Sony Faces Down Gran Turismo Trademark Lawsuit in California Courts

Every now and then we hear of a lawsuit brought against the Gran Turismo games, and it seems that the US arm of Sony’s entertainment branch has been locked in a curious legal dispute for the last 12 months over Gran Turismo. Just like the last legal rumblings, it all comes down to signage, in both Gran Turismo 6 and its predecessor title Gran Turismo 5.

This particular claim was made in July 2014, by one Mirco Virag. Virag is the owner of a flooring company, named VIRAG, based near Milan in Italy, but likes to spend his spare time participating in tarmac rallies around Southern Europe in cars usually adorned with the logo of his own company. It’s this logo to which the legal claim relates.

Gran Turismo 5

VIRAG’s logo appears on the Autodromo Nazionale Monza circuit, both virtual and real. In the Gran Turismo versions of the circuit, first introduced to the series with Gran Turismo 5 and persisting through to Gran Turismo 6 in both modern and “80s” layouts, it can be seen on a gantry on the home straight. This broadly correlates with VIRAG’s sponsorship of the Rally of Monza, an annual event every November that the company started to sponsor in 2004. Crucially, it appears that the presence of this logo in the game was not authorized by the company.

The contention from Mirco Virag is that, through his company’s sponsorship of the event and his own participation in rally motorsport both at Monza and elsewhere, the VIRAG logo has become synonymous with Monza and that by using the logo without authorization, consumers could be mislead into thinking that VIRAG provided knowledge or expertise to the game. In addition, as Gran Turismo is marketed as “The Real Driving Simulator” rather than an expressive work, there is no artistic relevance to having the logo in the game at all.

The court of the Northern District of California heard four claims brought by Virag against SCEA on August 21st and dismissed three, largely on the basis of the First Amendment and the fact that consumers are unlikely to have been misled:

Gran Turismo 5 and Gran Turismo 6 are racing games and do not involve any products VIRAG makes, and the VIRAG® mark is on a bridge over a track and not on a car. The defendants’ use of the VIRAG® mark comes nowhere close to an explicit misstatement as to source or content.

The fourth claim still stands though, with Virag requesting punitive damages from SCEA for the unauthorized use of the VIRAG logo on the grounds of violating Mirco’s right of publicity as an individual.

We’ll keep an eye on further developments in the case.

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Comments (125)

  1. wraith of horus

    And another thing the problem is not because its free advertising right joe, its because its breach of agreement. That’s the difference. By breaching an agreement without express consent or signification of the soul bearer of the agreement. That soul bearer of the agreement breaks the agreement to allow advertising of something they shouldn’t be. It’s a stupid world where you can sue for anything and suing for breach of breaking an agreement is one way to do it regardless whether the break of agreement is advertising or not.

  2. wraith of horus

    I think the disclaimer is a get of out jail free card if you ask me although its perfectly legitimate way to get around trademark agreements. If its Monzas fault then why didn’t the guy put a lawsuit against them and not PD? But when one company is given permission to access another companies assets, there should be some kind of list the company has to checklist so its either A allowed or B not allowed or in other words not part of the agreement between say Monza and its advertisers.

  3. AverageJoe59

    You get free advertising from an ultra-popular PlayStation franchise, so of course you need to sue them! This society is nothing but lawyers looking to line their pockets from meaningless lawsuits. Wow.

  4. Amac500

    Oh boo-hoo, somebody is giving me free advertising in the most successful Play Station franchise ever. Somebody get the man his bottle.

    1. Tenacious D

      This is the wrong planet to hope that everyone uses common sense. After all, this is the country where McDonalds was proven in a court of law to be criminally negligent when they let some dumb woman spill coffee on herself… how DARE they. ;P

    2. Johnnypenso

      Common sense is following the law and respecting trademarks, logos and other intellectual property. You guys are just blindly defending Sony/PD without even looking at what the law says.

