A Ford dealership in Quincy, MA spent all day being bombarded with inquiries from video game journalists after blatantly ripping off art from indie game Firewatch. The title, developed by San Francisco-based studio Campo Santo, is set in the Wyoming wilderness and uses a heavily stylized visual aesthetic courtesy of graphic designer and illustrator Olly Moss, who led art direction for the project as a member of the Campo Santo team.
Moss based the aesthetic on National Park posters from the '60s, and apparently a Ford dealership thought it could sell outdoorsy types on a 2016 Focus with the same style. An email ad campaign was forwarded to Firewatch co-producer Panic Inc, and the image has been steadily going viral on Twitter. Here's the Quincy dealership's email ad, which uses direct Firewatch art assets as a backdrop for a "Ford Freedom" summer sale:
Game Informer's Mike Futter got in touch with someone at the dealership's advertising department, who claimed responsibility for the ad but did not appear to realize it contained copyright infringing content. "I guess that whoever made the email blast must have grabbed it from the website or something," the rep says. When Futter presses for more information about the legal vetting process, the Ford rep hangs up on him. Later, Futter says the employee traced the image to a desktop wallpaper site called WideWallpaper.com. Indeed, the image can be found there listed under "forest-patrol flat wallpaper background." Running the file through Google Image Search clearly indicates it was created by Moss for Firewatch.
Another interesting tidbit is a video on Ford's official YouTube account comparing the 2016 Highlander with the 2016 Explorer. In the background, you can see an art style similar to Moss', but not directly ripping it off. Considering you can't copyright taste, Ford would appear to be in the clear even though it does look heavily influenced by Firewatch. "Ford was not involved in creating the Quirk dealership advertising," the company said in a statement given to The Verge. "Our dealers are independent businesses. The online video was created separately for Ford Motor Company and contains all original artwork."
So the question now is whether the Quincy dealership saw this YouTube video back when it was first published in April and decided to model the email ad after it. If the dealership has no in-house artist, which is quite likely, an employee could have thrown together the ad in a hurry using Firewatch art found online. It's difficult in this position to determine whether the person responsible committed copyright infringement knowingly or not. Campo Santo co-founder Sean Vanaman appears to think it was in fact purposeful, explaining on Twitter how the ad contains old images from the studio's website not available on any wallpaper site.
@Futterish that "Update" is bs as their mailer actually includes elements from our old website that aren't available on any wallpaper site.— Sean Vanaman (@vanaman) June 27, 2016
Neither Campo Santo nor Panic have indicated any desire to pursue legal action here, but it is a distinct possibility. Given the situation, it does appear to be a stupid mistake. After all, the dealership just so happened to rip off one of the most popular indie video games of the last few years, and all it took was one tweet from Polygon's Nick Robinson to plaster it across the internet.