people involved in the scheme. In their defense, the persons behind the Epsilon claimed that they used material from other sights to come up with the menu, and they never altered the game’s original settings. The company has filed similar successful lawsuits in the U.S.
7. Lindsay Lohan vs. Rockstar Games, An Attempt to Accuse Rockstar of Identity Theft
Lindsay Lohan is among the famous American celebrities. She is a singer and an actress. In 2014, Lohan sued Rockstar Games, accusing the company of having a character, Lacey Jones, in their Grand Theft Auto video game launched in September 2013. She alleged that the character not only looked at her but also had a voice similar to hers.
Despite the game’s high sales, it had sold more than 275 million copies, and Ms. Lohan’s fame had waned by that time. Her case was based on the invasion of privacy without her consent.
She lost the first case and filed an appeal at the New York Court of Appeals. The six appeal judges unanimously held that though a computer game character would fit into the definition of a portrait, the claim that Lacey Jones resembled her was not fully supported.
In one of the judge’s rulings, Eugune Fahey wrote that the character depicted the persona of a young modern beach woman who could not be recognized as Lindsay Lohan. The court also used the same grounds to dismiss a case brought by Karen Gravano, a reality Tv star, against the company on the same grounds.
6. Los Angeles Attorney General vs. Rockstar Games, The Hiding Pornographic Material in a Video Game ($2.19 million)
According to Eurogamer, the Attorney General for Los Angeles, Rocky Delgadillo, filed a lawsuit against Rockstar over the infamous Hot Coffee mod in the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas game. The AG claimed that the game failed to notify players that it had some hidden pornographic material that it deliberately installed to boost its total sales. According to state law, this amounted to unfair business practices.
The company sought to settle the matter out of court. Shack News reported on June 25, 2008, that 2676 people had already filed to benefit from the settlement. Though each offended customer would only get between $5 to $30, the total payments would rocket to $2.19 million. The settlement also demanded that the company was to revise the game and remove the content.
5. Garrett Flynn & Others vs. Rockstar Games, A $2.75 million Settlement Over Failure to Pay Overtime
Garrett Flynn and Terri-Kim Chuckry filed a class lawsuit against Rockstar Games, accusing it of failing to pay Overtime to more than 100 employees whose roles were “to create, produce, copy and install images into video games.” The case was filed on August 21, 2006, and was certified as a class lawsuit. Primarily, the employees were formally working for Angel Studios, a subsidiary of Rockstar Games, which operates in San Diego.
The Engage+ reported on January 15, 2010, that the company had agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle the case. However, in a press statement, the company argued that the settlement did not amount to any form of admission of guilt. In addition, it alleged that continued litigation on the matter would be expensive to all parties.
4. Karen Gravano vs. Rockstar Games, An Identity Theft Lawsuit ($40 million)
Karen Gravano’s lawsuit was similar to that of Lindsay Lohan Versus Rockstar Games, An Attempt to Accuse Rockstar of Identity Theft. The main difference, in this case, is that she was forthcoming on the amount of money she wanted-$40 million. In her suit, she alleged that GTA 5 created a character, Antonia Bottino, based on her life story without permission. In the game, Bottino is a daughter of a gangster who turned against his former colleagues and testified against them.
She also alleged that Rockstar based the character’s appearance on her. According to Cinema Blend, the company argued that in courts had already that life stories are not concepts that are protected by law. It further alleged that some parts of Bottino’s life differed from that of Gravano; for example, he was captured and buried alive, which never happened to Gravano. The case was dismissed both in the initial filing and on appeal.
3. Leslie Benzies vs. Rockstar Games & Others, Unlawful and Deceptive Termination ($150 million)
According to Games Industry.biz, Benzies sued Rockstar alongside its owner Take-Two, Dan Houser, and Sam in 2016 in what is lawyer termed as “numerous deceptions.” The plaintiff was a studio head for the Rockstar North studio. The problem started in September 2014 when Benzie took a sabbatical leave. In January 2016, the company released a statement alleging that Benzies had decided not to return to work, a position that Christopher Bakes of the Locke Lord Law firm disputed.
