Real Vs. Fake: Court Rules in Strip Club Case

LOS ANGELES -- Girls dance nude at both the PlayPen and the Pig Pen, but according to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, that's the only thing the two strip clubs have in common.
The PlayPen Gentlemen's Club is in East Los Angeles. The Pig Pen is in East Los Santos, part of the fictional world of the best-selling videogame "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas."

In an opinion obtained Thursday, the 9th Circuit panel dismissed a claim by the owners of the PlayPen that the creators of "Grand Theft Auto" infringed on the strip club's trademark, even though the virtual game's designers admit to some inspiration drawn from photographs of East L.A.

"Both 'San Andreas' and the PlayPen offer a form of lowbrow entertainment; besides the general similarity, they have nothing in common," wrote Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain in the court's affirmation of an earlier decision. "The 'San Andreas' game is not complementary to the PlayPen; video games and strip clubs do not go together like a horse and carriage or, perish the thought, love and marriage."

In its decision, the appeals court found that Rockstar Games Inc., makers of the "Grand Theft Auto" series, did not violate the PlayPen's trademarked logo and sign, and was protected under the First Amendment.

PlayPen attorney Robert F. Helfing said the 9th Circuit opinion sets an unfair precedent.  

"This ruling now permits people who create artistic works that purport to convey the look and feel of a particular geographic location to use any trademark that appears on any building in that location in the name of art," Helfing said. "When you use a trademark or logo of an existing business, as was done in our case, you create the impression that our client is somehow associated with the game, which is not the case."

Helfing said the PlayPen was never approached by Rockstar Games about the design of the Pig Pen.

"We were not associated with it and we did not want to be associated with it," the attorney said. "Before you go ahead and steal someone's property, you should at least make an attempt to pay someone for it."

Helfing said he has not yet talked to his client about appealing the decision again.

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