Why It's Perfectly Fine That CD Projekt Red Trademarked "Cyberpunk"
Earlier this month, CD Projekt Red caused controversy in the gaming world after trademarking the term "Cyberpunk." The Polish developer filed papers in preparation for its upcoming action role-playing game, Cyberpunk 2077. While some gamers felt that the company's actions were ironically reminiscent of the type of villainous corporation one might see in a cyberpunk storyline, my personal take is that the company's actions are not as dubious as some might think. From a creative perspective as well as from the business side of things, I understand why CD Projekt Red felt it necessary to trademark "Cyberpunk."
In response to backlash, the company produced a statement on Twitter to explain its stance on the trademark:
Information about Cyberpunk trademark. pic.twitter.com/4mufRCp9Gf— CD PROJEKT RED (@CDPROJEKTRED) April 6, 2017
Since this tweet has made its way around the internet, I've seen some coverage that seemed skeptical of this statement. While you may not agree with it, it's a logical business move that protects their current project as well as future sequels. While it can be difficult to grapple with the ethics of protecting creative content, CD Projekt Red did everything by the book in this situation and I think they're being very reasonable about it.
“It’s a self-defense measure only”
"We want to protect our hard work and we don't plan on using the trademark offensively."
This quote from the company's tweet has been at the top of every article on the company's response. The developer assured the gaming community that they will not be going after anyone who makes games in a cyberpunk setting, nor will they be barring all game developers from using the term "Cyberpunk" in their titles.
Seeing as the game is called Cyberpunk 2077, you can see why it wants to protect the biggest part of its name. For those who expressed concerns that future developments such as VA-11 Hall-A: Cyberpunk Bartender Action would have to debut under a different name, be assured that CD Projekt Red will not pursue legal action unless the name would confuse consumers. And in the case of VA-11 Hall-A, I don't believe having cyberpunk in the subtitle is a violation of the trademark because it looks like cyberpunk is a descriptive term here.
This isn't really news
CD Projekt Red has had a trademark for "Cyberpunk" in Europe since 2011. Maybe this is news in America because they had only recently filed here, but it's not exactly new here either. R. Talsorian Games previously held the trademark for the term for their game Cyberpunk 2020, which Cyberpunk 2077 is actually a sequel of sorts to. Since the term had been previously trademarked, all the arguments for why the game developer shouldn't be allowed to have it technically have been in effect for years.
People have had a lot of time to get upset over an American game developer trademarking the term, I'm not exactly sure why this has suddenly become an issue now. It seems like everyone was okay with R. Talsorian Games owning the trademark, but suddenly when CD Projekt Red acquires it from them, now everyone is in an uproar? The trademark has never been an issue in the past, and I don't really see it becoming one now.
But what about the whole subgenre of cyberpunk?
Perhaps it's not fair, but this is how the legal system in America (and apparently Europe) works. Maybe it would have been different if someone tried to copyright the term instead of trademark it, but this is what happened. Yes, cyberpunk existed long before the concept of Cyberpunk 2077, but no one owns the idea of cyberpunk (yet, and hopefully never). Whether or not you like it, it's a normal practice for businesses to trademark names and words in order to protect their business interests. This is exactly what CD Projekt Red did, and in pledging not to abuse the trademark and promising to consider other titles to feature their trademarked term, they have already gone farther to accommodate others than a lot of other companies would.
In the midst of all the hubbub, I've seen that the author of the short story "Cyberpunk," Bruce Bethke -- credited with coining the term -- has recently spoken out against CD Projekt Red. No one is disputing the fact that his short story published in 1980 far preceded the upcoming RPG, but what I want to know is why no one was upset about it before? And if they were, why is no one referencing an ongoing battle against R. Talsorian Games owning the trademark and connecting it to the current narrative? If people really cared as much as they claim to care right now, this would have been a struggle dating back to at least 2011.
Let's see what CD Projekt Red does
It's pretty obvious here that I think that this won't affect anything too much, because it hasn't in the past. If the game developer wasn't going to take its promises not to abuse the trademark to heart before, they definitely should now. There isn't much that detractors can do about it now, save for create a petition in hopes that the company will relinquish rights to the term. Chances are, after taking $7 million in grant money from the Polish government, I'm almost positive that they will do everything they can to protect the budding franchise.
Perhaps you feel CD Projekt Red has breached a sort of unspoken ethical contract that creatives enter into when starting a project, and maybe that's true, but we will only be able to see how this plays out given time. It's better to hold out hope that the company will honor other companies who hope to make cyberpunk-themed games.
But do remember, the trademark is in regards to naming games, and not talking about the term cyberpunk within a game, or the cyberpunk genre as a whole -- so don't worry, you will get other cyberpunk games, they just won't be named ONLY cyberpunk.
Do you think that CD Projekt Red shouldn't have been allowed to trademark the term "Cyberpunk?" Give us your take in the comments below!