Real World Pinkertons Sue Over Red Dead Redemption 2


The Pinkerton National Detective Agency is present in Red Dead Redemption 2 as a major opposing force. Funny how it turns out that they'd become something akin to villains in real life as well. Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations, the currently existing incarnation of what was once the very real Pinkerton agency is taking Rockstar to court over their depiction in the game.

Andrew Milton and Edgar Ross, the latter of whom would go on to play the main antagonist of Red Dead Redemption, don't exactly paint the agency in a positive light. Milton is a sadistic, racist, murderous, hypocritical psychopath and Ross is only slightly more reserved. However it is the mere reference to the Pinkertons and the use of their actual badge that is called out in the suit.

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Pinkerton is seeking damages paid either in a lump sum settlement or via royalties from Rockstar. Should the developer, and parent company Take-Two Interactive, refuse, Pinkerton will sue for copyright infringement among others.

This isn't Rockstar's first dance. The developers have faced down lawsuits of all kinds regarding just about every game in their library, and they aren't letting up. In their countersuit, they argue that Red Dead Redemption 2 is protected by the first amendment, and the historically accurate setting means that the existence of Pinkerton needs to be addressed and their presence is lawful.

Additionally, other games - like Bioshock Infinite - and a multitude of other media use Pinkerton agents and depict their badge. This is the first time the company has made any legal moves, and Rockstar argues they should have done so earlier with those other properties for this to hold any water.

Put simply, Defendants cannot use trademark law to own the past and prevent creators from including historical references to Pinkerton agents in depictions of the American West.

Prior to the creation of the BOI (which later developed into the modern FBI) the United States government used private companies to handle intelligence gathering and law enforcement in certain areas of the nation. It's historically accurate to depict Pinkerton agents as de facto law enforcement agents in the Wild West. Historically, the agency has been involved in some highly controversial practices, so the depiction of Milton doesn't exactly land far from home.

According to Rockstar's legal team, creative works which seek to depict a historically accurate vision of the old American West are legally allowed to incorporate real individuals and businesses without it being a trademark issue. The judge will likely rule in favor of Rockstar in this matter, but we'll follow the story as it develops.

The team also raises the question of this setting a poor precedent should the Pinkerton suit be allowed to proceed, as it would indicate that the stifling of historically accurate creative works over trademarks is possible. This, in turn, could lead to historical revisionism via lawsuit, should such works ever shine a negative light on the poor past practices of companies that still exist.

We're eager to hear about how this lawsuit develops.


Aron Gerencser
Aron is up to date on all the daily happenings with regard to Red Dead Redemption 2 and that's why you'll find he posts most of the news here at RDR2.org. Aron is also a massive fan of Rockstar Games' other smash hit, Grand Theft Auto V. You can find Aron on Facebook.