    3. XSRacing111

      Johnny I did look into the law. Virag is basing his claim on the No Endorsements section of the trademark law because his company didn’t endorse the sign being in the game. However, here is where things get tricky, Virag endorsed Monza, who in turn endorsed Gran Turismo and allowed Polyphony to laser scan the track (at least that’s what I’m guessing since it’s incredibly realistic). Also, a Disclaimer was put in the startup menu of both games which provides an excellent, but not perfect, defense against these kind of claims. Virag shouldn’t be suing SCEA, he actually should be suing Monza. But,

    4. Jose Mendonca

      XSRacing111, if it worked like that, then licensing a car would allow to add as many liveries as they wished, because the car was licensed. However, it doesn’t work like that. If you licence A and B is attached to A by a different license, you don’t automatically get B.

      However this article shows how difficulty and tricky can be getting the right licences to put content in a game.

    5. Johnnypenso

      @XSRacing, I agree the law is complicated and the law suit is probably petty and a waste of time. I just find the whole “you got free advertising in my game so shut up” argument from some of the other posters here uninformed and frankly laughable.

    6. exXboxfan

      TenaciousD,

      McDonald’s waged a successful media campaign to make you ridicule the coffee spilled woman for suing them, but no actual facts about the case made it to TV, so you have no clue what happened in this case. (There is a documentary that was recently on Netflix, you should see it)

      The woman did not have her coffee in her lap as reported on TV, nor was she driving, which people accused her of.

      The coffee at McD’s is known to be quite hot, but this occasion and until they changed because of this case, it was extremely hot, as in specifically dangerous. The woman received 3rd degree burns over her entire lap area, and legs. Coffee, I don’t care how fresh, NEVER burns that bad. It had to ahve been nearly boilling when they put it in the pots. Again, McD’s inspected the temps of their coffee as a result of this.

      They were specifically negligent in this case, and that is why it was awarded damages.

  5. biftizmo

    This is quite a big thing…this highlights to manufactures what a talked of 2 years ago….that there is advertising in the game….this could be worth big money for PD …if the play it right…..after all this is how F1 exists….advertising revenue……should we have a big event in the future…don’t know ..maybe FIA or something ….a real event big prize money for the world champian virtual race drivers….we know PD can insert stuff in and out the tracks..like the Goodwood sculpture installation. I’m sure this is do able with signs and banners…even car liveries..who!..sneaky wish there…

    1. Tenacious D

      I wish people would think like this. I know that kinds most likely won’t be buying cars or laying down flooring, but not only do adults play this game, the kids do eventually grow up. I personally have grown curious about a number of companies advertised either on the trackside or on cars and googled them up.

      Well, there’s definitely one that I want nothing to do with now…

    2. Johnnypenso

      Oh well, if TenD isn’t going to Google Virag then they should stop the lawsuit right this minute!! Quick, someone put out a tweet!

  6. RACECAR

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t part of the track license include all of the Sponsors on said track? If that’s the case, then doesn’t that render the “unauthorized use” and “right of publicity as an individual.” Argument basically useless?

    1. Tenacious D

      Between this and the disclaimer mentioned below by XSRacing111, I’m hoping the courts have the good sense to throw this lawsuit out, and have Virag pay all the fees.

    2. Johnnypenso

      Disclaimers don’t negate the law. You can’t just put up a disclaimer and then do whatever you want, it doesn’t work that way.

    3. 0r3n

      Track licence doesn’t neccesarilly assign or provide rights to Trademarks…. and clearly Virag have obtained advice that PD had no right to display their trademark
      …. disclaimer won’t extinguish recognised intellectual property rights….
      It’s trademark infringement and they’ll win (pd will settle out of court)

  7. SmileyOr1

    In the GT series it may only benefit them to have their banner displayed in the game, but what if it was in some less than desired setting?

    I would have thought that either all branding at a track is covered under the track ownership rules of display and if you give the track owner the right (or pay for it) to display your name, they then have the right to display it how they see fit (in a game). Either that or any game producer is contacting every company that has their name displayed clearly enough in the game and asking for permission and paying a fee or asking for a fee ;)

  8. Rubencho

    come on guys, a lot of you complained GTPlanet didn’t post any GT news, so here you have it, enjoy yourselves.

