For those who haven’t heard about it, Cyberpunk 2077 is an upcoming game from relative newcomer to the video game development world CD Projekt Red (of The Witcher 3 fame). We’ve known about this game’s production since 2012, yet the developer has only said about the release date, that it will be sometime between 2017 and 2021. Fine. Great. Whatever. Just make sure it’s good, folks.
On Sunday, April 9th, however, Gizmodo published a story that, in preparation for the game’s release, CD Projekt Red trademarked (and now own) the word “Cyberpunk”. That’s right, they actually trademarked a word that has been in use for over 30 years. A word that began its life cycle in literature, then was also used to refer to different movies and games years later.
I’m calling a whole bunch of BS on this.
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let’s start with a little history lesson: The word “cyberpunk” was coined by Minnesota author Bruce Bethke in 1980, while writing his short story “Cyberpunk”, which was subsequently published in the November 1983 issue of Amazing Stories; a long-running science fiction magazine. The term refers to a subgenre of futuristic science fiction, which usually focuses on a dystopian society which is “high tech low life.” The societies in these stories regularly have a high degree of advanced tech and/or scientific achievement in them, while political and/or social issues have broken down considerably when compared to what we presently know.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about why I think this trademark is complete crap…
I fail to understand how a company like CD Projekt Red (as much as I love their work) can conscientiously trademark and own a word that they themselves did not come up with or coin the use of. It’s as if they’ve taken decades of incredible literature and movies and just said, “Ok. This is our domain now, and if you don’t like it, look at the trademark.” REALLY?? I mean, I get that companies and/or individuals would want to take advantage of trademarking a concept or term that they came up with (like DC Comics and Marvel Comics jointly claiming ownership of the trademark on the term “Super Hero”), but to basically co-opt a word that has been in use for decades, to me, seems disrespectful to the originators of the concept.
CD Projekt Red did tweet out an explanation of their actions, but I just can’t help thinking that their trademark on this just inches them toward the same sort of totalitarian corporate entity that is the villain in many a cyberpunk tale. The irony is almost palpable.
Sure, we as fans all have our opinions on issues like this. However, I think it would be interesting to hear what the more influential cyberpunk authors like Philip K. Dick think about this. I mean, his seminal work, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was the basis for the movie Blade Runner and subsequently The Fifth Element. Then there are authors like William Gibson (Neuromancer) and even Isaac Asimov (I, Robot), whose neo-cyberpunk works were also heavy influences on the cyberpunk genre. Are we simply to ignore the fact that these authors came WAY before CD Projekt Red?
Whether or not this trademark will be contested remains to be seen, especially since the game developer is based in Krakow, Poland, and therefore the trademark may be subject to international law over US law. I’m just hoping that some discussion about intellectual property comes out of this issue. According to an intellectual property lawyer I spoke to (who’s “not even sure how the trademark was granted” since the first use in commerce was years prior to their claim), this trademark only falls under the class of “Games”, and therefore has no bearing on things like literature or film. However, while CD Projekt Red stated that they “don’t plan on using the trademark offensively”, I almost feel like this might turn into another Nintendo issue, with them suing people for creating cyberpunk games.
Sure, there are those of us who are really looking forward to new stuff from CD Projekt Red, as we were blown away by how good The Witcher 3 was. We also have our loyalties to developers who put out quality content, with smooth gameplay and great stories. HOWEVER, I’m at an ethical conundrum here, after seeing all of the hoopla over this trademark case: Do I go with my wants, and get the game when it comes out, or do I avoid it because I disagree with the developer’s methods? Decisions, decisions.
What say you, dear readers? How do you think the actions of CD Projekt Red will affect the sales and reception of Cyberpunk 2077, if at all? Do you feel that it was a “punk” move on their part? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!