According to the lawyer, after concluding his sabbatical leave on April 1, 2015, he could not access his office because his access keys had been deactivated. His requests to get into the facilities to the security team were heard, but the Rockstar North office manager later ordered him out. Benzies further alleged that through its representatives, the company was trying to force him out of a $150 million royalty payment deal that he was negotiating with the company while on his sabbatical leave.
2. Jack Thompson Acting on Behalf of an Inmate vs. Rockstar Games & Others, Attempt to Lay Criminal Liability on the Company’s Game ($246 million)
Jack Thompson is one of the fiercest critics of video games in the United States. Whenever he is presented with a chance to take down a video game, he never hesitates to pick it up. In October 2003, he filed a lawsuit against Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto III. He argued that the game was responsible for the criminal activities committed by two teenage stepbrothers who pleaded guilty to endangerment, homicide, and assault. The boys alleged that after watching the game, they got inspired to commit the offense.
The lawyer sued Take-Two, and Rockstar alongside Sony Computer America and Wal-Mart for production, distribution, and providing a platform for the kids to play the game. In his arguments, Thompson said that all the parties had participated in encouraging violent behavior. The matter was dismissed on October 25, 2003, after the plaintiff filed a voluntary dismissal notice.
1. Rockstar Games vs. Pinkerton Detective Agency, A Counter Lawsuit to Avoid a Possible Payment in Royalties of More than $725 million Royalties
Pinkerton Detective Agency sued Rockstar Games in December 2018, claiming that the latter had used some of its famous detectives to create civilian characters in the making of the Red Dead Redemption 2 game. The investigation agency had claimed to be paid royalties from the copies the company had already sold and other future sales.
Pinkerton claimed that the setting and design of the characters created an impression that the game had originated from them. In response, Rockstar chose the hard way, and it paid. It filed a counter-lawsuit against the Pinkerton Detective Agency, accusing it of defamation and character assassination.
In addition, Rockstar claimed in its suit that the First Amendment protected the use of Pinkerton’s characters, and the matter should not have proceeded to a full hearing. Before the matter was ruled on, Pinkerton withdrew its initial case, and Rockstar returned a similar favor. According to Supra, these would have led to high financial losses considering that the game had sold more than $725 million in its first three days.
An Analysis of Cases Rockstar Lawsuits
The lawsuits discussed above are similar to other cases facing other video game companies. In brief, in an analysis of the cases, you shall notice that they:
– Evolve around the violation of copyrights. The cases with Google and Pinkerton were based on this concept.
– Allegations of infringements of civil liberties. The Rockstar cheer lawsuits were founded on the violation of civil liberties.
– The company has also had a good share of conflicts it has been having with former employees. This is evident from the San Diego employees and Leslie Benzie’s’ lawsuit.
– The Grand Theft Auto Series comes out as the game that has caused the company the most legal troubles. Identity theft is the most common issue around the game.
Notably, if the company had lost the cases against Pinkerton Detective Agency, Linsday Lohan, and the convict’s case brought by Thompson, it would have opened itself to serious future limitations. For example, every parent whose kids are watching its games and committing criminal offenses would blame it on the company. Though sued on heavy grounds, it is also clear that the company has good defense strategies and has won many of them.
From the above cases, Rockstar Games is a fierce defender of its institutional rights. It is also interesting to note that the company has never lost a case to an individual plaintiff or respondent. To minimize the litigation costs, it has effectively employed the use of out-of-court settlement tactics to settle class lawsuits as it was in the Garrett Flynn & Others Versus Rockstar Games, A $2.75 million Settlement Over Failure to Pay Overtime.
Gaming companies can learn a lot of the tactics employed by the Rockstar games. At the same time, the company should not rely on its current successes to loosen the legal compliance mechanisms. It must be wary of suits brought by celebrities, for they have a great audience which may have serious public relations implications.
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