  9. Imari

    Polyphony only have themselves to blame. Any brand represented in the game should have been contacted and asked for permission. If Polyphony didn’t do that, then that’s on them.

    Yeah, it’s petty for Virag to go after them like this, but it’s their choice how their name gets used, especially when it’s being used in someone else’s product.

    As with everything, ask first. If Polyphony couldn’t get permission, they should have substituted it for some mildly amusing spoof, like Varig Povertimenti. Or just left it out altogether.

    Using someone else’s brand without permission is not good business practise, no matter how much of a favour you might think you’re doing them.

    1. FT-1

      Can you really imagine PD contacting every single sponsor represented in the game? I mean, some race cars have got a ton of decals. 99% of the time, including brand names without permission works out in their favour – I don’t think it is worth the cost (both time and money) if only a handful of organisations have a problem.

    2. Paolo102

      Good point, but it’s still annoying how they explained their claim though. They said their company was damaged. Heck I didn’t even know/care about that banner until they posted a picture of it here. They’re retards if they think we bought this game to look some stupid Italian logo that almost spells viagra.

    3. Imari

      @FT-1 Yes. That is the point. They should be asking every brand in the game, because that’s the right thing to do.

      Just because it’s easier for them to not bother, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. Just because most companies don’t bother to complain, doesn’t mean that it’s not legitimate for some to take issue with Polyphony’s high handed manner.

      If including the brand names didn’t add value to Gran Turismo, then Polyphony wouldn’t bother. They do bother using real brands because they want the authenticity that it adds, and if they want that then they should be willing to do the work to check with the companies that they’re all right with using their brand name.

      If I make myself a track day car, it’s not all right for me to just put random names of companies on it so that it looks like I have legit sponsors. Probably nobody cares, because I’m just some random Joe, but if I’m not asking companies for permission to use their brand then I’m the one who’s being an arse.

      @Paolo102

      Of course we didn’t buy the game to look at a Virag logo. And if it’s not important and Polyphony didn’t have permission, it should have been left out.

      Virag seem to have gone after it in a weird way, but legal stuff is weird so I assume they took whatever legal angle they deemed open to them.

    4. TheAnimeDude

      Beginning of game start up.

      “Any depiction of real world locations, entities, businesses, or organizations is not intended to imply any sponsorship or endorsement of this game by such party or parties.”

      Your point is true,but this being at the start of GT6 than Virag has less of a case here. If it wasn’t in GT5 than they have a point. (Probably was in GT5 to)

    5. Famine

      Please note that it is Virag vs SCEA, not Polyphony.

      Sony is the publisher of the game, so not only does it pay for it, promote it, distribute it and get the profits, it also has to deal with the legal side!

      In this case Virag has chosen to sue SCEA – first in New Jersey and then, by judgement that California is a more appropriate setting as SCEA is headquartered there, California – rather than SCEI or its home market SCE branch SCEE. Which is a bit curious, it should be said.

    6. ccaranna

      Thank you Famine for the clarification. Seems that PD sole existence is to be a punching bag for those with an axe to grind.

    7. Tenacious D

      As I said before, this lawsuit is one of the many things wrong with this planet, and I hope VIRAG gets a bunch of crap for this “damaged image” bull-oney. I would cheer if I had a product or company that managed to be so prominently featured in a popular video game like this. But then I’m also an intelligent lifeform with a heart and conscience to go with my brain…

    8. Johnnypenso

      Would you also cheer if your company logo appeared in a series of porn movies? Or you were a diehard conservative and your company logo appeared in liberal support ads? The owner of the intellectual property is supposed to determine where and when his/her property is used, this blind defense simply because it’s in GT is laughable.

  10. ghostrider135

    Gonna be that guy and say, It might actually do us the consumers a favour, If anything it means PD will have to make a few alterations in the game.

