A US district judge has dismissed claims by a Los Angeles strip club that Rockstar Games breached copyright by designing a similar looking virtual strip club for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

According to documents obtained by US website Gamasutra, E.S.S. Entertainment - owners of The Play Pen club - filed suit against Rockstar in April of last year. The suit claimed that the strip club in GTA, which is titled The Pig Pen, represented trademark infringement, due to its similar name, logo, awning and 'Totally nude' advertising slogan.

Rockstar conceded that its artists worked from photographs of real life LA locations - including the Play Pen - when designing the game, but argued that they "changed the names, building designs and overall look and feel of the locations... To make them fit the virtual, cartoon-style world of San Andreas and the series' irreverent tone."

Rockstar also referred to the lawsuit MCA Records successfully defended over the song Barbie Girl, when the judge ruled that trademark rights "do not entitle the owner to quash an unauthorised use of the mark by another who is communicating ideas or expressing points of view."

Judge Margaret Morrow agreed with Rockstar's argument, ruling that, "Defendants' use of the Play Pen trade dress and trademark bears some artistic relevance to the game, and does not explicitly mislead consumers as to the source or content of the game." Rockstar, Judge Morrow said, was therefore entitled to claim a First Amendment defence.

Perhaps the controvery surrounding GTA: San Andreas will finally die down now, following both this legal decision and the ruling by the FTC over the Hot Coffee scandal. But chances are Rockstar will be in the news again soon - the company recently confirmed to Eurogamer that controversial school-based game Bully is on track for release by the end of the year.

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