Reader Submission #90 – The Risky Business of Skirting Trademarks

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As the debacle surrounding Reiza Studios and their battle with Formula One Management continues into its second week – with Automobilista still failing to appear on the Steam marketplace – avid PRC.net reader FMecha has sent in a beautiful Reader Submission chronicling the long list of copyright claims across various driving games. A great entry that is well worth your time to read on this otherwise quiet Friday afternoon, the piece goes to show that Reiza Studios weren’t the first developer team to run afoul of copyright technicalities, and they certainly won’t be the last.


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Hello PRC! I would like to discuss the issue and examples of skirting trademarks in racing games, in light of a recent controversy – what allegedly forced Steam to de-list Automobilista.

Dodging, evading, or skirting trademarks – whatever you want to call it – just like the alleged reason behind the de-listing of Reiza Studios’ Automobilista is nothing new. Other racing game developers, just like Reiza, when they are unable to afford license(s) for something they want to represent in their racing games, may chose to take shortcut and attempt to thinly disguise it. There are three types of skirting trademarks I have witnessed in racing games:

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The first kind involved deliberate misspelling of trademarks, like it was a counterfeit brand or something. This was prevalent in Japanese racing games around the 80’s and the 90’s. Examples of games using this technique include Video System’s (best known for the Aero Fighters arcade shmup series) Tail to Nose (based on the 1988 F1 season and also known as Super Formula in Japan), and Visco’s Drift Out. Of note, both games had sequels with licensed vehicles – Video System would later create licensed F1 games based on early and late 90s seasons, while Visco’s Drift Out was followed with Drift Out ’94: The Hard Order, that had licenses for all manufacturers (except Ford) and Neo Drift Out, the best known of all three due to the fact it was one of few racing games for the Neo-Geo platform and had licenses for all three Japanese WRC racers featured in the game.

This method was not free of repercussions. Tobacco giant Phillip Morris sued Sega because of the “Marlbobo” logos in early revisions of the arcade version of Super Monaco GP, primarily on grounds it was seen as marketing cigarettes to the youth. Sega was forced to issue a revised version of the game with many of the fake “sponsors” edited out; the title screen, which featured a Marlboro-sponsored McLaren car and a partially visible Marlboro ad, had to be edited as well.

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The second method involved changing everything that belongs to the original cars (usually race car sponsors) with something original, and invented by the developer, while keeping the livery intact – this is usually done only on the race cars. This tactic was probably as closest I can to describe what Reiza did; apart from that, a small, obscure developer, Prism Arts, released two arcade rally racers, Rally de Africa and Rally de Europe, both for PlayStation and only in Japan. Both games featured various rally cars that have the body and the livery of the original cars, but all sponsor decals have been changed to those invented by the developer. (For example, the Diac logos on the Renault Megane Maxi were changed to Juno, etc). A similar act was done in Grand Prix Legends, after Sierra/Papyrus’ inability to secure Honda and Cooper licenses forced them to thinly disguise both teams as Murasama and Conventry, respectively.

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I don’t know if this belongs to the first or the second method I described, but BATracer did something similar after the debacle with Ferrari that lead to the birth of Team Wales; every other manufacturer and team names were changed, most of them were play of the name of the originals. For instance, McLaren became McLewis, Red Bull became Red Bell, Toro Rosso became Roro Torso, Lotus became Sotul, etc.

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Japanese racing games that deal with JDM cars, such as Shutokou Battle (Tokyo Xtreme Racer) series, play it differently. Most of them opt to just put the chassis codes of the car directly in their games, since every car nerd – their target audience – practically knew them and under assumption that those are not trademarked. AE86, BNR34, NA1, CE9A, GC8, FD3S, JZA80, EK9, S14, you name it. The risks were displayed when Crave, the company that localized the PS2 Shutokou Battle/Tokyo Xtreme Racer series (Genki developed them), was asked by Honda – a manufacturer that has a flip-flopping stance against street racing (they were absent in Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3/Shutokou Battle 01, the first game in the series with licensed cars – as well in the Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune series, yet appearing in Need for Speed Underground games, as well as the latest NFS title, albeit late in the development) to rename their cars’ chassis codes to something unrecognizable, as well as redrawing the front box art of the game (recycled from TXR2 for Dreamcast; fitting since TXR0 is retelling of TXR2’s story) so that one of cover cars’ front fascia resembled the NSX less. (Unfortunately, not only the disc art went unchanged, they left a Honda chassis code unchanged: RF2, for Honda Stepwgn, a Japan-only MPV. Yes, you can play as an MPV in TXR0).

Yes, I mentioned lots of obscure racing games and yes, thinly disguising things when a developer doesn’t have the license is nothing new, and a carries a high legal risk.

 


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A great write-up, and I can’t say I have much more to add. Any time a developer tries to interpret copyright laws in their own way, it turns into a giant game of roulette. Either they get away with it and it becomes a part of the game’s lore – as seen with Tokyo Xtreme Racer – or it gets a developer in deep shit, which is what most likely happened to Reiza Studios.