    1. Tenacious D

      Us consumers a favor?? I take it you don’t like that company very much. ;D

      Well, memo to you businesses who get free advertising in popular video games like this, and then turn around and make idiotic trouble like this: causing ill will among the gamers who buy these games is counterproductive. And personally, I think you deserve every tax and regulation you have to suffer through. To hell with you all.

      Sincerely, a grouchy consumer who is growing sick of this kind of nonsense.

    2. occasionalracer

      ^^ No doubt, the worst would have been the fiasco where GT5’s fully modelled karting track “Piazza del Campo” in Italy was actually completely removed due to mis-use of certain flags..

      Don’t know why some companies or organizations feel any level of threat or mis-use of their ‘property’ when you can go to any of these place in real life and stare at the logos all day.. or search it up on the net for that matter and have a stare fest. Having your name up for many millions to see and perhaps discover more about it should simply bring a sense of joy. Unless it’s in a derogatory game such as Grand Theft Auto…

    3. Tenacious D

      @occasional, that was just sad. I would have LOVED to see the Piazza, do photo shoots there, think of visiting… now, it took a post like yours to even remind me they even exist. Humans…

    4. Johnnypenso

      Doesn’t anyone wonder why Piazza del Campo wasn’t reworked with different signage and banners and put into the game? What an incredible waste of effort.

    5. occasionalracer

      I would say mostly out of politeness and to avoid insuing headaches. I’m not sure if the law in Italy would permit a case against unauthorized use of a space or venue. As I read it it’s a traditional place they hold annual horseraces, maybe there’s even a law for ‘unauthorized use of a traditional venue for marketing and/or profiteering’. Anyway they should have had some kind of paperwork from maybe the Major of the district or someone.

    1. Tenacious D

      The chance to have pennies jingling to them out of the usual faux outrage of “damaged ego syndrome” is just too much for some of these bloat heads to resist.

    2. Johnnypenso

      What planet are you guys from? You can’t just use someone’s company logo in your own product without proper permission.

  11. wraith of horus

    Lol I found this on their website. “We pride ourselves on our excellent
    service and we take this one step
    further by offering free design advice
    to our customers.”

  12. Lambob

    Change the logo to VIAGRA.
    The amount of money PD can collect on this new partnership can spare pocket lint to pay off the court trials for Virag.

  13. XSRacing111

    Found this on the startup screen of GT6 and further down in the comments.
    “Any depiction of real world locations, entities, businesses, or organizations is not intended to imply any sponsorship or endorsement of this game by such party or parties.”

    Uhh…case dismissed. Get lost. Go cry to Mommy.

    1. Tenacious D

      Hopefully it’s that easy. But maybe they can get a competitor signed up to use on those signs in Virag’s place, would be poetic justice.

      Note: my use of the name “Virag” in no way construes an endorsement or approval of that idiot company.

    2. V8GTdriver

      Sounds good but I’m not sure since money was made from the game. I would think it’s the property of the track and rights belong to the track.

  14. SavageEvil

    This line “consumers could be mislead into thinking that VIRAG provided knowledge or expertise to the game” makes me laugh. What expertise could a flooring company give to a driving game creator, how you like your wood parquee or hardwood? The balls of some claims, make you wonder if they could say that in open court with a straight face.
    Just take the logos down and make sure all other marks are licensed, omg this crap is tiring.

    1. Johnnypenso

      That’s standard wording in cases like this regardless of how tenuous the link is, I wouldn’t read too much into it.

  15. Milouse

    I never saw that logo, i guess i don’t care about that sort of things. Which mean they may achieve a certain goal here. Sadly.
    Anyway, they should then sue Google for every signs/logo that appears in their Google Street View, too…

  16. Hastatus

    If Sony / PD must remove the banner I hope they put up a scaffold with two guys painting over it and shaking their heads.

  17. Flash3001

    Their goal is only to get more free advertising. They don’t care about GT using their logo or not.

