How Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion Proved Games Are Protected by the First Amendment

Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion developer Ironclad Games has won an historic case against Rebellion Developments and proved games are protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution in the process.

In an update on the Sins of a Solar Empire forums, Ironclad wrote that they were issued by a cease and desist order in April 2012 by Rebellion Developments, most widely known for the Sniper Elite and Alien vs. Predator franchises, to remove Rebellion from their game's title – claiming that it breached the U.S. company's trademark. 

Ironclad, a Canadian firm, sought to reach a settlement but when talks fell through, Rebellion Developments brought them to court. Emboldened by Mojang's victory over Bethesda regarding the use of the word "scrolls," Ironclad elected to fight. 

This is part of the original cease and desist order: 

"There can be only one reason for choosing the name 'Rebellion' as the name of this game, and that is that it is identical to our client's name. The choice of name for your game is designed to confuse members of the public into believing that this game emanated from our client or has been endorsed by our client.

"Alternatively, you have chosen Rebellion as the game's name to take unfair advantage of the reputation of our client or to dilute the distinctiveness of our client's reputation. All these actions are types of passing off that the choice of Rebellion by your company is intended to perpetrate on our client's goodwill. If you are allowed to misrepresent your game in the way indicated, it will cause damage to our client's goodwill."

However, Rebellion Developments has lost their case with a judge for the district court in Michigan ruling that: 

"…Defendants’ use of Rebellion is expressive speech and is protected under the First Amendment. Plaintiffs cannot satisfy the Rogers test; they cannot establish that Rebellion has no artistic relevance to Defendants’ computer game, or that it is explicitly misleading as to source or content. Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss is granted."

While this is massive breakthrough for games in the U.S., Rebellion Developments intends to challenge the Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion name with a trademark dispute in Canada and a cease and desist order in the U.K. but Ironclad writes: "We fully expect they will continue this worldwide but so long as the countries they choose to oppose us in protect freedom of expression, we intend to continue fighting."