Using the "Red Cross" symbol in health objects

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  • Hi all,

    I've stumbled upon an article about using the Red Cross symbol for games, etc.

    Note that the usage of this symbol can lead to copyright infringement lawsuits. See

    Instead of using the Red Cross symbol, try using something different like a green cross (what french pharmacies use) or a heart symbol, for example.

    Example of a medikit in one of my tutorials.

  • I don't think you can get in trouble for using such a symbol in a game, due to the fact that copyrights and trademarks only apply in the setting they reference. You cannot create a health NGO with the red cross symbol, but you sure can create a clothing store.

    Besides, the red cross is much too simple, and as such any claims they might have are worthless. Beyond that, games are used to certain tropes, and such tropes are protected as public domain. Also, since they are an international humanitarian organization, it's extremely unlikely they'll take action against game developers.

    In addition, they also apparently want to patent the "red crystal" and "red crescent", and since green/blue/orange crosses are being used worldwide as alternatives, it's not hard to imagine a similar misguided movement attempting to protect them. As much as I hate bringing up the slippery slope argument, I can see this becoming a "no colored iconography of any kind on white backgrounds" law.

    The red cross society may plead and beg, but their request is quite frankly absurd, and game designers should purposefully ignore them.

    Disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, and as such my "legal" advice is worthless.

  • While many might agree with you, I wouldn't take the risk. If one can avoid it, one should do so, IMHO.

    They have taken action against many other companies, even Lionsgate, see Don't cross the Red Cross.

    Also see Red Cross brochure about usage of the symbol.

  • Fimbul

    You're not right in your assumptions. The red cross on white background is a protection symbol and therefore protected by international law. Any misuse of that sign is forbidden and is a punishable offense.

    The use of the sign is only allowed for certain organizations and groups of people and only in armed conflicts. Anything other is a misuse.

    The purpose of a protection sign, btw., is to be as simple as possible, so anyone can recognize it anywhere without further informations.

    The countries around the world have different punishments for the misuse. For example, in germany it is a petty offense, punished with a maximum of 250,000.00� or 6 month of "Beugungshaft" (there seems to be no equivalent word in english, basically you're going to jail until you either pay your penalty or the time is over).

    So don't take it too easy. Also ethically it is good manor to treat such protection signs with respect. (There are quite a few others, like the red crescent, the red lion, the blue triangle on orange background, the emblem of the UN, the letters "UN", etc.)

  • And yet games can be representations of reality, and works of art. It's a whole different matter if they want to forbid its usage in commercial products (i.e. to prevent companies from marketing yogurt using the symbol to invoke an idea of "healthy"), private hospitals or the like, as such uses erode the glyph's meaning, which can be dangerous come wartime.

    You are obviously better informed than I am, and you're probably (and I say probably not because I don't wish to concede to you, but because I don't have enough legal knowledge to confirm your position) correct that

    using it indiscriminately can bring a lot of legal problems.

    In my opinion, this is a thinly veiled attempt at censorship. It boggles my mind that such a simple symbol can be protected under copyright/trademark law. Maybe it's just the recent NSA/corruption scandals that have soured me to government control and are making me see everything as an attempt to stifle freedom of speech...

  • I understand you very well. Indeed, if this was about some other sign, I'd agree.

    But since it is a protection sign it is a special case, and it's purpose shouldn't be trivialized. Just remember horror games where dangerous zombie girls approach you, wearing a white nurse dress with the red cross.

    But that's just my personal view.

    In general, I also tend to your point of view, since I read "1984" twenty years ago.

    Imagine Microsoft would forbid the use of a white x on red background as an exit button.

    Or if we weren't allowed to use images of cogwheels, as it represents the software C2.

    Or if a name of a software company's service would be protected, so that we could never again use the word "steam" in any other way than referring to that service.

    So, yes, I hear you. It's just that these international protection signs really are a special case that should be respected.

  • So, I work in AAA and knew vaguely about the whole red cross thing, but I went and asked one of the CDs who used to be a project manager for more details about how we have to deal with this from the developer side.

    The console platforms have a very strict set of guidelines that a game must adhere to to pass cert (Sony calls this the Technical Requirements Checklist and Microsoft calls it Technical Certification Requirements - so if you can never remember if the abbreviation is TRC or TCR, don't worry, it's right somewhere!).

    The red cross thing falls under a requirement that's more or less "title does not use any trademarked content or any content protected legally by any body" (heavy paraphrase). Big publishers err on the conservative side because they'd rather avoid spending the time/money/effort defending themselves in court, even if they would surely win.

    Honestly the red cross thing would probably not hold up in court, but who wants to go to court? This is probably why you see the red cross in smaller games but games with the bigger publishers are more strict about it. I believe we used white crosses on red backgrounds for health in one game, which is fine.

    The other layer is that it is the responsibility of whoever owns the IP to vet for legal clearance. So if the developer owns it, it's on them, but if it's publisher-owned then it goes through there system. There's also often a branch of the legal division of publishers on the lookout for "potential cultural and/or political sensitivities" who are looking for things that may cause outrage (and thus damage the publisher name).

