SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge partly dismissed a complaint accusing Sony Entertainment of infringing an Italian company’s trademark rights by featuring the company’s name in two “Gran Turismo” video games.
Italian flooring company Virag S.R.L. and one of its owners, Micro Virag, sued Sony Computer Entertainment America in July 2014, accusing the entertainment titan of violating its publicity and trademark rights.
Micro Virag, who had driven a Virag-sponsored race car in the Rally of Monza multiple times, claimed Sony violated his and his company’s rights by displaying the Virag name on a bridge in its Monza Rally race scene in the games “Gran Turismo 5” and “Gran Turismo 6.”
U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler dismissed with prejudice three of four claims alleged in the complaint but allowed the fourth claim to survive.
In its motion to dismiss Virag’s first amended complaint, Sony argued that a corporation lacks the right of publicity under California law. Beeler agreed.
“No court has held or even suggested that the right of publicity extends to non-human beings,” Beeler wrote in the Aug. 21 ruling. “The few courts faced with this argument have rejected it.”
Virag pointed to several court decisions ruling that a group of human beings has a right of publicity as a group, but Beeler concluded none of those opinions suggest the right of publicity applies to corporations.
Beeler also dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims that Sony infringed its trademark and falsely designated the origin of its games, accepting Sony’s argument that its use of the Virag mark is protected by the First Amendment.
Beeler wrote the Supreme Court has held that “video games qualify for First Amendment protection” and cited a Ninth Circuit opinion concluding that “video games deserve the same protection as more traditional forms of expression.”
“The court finds the defendants’ use of the Virag mark has at least some artistic relevance to ‘Gran Turismo 5’ and ‘Gran Turismo 6,'” Beeler wrote in the 24-page ruling.
However, Beeler upheld the plaintiff’s fourth claim that Sony’s use of the Virag mark violated Micro Virag’s right of publicity as an individual and denied Sony’s motion to dismiss that claim.
The judge also denied Sony’s motion to dismiss Micro Virag’s request for punitive damages for that claim, rejecting Sony’s arguments that the request could not be made because the plaintiff failed to allege Sony acted with “oppression, fraud or malice.”
“The defendants’ cited opinions do not hold that a plaintiff is required to use the words ‘oppression, fraud or malice,'” Beeler concluded.
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