Activision Wins ‘First Amendment’ Call Of Duty Lawsuit

Activision Wins ‘First Amendment’ Call Of Duty Lawsuit

In 2017, Activision was sued by General Motors over Call of Duty’s accurate depiction of Humvees. In its defence, the publisher said the vehicle’s inclusion was a “first amendment” issue, a point a federal judge agreed with today while dismissing GM’s case.

As Law360 report, U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels decided “If realism is an artistic goal, then the presence in modern warfare games of vehicles employed by actual militaries undoubtedly furthers that goal”.

“The inclusions of Humvees in the foreground or background of various scenes … are integral elements of a video game because they communicate ideas through features distinctive to the medium”.

OK, makes sense and seems fair. Now apply that same logic to a case involving sports video games.


  • The impact of this in product placement could be interesting in movie, television and film.

    For example, Apple doesn’t allow bad guys to use their products in film…but if it interferes with the artistic goal.l, cause it could spoil the twist. Hmmmm.

    • Good question, they do trademark all their logos etc, but I wonder if they still come under the same exact useage laws…

  • In its defence, the publisher said the vehicle’s inclusion was a “first amendment” issue, a point a federal judge agreed with today while dismissing GM’s case.(Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and the following is based on collating information from reports) Unless it’s included in the account restricted link I’m not signing up just to read, it’s not actually something the judge agreed with. What the judge did agree with though is that in pure terms of trademark infringement (what the case is truly about), Activision was able to use the Humvee in its games without needing to license it.
    Where the “first amendment” part comes into it is because GM is contracted by the government to produce Humvee’s for the military but the actual claim as far as I understand it was about trademark infringment, not using its government backing to try and silence Activision. Thus Activision tried to claim First Amedment rights because of that link.

    • With stuff like this, there are always strange rules and laws that come into play. Laws most people wouldnt necessarily be aware of. Short story time.

      A couple of years back I was doing some analytical work in the ATO, where our area was doing a bunch of walkins for postcodes across the country. Basically, every retail store in a bunch of suburbs was getting asked to do a survey. So, as part of that, we got lists of every business registered for that postcode, as they should be where they said they were. Turns out plenty werent, but thats not relevant here.

      So, as part of my job, I was putting all their locations on a map to show where the hotspots were for businesses. No protected data or anything like that, just name, ABN, etc that was commonly available. That last bit became important later.

      I started out wanting to just use Google Maps, ended up keeping it totally within Government resources. A couple of offices wanted to use Google Maps anyway, after all the work had been done. Frustrating, but had to be dealt with. They had it in their head that it was easier, even though it was all laid out for them.

      Ended up going through Legals to explain why we couldnt use Google. Basically, by collating the data into one list, even though it had no protected information, it became protected. Which meant we couldnt use Google, because by using Google we were putting that collated info into their databases, and out of our control. Big privacy breach right there, which this office didnt accept because they couldnt get past the base data being non-sensitive.

      The argument went back and forth with this office for weeks before Legal finally said “you’ve been told you’d be breaking the law, do whatever you want knowing that” and they shut up. But lessons were learned. Basic information changed for simple reasons into something more significant.

      This seems something akin to that, though maybe the opposite way. By outsourcing their product, the copyright issue took on a different meaning to what it normally would be. Put the Humvee into a racing game, the rights would still be there, but use it in a different context, ie military, its no longer presented as a vehicle, but as a war asset. Who’s rights might transfer to the DoD and override GM’s. Or something like that.

      That wont be perfectly correct, but something along those lines will be the reason behind this decision. DoD’s position overriding GM’s, where First Amendment rights carry more weight.

  • That and the fact you don’t need a licence to portray a hummer in ANY other artistic medium.
    Not in movies, not in cartoons, not in comics not in documentaries. Things like movies are often propositioned by automotive industries (they pay them for product placement and supply the products) because they see it as free advertising.
    Now why should this not be the case in games. The fact the case was dismissed shows that the judge thought it had absolutely no legal bearing in the first place. (Just like the Pinkerton one for Red dead redemption 2)

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