    So the summary for the console perspective on this:

    • Platform (Ms/Sony/Nintendo) makes it a technical cert requirement to not have any trademarked stuff in their games
    • IP holders (could be developer or publisher) is responsible for getting their game vetted by legal
    • Publishers often have divisions in legal looking for "stuff that would cause outcry"

    And lastly, the point is to avoid going to court altogether, even if the thing probably wouldn't hold up in court.

    Hope this helps!

  • This is an interesting topic. I swear I've seen the red cross used in many a game, including the Worms games and heck, Serious Sam games.

    There are ways to get around this, for sure. Soldat, I believe, uses a white cross and red outline.

    Overall, I agree that developers should err on the side of caution. But in all honesty if you've got an app using the red cross for health, don't bother removing it.

    My suggestion is that you simply make an original icon. :)

  • Maybe just contact them.

    Tell them if they let you use their symbol, you will make an ingame link to their website's charity page.

    Just don't mention that your game might be about decapitating zombies, robing banks, or dismembering soldier in creative ways with a Robot tank.

    Be sure to let them know you are only using their symbol "as the global icon for healing, and humanity"

    They might allow games like "Little red ridding hood's retro-gothic trip though the zombie infested cemetery, to buy a baby-blood slurpee from 7-11"

    You could also claim "Comedy fair use" (satire?). I think this is how M.A.S.H. was able to use it.

    I would avoid it all together.

    Just draw a Giant Red-syringe, or a red-BoneSaw on a white background like RockStar would if they where threatened.

  • I made some alternate icons.

    <img src="" border="0">

    SVG source file is in the thread.

    LInk to thread

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  • Like DatapawWolf says, I clearly remember seeing red cross in older games, especially fps, like half life or medal of honnor/call of duty. But it's true that it has become more rare in recent games, the cross symbol is still here, but generally in a different color (white or green). So maybe it's true, now that games a getting bigger and lawyers are involved, they are being more careful with those things.

    I don't think you'd get in trouble for using a red cross in a small indie game though. And your game blow up and become super successful, you can still quickly update the graphic

  • It's fair use. The red cross symbol has been in use long before American National Red Cross adopted it. Johnson & Johnson used the symbol on their band-aid products, Switzerland flag is an inverted red cross logo, the Knights Templar used a red cross, the U.S. military uses it.... The list is endless.

    Red Cross Symbols

    It's ok to use. Just don't use the words "American Red Cross" with it or "Band-Aid." I'm certain those are trademarked.


    The following games use the red cross icon:

    Tomb Raider


    Team Fortress


    Delta Force

    GTA Advance

    Call of Duty

  • Thanks for the information, Sebastian. :)

  • Sebastian

    Hmm, that would mean that either USA ignores the geneva convention or you aren't right.

    The "red cross on white background" is, as I said in an earlier post, protected by international law. Any use other than defined via the geneva convention is a misuse under penalty. This is clearly defined in the laws and there's no way to read between the lines or something.

    What kind of penalties the misuse will follow depends on the local authorities of each of the countries who signed the convention.

    The german law clearly let's you pay up to 250,000� for a misuse. You'll find as a source the german law text at the bottom of this post

    Also I added just one of quite a few verdicts. In this case a group of people, who printed a brochure using the red cross on white background although not related to the red cross federation, were sentenced to pay 607�, and also aren't allowed to ever again use the sign or the brochure. If they do, they will have to pay 250,000�

    And the Switzerland flag is not an inverted red cross logo, but the red cross logo is an inverted Switzerland flag. This can also be read in the geneva convention. It was done so to honor the founder of the red cross, Henry Dunant, whose homeland was - Switzerland.

    Regarding the picture collection: It is not forbidden to paint a red cross on white background. It is forbidden to use it for anything other than what is said in the geneva convention.

    And finally: That the misue exists doesn't make it legal.


    German law text

    German verdict

  • tulamide

    Sorry, I don't know the laws in Germany. I'll take your word for it. In the U.S., it has to be proven that the red cross symbol on white background was used as intent to misrepresent the ARC or harm it in some way. That would be very difficult to do unless it's obvious and deliberate, like using the words "American National Red Cross" along side the actual symbol or painting the symbol on your car to fool other's into believing you represent the ARC or maybe selling a product misleading people into thinking it was endorsed by the ARC. Those are proof of deliberate acts that can harm the ARC.

    The ARC charter of 1910 clearly states that using the red cross is against the law if it's used on vehicles, vessels, aircraft, buildings or other structures, or upon the ground. No mention of use outside those conditions, as far as I've read. That leads me to believe that they are not so much concerned about protecting a red cross from being used as they are trying to protect the symbol that represents the ARC from being misused. What I mean by that is the red cross on a Knights Templar garment does not mean the same thing as the red cross for ARC. Red crosses other than those meant to represent the ARC and Band-Aids are fair use in America. The example I linked to was meant to prove that no one is being prevented from using red crosses and not as an indication of law.

    If you are still worried about using it in a game, don't. It's not worth the headache. Use a heart symbol or something else to represent health.


    I forgot to attach my source. Please refer to the final page of the charter. It's illegal to use the red cross to misrepresent the ARC, otherwise it's ok to use it in the U.S. without penalty as stated above.

    Congressional Charter of the American National Red Cross

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