The other day I was digging through my Junk folder when I found an e-mail from the United Nations. I know what you’re thinking: “Wow! That is one politically astute mail filter.” But pretty much all email to my public address without the word “duck” in the subject, as per my contact page, gets flagged as spam, and the UN chose not to do that. Apparently arbitrary yet effective protocols for ensuring open communication aren’t something the UN wants anything to do with. Or maybe they have something against ducks. I don’t know. Whatever the reason, they went with the subject, “Notice of cease and desist.”
Naturally, it was about NationStates. It’s always about NationStates. I have Nike shooting teenagers and Coke marketing Fukk, that’s no problem. But one player says something mean to another in my web game and they’re going to sue me into oblivion. Anyway, what upset the United Nations was that I put them into NationStates. It’s the place where players come together to debate and pass international law; in the five years the game has been running, they’ve implemented privacy safeguards, promoted religious tolerance, passed a universal bill of rights, and outlawed child labor, amongst 240 other resolutions.
Clearly this wasn’t anything the real UN wanted to be associated with:
Dear Mr. Barry,
It has come to our attention that you are operating an online game called “NationStates”, www.nationstates.net, and that this game uses the UN name and emblem, without authorization…
We therefore demand that you immediately cease and desist from using the United Nations name and emblem in the above-referenced online game, and that in the future you refrain from using or making any reference to them in connection with your activities.
[ Full Letter ]
My first reaction was pride. Receiving a threatening letter from the United Nations; I finally felt like I’d done something with my life. Also, there is something inherently amusing about UN threats. I mean, I think the UN does a lot of great work, but let’s face it, they tend to specialize in demands backed by the threat of further, even more stridently voiced demands. Frankly, “You are hereby ordered to cease and desist” was a lot scarier before I got to “says the UN.”
But they did have a point. In 2002, I whacked the United Nations into my game, complete with copyrighted emblem, not so much in parody as to say, “Hey, look, this is just like the real UN.” I can’t remember ever thinking about the legal consequences; I probably assumed that even if the UN noticed, they’d have plenty of blood-thirsty dictators and international war crimes to prosecute before me. But what with Saddam behind bars and all that world peace you’ve been hearing so much about, I guess they worked their way down to me.
I wondered whether it was worth fighting. It would probably be eight years before they got inspections organized, and by then I could keep moving my UN references around where they wouldn’t find them. And it could be great fun. I could represent myself and wear cheap suits and tell the court that it was on trial. But for that to work, I would need an opponent who might actually be embarrassed by the expense and public profile involved in a petty IP lawsuit, and I just wasn’t confident the UN falls into that category. That the single biggest label on the front page of the UN web site is “Copyright, United Nations, 2008” struck me as an ill omen. Also, I do support the UN. I mean, sure, it’s about as functional as a cat with 192 heads, and a lot of those heads are corrupt. But at least they’re trying. At least the heads have to look at each other. I feel like if I’m going into legal battle with somebody, it probably shouldn’t be an organization whose foremost goal is world peace.
Plus I got a lawyer’s opinion, and he said I was blatantly in the wrong. So I decided to cave.
So now I have to rename my UN. I was tempted to go with something a little insulting, like “Discordant Nations,” or “Ridiculously Petty Bureaucracy of Nations Who Should Have Better Things To Do.” But no, that would be sinking to their level. NationStates now has a “World Assembly.”