Canadian Red Cross vows to sue first aid kits, too

The Canadian Red Cross has vowed to devote its resources to pursuing any and every use of the red-cross symbol, even to the point of threatening companies that make first-aid kits.

I recently blogged about Canadian Red Cross spokesman David Pratt's use of the Red Cross's donated funds to harass video-game makers for identifying in-game health-kits with the red cross symbol. In an interview with a gaming site, Pratt has vowed to police every use of the red cross, no matter how small, even though this is a "practically impossible task." How this furthers the Canadian Red Cross's humanitarian mission is not obvious to me -- I should think that they'd be better off spending that money helping people.

There is no legal reason that the Canadian Red Cross needs to sue game makers. Its mark is protected by the Geneva Convention, so even the (extremely remote) possibility that its mark could be "genereicized" by common use is removed. At the same time, it's highly unlikely that any court would find the use of the red cross to denote medkits in works of fiction -- such as video games -- violated the Geneva Convention.

Likewise, it's not obvious how the use of the red cross in works of fiction will undermine the Canadian Red Cross's humanitarian mission -- will combatants open fire on Red Cross workers because their Quake play has confused them about the meaning of the mark?

Pratt's campaign against video games has ugly overtones: he has previously characterized the simulated violence in video games as antithetical to the Red Cross's humanitarian mission. I'm a lifelong antiwar activist -- I've gone to jail for protesting arms bazaars -- but I like shooting at pixels on screens. How can a work of fiction undermine humanitarianism? Are the gamer charities that raise funds for children's hospitals also anti-humanitarian?

Under Pratt's guidance, the Canadian Red Cross is squandering its goodwill on what amounts to literary criticism -- "we don't approve of this art, therefore we'll use our rights in our mark to censor it."

I've been a lifelong supporter of the Canadian Red Cross. Some of my earliest memories are of accompanying my father to the local school gym where he donated blood, and as soon as I was old enough, I became a regular donor too. The Red Cross trained me in CPR and first aid, and then wilderness first aid. I even supported the organization after its shameful tainted blood scandal, when it was found to have deliberately releasaed HIV-infected blood into the blood supply.

The Canadian Red Cross is betraying its supporters again with this misguided harrassment campaign. Taking the red crosses off of first-aid kits in the real world could even cause harm, making it harder for people to locate these medical supplies in emergencies. Taking them off of the medkits in video-games is nothing better than censorship.

There's no reason for the organization to do this. It doesn't further its mission. It doesn't protect anything. It just makes them look like fools and thugs. What a waste.

Shacknews: How long has the Red Cross been aware of the problem, because at least in my own personal firsthand experience I would say this is something that has been going on for upwards of a decade and a half or so?

David Pratt: I have personally been aware of this for about six weeks. I'm not really of a generation that necessarily plays video games. The Red Cross as a humanitarian organization is primarily focused on our international and domestic program. It's only within the last two months that we've done a lot more in the area of trademark protection. Part of that stems from my role within the Humanitarian Issues Program, which relates to international humanitarian law. We felt there was some synergy there with educating people about the emblem rather than sending them legal letters right off the top, that we would attempt to engage them in educational effort. That's how this latest issue got started. I've only been with the CRC for a little over a year now, though the organization has been involved with emblem protection for years. That usually happens by way of people who send us emails when they see instances of unauthorized use.

Shacknews: Is that what happened this time?

David Pratt: Actually what happened in this case, is we have a receptionist, a fellow who's in his early 20s. He plays video games, and he's obviously involved in the Red Cross and aware of this issue, and he brought it to my attention. One of the things that struck us in relation to the video games industry is that while certain products that are out there, first aid kits and so on, that's certainly a problem--and our philosophy is that there's no emblem abuse that's too small to report, because you have to try to get them all, which is a practically impossible task--but one thing we saw with the video games industry is that it has a huge reach, especially with young people. It may create an impression that the Red Cross emblem is part of the public domain.

It's not a question so much of targeting, because we will pursue any case any industry. We're not singling out the video game industry, but the video game industry is an important file we're working on right now. We would never single out one industry for paritcular attention.

Link (Thanks, Peter!)

Update: A tipster sez, "David Pratt used to be the Liberal MP for Nepean-Carleton. Former cabinet minister. Sarmite Bulte used to be his parliametary secretary, and before that worked for his department as a consultant, and later as a lobbyist. Yes, that Sam."