The Pinkerton Detective Agency is prominently featured as an antagonising force in Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2. Many players may have enjoyed this nod to a real life detective agency that operated around the time the series is set. However, the real life Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations organisation, which very much still exists, is less than pleased with this portrayal.
The Pinkertons have sent a cease and desist letter to Rockstar, claiming that the company used copyrighted Pinkerton material, such as the Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency badge, without permission. In addition, they claim that they have been defamed by being shown as antagonists in the game, and feel that Rockstar’s mega-successful video game will “tarnish the reputation” of the detective agency.
The Pinkertons are seeking a financial settlement, mentioning that they are “willing to discuss a lump sum figure” to resolve the case, or else they will sue for trademark violations. However, Rockstar does not look like they will give in, stating that Red Dead Redemption 2’s portrayal of the organisation is protected under US First Amendment rights.
Furthermore, they cite the “historically accurate” recreation of the Old West, which naturally would include the existence of the Pinkertons. This is not even the first major fictional inclusion of the Pinkertons in popular culture: for instance, the protagonist of Bioshock Infinite, Booker DeWhit, is a former Pinkerton detective.
It isn’t entirely clear how this will play out at this stage, but I don’t like the Pinkerton’s chances. Although the Pinkertons are obviously not very sympathetically portrayed in Red Dead Redemption 2, it is hard to argue that they weren’t a major law enforcement organisation during that period. Plus, considering you are playing as criminals in the game, using the Pinkertons are antagonists has a narrative justification.
Instead of objecting to their fictional portrayal in a video game, they should probably be using it as free publicity to explain who they really are nowadays. Besides, this isn’t even the first time someone has unsuccessfully sued Rockstar because they felt defamed by one of their games.
In any case, the Pinkertons will probably have a difficult time launching legal action against Rockstar Games.