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42 thoughts on “Reader Submission #90 – The Risky Business of Skirting Trademarks

  1. Worth pointing out that the Japanese examples exist because these trademarks are nowhere near as protected there, so you can get away with a hell of a lot more. It’s far more consumer-friendly than the legislative nightmare that is the current copyright system in the west.

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  2. Cry all you want Reiza fanboys, but Reiza’s days of being a trusted and reliable developer are over, especially when Stock Car Extreme gets taken down. The content of Reiza’s games infringes on so many different trademarks, and they will be out of business soon. They won’t be missed either since they released glorified rFactor 1 mods EIGHT TIMES.

    Rest in Shit Reiza Studios

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    1. Seeing so many people jumping with joy and laughter at the fall of a developer really tells the story of values behind this community.

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      1. Not the whole community just 1 or 2 guys spaming here and making trouble. This site started a very disgusting behavior from a few individuals that should seek for some treatment….
        Do you ever remember seeing shit like this before PRC appeared?

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      2. >Not the whole community just 1 or 2 guys spaming here and making trouble. This site started a very disgusting behavior from a few individuals that should seek for some treatment….

        You mean those thugs who question AC’s simulation value and that shit?

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  3. But you got to question the thinking behind Reiza putting in the Brabham BT44 as part of the content. Bernie Ecclestone owned that team so it was unlikely to stay under the radar.
    I can imagine some ambitious tea-boy at the FOM offices showing his bosses screengrabs of the BT44 and saying: Is that not Mr Bernie’s team from the seventies? Brownie points for tea boy and his manager when they took their ‘discovery’ upstairs to the boss.
    So when someone at Reiza decided to add the |BT44 to the AMS inventory they were either very brazen or very ignorant…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I recently informed V8 Supercar management via email that game by the name of Stock Car Extreme / Automobilista is blatantly ripping off their cars and trade marks that are protected by law.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I know that anon. I’ve been using V8 mods since F1 Challenge. But they are MODS, not from a developer and even then GTR2s V8 mods were either a conversion from RD3 (MMM crap) or barely finished betas (FVR).

        Fuck off anonymous monkey

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    1. If anything, you notify General Motors/Holden, since the body designs are of the Holden Commodore.

      It is still an shameful act to do that, though, and I don’t condone it.

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  5. I’m sorta curious what the complaint against Reiza actually was in its original form that they thought was too vague.

    Maybe Ferrari claimed copyright on the colour red.

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    1. It might sound little vague to Average Joe like Renato when lawyers approach you using their law terms and legal definitions.

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  6. It’s not just Reiza though, take a browse round the cheaper racing games on Steam and see how many have cars that look like real life ones but with fake names. It’s been happening for years and years. What’s happening these days is a small minority gloating that they can get devs taken out by highlighting it.

    I’m never sure why people do it, are they angry at Reiza? Or just prefer other racing games? So what if Reiza reuses a proven but old engine? Codemasters barely changed anything in the engine of their F1 games over 5 years from 2010-2014, is that somehow better as it’s not an off the shelf engine?

    I just think it’s why we can’t have nice things, because someone will always try to smash them or take them away.

    For everyone who complains about Reiza or Slightly Mad Studios or Kunos, what racing sim do you prefer instead?

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    1. >It’s not just Reiza though, take a browse round the cheaper racing games on Steam and see how many have cars that look like real life ones but with fake names. It’s been happening for years and years. What’s happening these days is a small minority gloating that they can get devs taken out by highlighting it.

      My point is basically that, except it deals with older games. Alternately, go check out Play Store; there are lots of shovelware games involving cars for Android devices and they do the same thing. Things went too blatant when GTPlanet people discovered the Mercedes-Benz Vision GT (with a flame decal and called Silver Bullet, a reference to Mercedes nickname Silver Arrow; Vision GT cars are meant to be exclusively in Gran Turismo games only) in a mobile racing game called Dubai Drift: https://www.gtplanet.net/forum/threads/vgt-stolen-or-pd-has-not-got-a-exclusive-licence.323080/

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  7. I realized an error after I sent this:

    “…rename their cars’ chassis codes to something unrecognizable, as well as redrawing the front box art of the game”

    For the record, the game (more accurately, the installment) I was talking was Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero. (You probably got it when I mentioned you can play as an MPV in TXR0 anyway).

    Also, for those interested in the Tail to Nose/Drift Out trademark skirting examples, check this /vr/ thread: https://warosu.org/vr/thread/S2473409 (it was originally about a mahjong game ripping off Batman and Punisher aspects – and asking how they got away with it).

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  8. So this article clearly demonstrates that the Reader Submissions are of a higher measure of professionalism and far more factually accurate research than the usual drivel authored by the main people running this site.

    Note the submission author’s use of the word “allegedly”. He understands that speculation is not fact.

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  9. “has sent in a beautiful Reader Submission chronicling the long list of copyright claims”
    The reader said nothing at all about copyrights. Trademarks and copyrights are not the same thing.

    Like

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