Fans and creators of the cyberpunk genre were up in (servo-augmented) arms last week after it came to light that CD Projekt Red, the game studio behind The Witcher series, had filed a trademark for the word "Cyberpunk."
Because #cyberpunk is effectively its own genre of fiction, spanning literature, film, #videogames, roleplaying games and artwork, its many fans were worried that the Polish game studio were overreaching their authority, and could potentially use the trademark to slap down other cyberpunk projects with lawsuits.
CD Projekt Red responded to the backlash on Twitter, explaining the reasoning behind the trademark.
On 'Cyberpunk 2077': CD Projekt Red Assuages "Cyberpunk" Trademark Concerns
CD Projekt Red filed the trademark in order to protect its upcoming game Cyberpunk 2077, which is based on a series of pen-and-paper role-playing games. After The Witcher III was released to critical and popular acclaim, fans are excited for a new game from the studio, but it's likely still at least a few years away.
This led to something of a panic by genre fans on online communities like Reddit, however, as people became worried that other game makers wouldn't be able to use the word "Cyberpunk" in the future.
But as CD Projekt Red's trademark seems to be in line with standard practice in the industry, "Cyberpunk" (with that specific capitalization) was already owned in the U.S. by R. Talsorian Games, creators of the tabletop RPG. CD Projekt Red is just taking it over from them. Sony Music owns the trademark to the word for other media in Europe as well.
On their Twitter feed, CD Projekt Red emphasized transparency towards their fans and clarified their intentions for the trademark. For one thing, trademarking something isn't the same as copyrighting it, which would be more restrictive. Here's their full explanation on the situation:
"These are totally different rights and they should not be confused,' the studio's note states. “A registered trademark does not prohibit from using the word 'CYBERPUNK' if it's not used in the course of business (e.g. branding, advertising etc.) and does not refer to products that are covered by the trademark registration."
So CD Projekt Red's trademark doesn't mean that we won't see games in the cyberpunk genre from other developers. All it means is that we won't see a bunch of games with "Cyberpunk" as the actual title of the game (although it can still appear in the title as an adjective).
Check out the cinematic trailer to CD Projekt Red's latest masterpiece, The Witcher III:
CD Projekt Red have promised to play nice, and so far there's no indication that they intend to leverage their trademark into bullying other creators. So if you're working on that cyberpunk (or steampunk, dieselpunk, or whateverpunk) game, there's no need to panic. You might want to think about a less generic title, though.
What do you think? Should a genre term like 'Cyberpunk' be off limits for trademarking?