Fans of Rockstar’s hit western series Red Dead Redemption are doubtless familiar with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. In both games, Pinkerton agents appear as antagonists, working to bring down the outlaws that serve as main characters. What many fans might not know is that the Pinkerton Detective agency still exists today, and they are currently threatening to bring legal action against Red Dead creator Rockstar over their portrayal in Red Dead 2.
Pinkertons have long been a franchise staple, and indeed, are an integral part of the world of the 1870s. In the first game, it was Pinkerton agent Edgar Ross that served as one of the game’s primary antagonists. The Pinkertons returned in Red Dead 2, once again serving as antagonists as they hunted down the Van Der Linde gang in the waning days of the old west. For the most part, it’s a portrayal that is historically accurate, as the Pinkertons played a major role in bringing outlaws to justice during that era.
The agency, currently known as Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations, filed a cease-and-desist against Rockstar and Take-Two Interactive in late December. They allege that Rockstar used Pinkerton trademarks, including their distinctive badge, without permission, and are seeking compensation. In the letter, they state that they are willing to accept a “lump sum figure” as settlement, but are willing to file specific legal action for trademark infringement and other offenses if an agreement can’t be reached.
In particular, Pinkerton Investigations also seems to take issue with the fact that they are portrayed as the game’s villains. In the cease-and-desist letter, they state that they believe their portrayal is “likely to blur the distinctive character and tarnish the reputation of Pinkerton’s famous trademarks.”
Rockstar has fired back, stating that their use of the Pinkerton Agency in the game is protected under the First Amendment. Specifically, they state that historical references are made throughout the game, and that their inclusion of the Pinkerton Agency is necessary to accurately reflect the atmosphere of the era. In addition, they argue that of the game’s 106 missions, the Pinkertons only appear in 10, and have also appeared in many other Wild West-era works of media without issue.
Though Pinkerton Investigations has yet to respond to Rockstar’s counter-claim in an official capacity, Red Dead 2 raked in just over $725 million in its opening weekend alone, meaning any financial settlement would likely be a hefty sum.