For those who don’t follow the video game industry closely, you may not be aware that there is currently a worker’s strike by voiceover actors belonging to SAG-AFTRA against some of the larger game publishers out there. The union and ten or so publishers have been attempting to negotiate a new labor agreement for something like two years, with the sticking point being additional compensation based on game sales. While this concept may sound foreign to those of us that grew up with the gaming industry in its infancy, the explosion in the market and its evolution as an artform certainly warrants the same consideration talents get from other entertainment industries, such as television and film. After all, why shouldn’t game voiceover actors be just as frustrated with Hollywood-style accounting as their on-screen counterparts?
And, yet, because this is a labor dispute, of course there had to be a petty wrong-turn along the way, which brings us to how SAG-AFTRA is now firing off demands that a PR firm hired by the game studios stop trying to influence the public because of a lame trademark claim. The key issue appears to be that this PR firm is using domain names and social media handles that include the SAG-AFTRA union name.
The order, addressed to San Francisco-based Singer Associates Inc., accuses the firm of “unauthorized registration and deceptive use” of SAG-AFTRA’s trademark through its use of the domain name sagaftravideogames.com and Twitter user handle of @SAGAFTRAVGames.
SAG-AFTRA cited the potential for confusion from the game companies’ use of SAG-AFTRA trademarks and “the absurdity of attempting such disingenuous tactics.”
Note that the union doesn’t simply claim that the use of its name in website domains and social media handles is infringing, because it knows better. It claims instead what would be required for this to be a valid trademark claim: public confusion as to the source of the website and social media accounts. The problem is that even the briefest visit to sagaftravideogames.com makes the claim absurd. The entire site is a critique on the tactics undertaken by the union, as well as the strike itself. The “about” section lists the game publishers that are represented by the website. It’s essentially a “SAG-AFTRA sucks” site, something that has long been adjudicated to be a valid use of another’s trademark. The Twitter account of @sagaftravgames is more of the same. There is simply no confusion to be had here.
Which isn’t to say that these particular tactics are a good look for the game publishers behind it. They aren’t. Those companies come off looking underhanded and smarmy, which is something that the union should be hammering them for. But this isn’t trademark infringement, and ginning up fears over customer confusion that are so absurd makes the union look petty at best.