    Didn’t you google what they do after reading this article? I did LoL

  18. Manasseh257NSX

    I’ve never seen a company complain about free advertising before…. Smh, I guess PD had their hands full with this for a little bit.

  19. TRLWNC7396

    You know, I don’t give a rat’s backside if there is A SINGLE sign in the game!

    Why is this guy being a donkey’s backside and complaining about it? Stupid…..

    So is THIS the reason the course creator can’t be included?

    And why did Kaz laugh about the FIA competitions? Good grief, of all the …….. I’ll stop there….

    1. Rubencho

      @xprojected indeed as the external link says it was narrowed in California against the US division of Sony.

  20. BrunetPaquet

    Just because it’s on a poster instead of a car… Just a bunch greedy Douche bags trying to make a buck offa leeching a bigger company than them.

    I know there’s more than that but JUST BECAUSE it’s not on a car is a freakin’ joke…

    1. Johnnypenso

      Copyright infringement is serious business. You don’t spend your blood, sweat and tears to build a brand only to have someone else use it to sell their product, however indirectly. I agree the link is about as tenuous as a spiderweb trying to hold up a bowling ball, but the law is the law.

  21. CallmeDan

    It’s free advertising. I’m sure other big name companies had to pay to be featured in the game, while this company didn’t.

  22. Quigz125

    OH MY GOD!! GTP used Virag in their article without Virag’s permission!!! OH NO!! I used Virag twice in a sentence without permission!! OH NO i did it again!!!! i hope they don’t sue me for typing their company name in a comment section…..

  23. tankuroded

    “Any depiction of real world locations, entities, businesses, or organizations is not intended to imply any sponsorship or endorsement of this game by such party or parties.”

    1. Quigz125

      thank you for this. i even forgot GT put this as a disclaimer EVERY TIME YOU LOAD UP THE GAME!!! lol Virag is pathetic.

  24. Kovu

    …wow… that’s just… plain stupid. They complain about free marketing. Maybe I should ask Yamauchi-San to place my company’s logo there ;)

  25. NART512

    I’m sorry that when you bought a billboard at a well known venue that it was put in a game and seen by 3,000,000+ people who bought the game.

    1. another_jakhole

      Exactly. Legally, he has the right and who knows, he probably tried to settle this without going to court, but maybe not.

  26. eran0004

    He should remove the signs from the real Monza as well, otherwise people might be mislead into thinking that Virag actually designed and built the track.

  27. Fat Tyre

    I hope they dismiss the last claim soon, sounds like a greedy move. Why would they oppose to free advertisement?

    1. SlipZtrEm

      Whether or not it was free advertising, including a registered trademark without the permission of the company is not a wise move. That being said, asking for any sort of substantial amount of money, for what is no doubt a small oversight in a big production, is silly.

    1. Tenacious D

      His reputation is being damaged because of all the ill will generated by this lawsuit… err…

      Actually, I think he’s just a greedy bastid like all the rest who pull BS stunts like this.

    1. Whitetail

      “How dare they put my logo on a world-famous race track on a world-famous racing game! That’ll certainly be detrimental to my business and I should get all of their money because of it!”

    2. Quigz125

      “not to mention we’re filing a lawsuit on the biggest racing game developer in the world and in the process showing that we have no idea how this act will truly ruin our reputation. seems like a plan.”

    1. karelpipa

      Some time ago somebody from GTP staff said in one thread, that the CC is ready, but something absolutely different is holding sony and/or PD to release it. And it was said it wasnt any problem with PS3 memory or something like that.

      But i can be wrong.

    2. Famine

      What on Earth does a lawsuit about trademark inclusion in Gran Turismo 5 have to do with GT6’s course maker? Do you think all the generated billboards were intended to say “VIRAG” or something?

    1. ralph89

      That’s how some people/company sue someone for copyright. Let them pile up the evidence then struck them with lawsuit after a certain time to get the most money out of it. We’re in a greedy world sadly.

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