The Pinkertons still exist, and they’re coming for video game royalties?

This is one situation the Van der Linde gang can’t just shoot its way out of.
This is one situation the Van der Linde gang can’t just shoot its way out of.
Image: Rockstar Games
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Who could forget the Pinkerton National Detective Agency—the private American security company known best for protecting Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War (whoops); waging a bloody battle against a union of steelworkers on strike; and, most recently, demanding that the publisher of Red Dead Redemption 2 pay it royalties for the use of the agency’s name in the video game.

The Pinkertons, which were founded in 1850 and still exist today as a division of the Swedish security firm Securitas AB, sent Take-Two Interactive a cease-and-desist letter last month, ordering the game publisher to fork over cash in exchange for using the Pinkerton name in Red Dead Redemption 2, The Verge reported. In the game, two fictional Pinkerton detectives are hired by an oil magnate to pursue the main character, Arthur Morgan, and the gang of outlaws he ran with across the American West around the turn of the 20th century.

“While we are willing to discuss a lump sum figure, given the prominence of the [Pinkerton] brand and the importance of the Pinkerton characters to the game story an applicable percentage of each game sold is an appropriate royalty rate,” the firm, now called Pinkerton Consultancy & Investigation, wrote in its letter to Take-Two.

Take-Two and its subsidiary Rockstar Games, which developed the hugely popular open-world action-adventure game, is now suing Pinkerton, arguing that the game’s characters are protected under the First Amendment and the fair use doctrine. “Put simply, Defendants cannot use trademark law to own the past and prevent creators from including historical references to Pinkerton agents in depictions of the American West,” Take-Two’s complaint says.

The publisher also notes in its complaint that dozens of other fictional works have referenced the historical Pinkerton Detective Agency (including the original Red Dead Redemption) and accuses the modern Pinkertons of trying to cash in on the success of Red Dead Redemption 2, which earned Rockstar $725 million in revenue over its first three days—the biggest opening weekend in the history of entertainment. (You can read the full complaint here.)

After the creation of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1908, the Pinkertons started doing less for the US government, and more private protection work in the 20th century. Since being bought by Securitas in 1999, Pinkerton has been retained by telecommunications companies for labor disputes and Silicon Valley titans for corporate surveillance. Both Google and Facebook have hired Pinkerton, the Guardian reported last year.