In a weirdly literal instance of life imitating art, the actual Pinkerton Detective Agency has tracked down video game publisher Take-Two Interactive and filed a cease-and-desist letter over Pinkerton’s appearance in Red Dead Redemption 2—a game in which a band of outlaws are constantly pursued and tormented by a pair of diabolical Pinkerton agents in the late-1800s. This is particularly surprising for a couple of reasons, including the fact that Pinkertons are still around in 2019 (though the organization is now called Pinkerton Consulting & Investigations and is a subsidiary of another security company), but mostly because the real Pinkertons think their portrayal in Red Dead Redemption 2 displays “clear affection” from the game developers at Rockstar and that it trades on the “goodwill” associated with the Pinkerton name.
That comes from The Verge, and unless we’re talking about the Weezer album, we can’t imagine most people having positive associations with an organization that’s mostly remembered for being brutal union-busters and private military contractors. Also, the group’s depiction in the game is anything but affectionate, as they directly represent the era’s newly inescapable reach of the federal government and the law enforcement community’s increasingly insatiable lust for power. At the start of the game, the outlaws you follow in Dutch Van Der Linde’s gang view themselves as Robin Hood-types who follow a code and only steal from people who can afford to be stolen from, with the tightening grip and underhanded tactics of the Pinkertons steadily pushing them to act more desperately. The Pinkertons in the game also threaten a kid and make a deal with a real venomous piece of shit who will go unnamed since it’s a spoiler, so there should be no argument that Red Dead’s Pinkertons are bad guys who do bad stuff.
Back to the cease-and-desist letter, Pinkerton wants Take-Two to either pay out a lump or give out ongoing royalties from sales of Red Dead Redemption 2 (which had the most successful opening weekend of anything ever when it came out back in November), but Take-Two notes that the organizations has been referenced in countless other Western stories with no legal issues being raised. The publisher argues that all historical fiction would “suffer greatly” if Pinkerton was allowed to sue over Red Dead, so it should not be allowed to “use trademark law to own the past.”
While we wait to see how this shakes out, our advice to Take-Two would be to just keep packing up its camp and moving to new locations every time the Pinkertons get close, going from a nice clearing in the woods to the bank of a river and then a derelict mansion in a swamp. Meanwhile, the publisher will just have to pull one last job and then it’ll have enough money to run away to Tahiti and everything will be just fine. Of course, if things are getting to a point where the Pinkertons are raiding the camp and everyone’s trying to kill each other, Take-Two should not go back for the money because it will get the bad ending.