Developers Unknowingly Violating International Law

By John Napolitano

“And yet, while this chapter of the ongoing debate over Red Cross iconography may be settled, its occurrence makes clear that the global community is a far cry from understanding their obligations under international treaty.”[i]


The humanitarian organization, the Red Cross, universally known for its the red cross symbol, has attacked the developers of the game Prison Architect for using the symbol in the game, violating the Geneva Conventions of War.[ii] The organization recently sent an email to the unknowing violators explaining that the use of the red cross emblem in its game is a violation of international law.[iii]


Under the Geneva Convention, the usage of a Red Cross symbol is unlawful.[iv] The well-known and widely used red cross symbol is not public domain, and its use is protected by international law.[v] The Red Cross is protected under the Geneva Conventions as an emblem of the International Committee of the Red Cross.[vi] The Geneva Conventions are global rules of war designed to protect the innocent.[vii] The Red Cross is used as a symbol of neutrality to protect the wounded and sick during armed conflicts. Specifically, Article 44 of the First 1949 Geneva Convention holds as follows:

The emblem of the Red Cross on a white ground and the words ‘Red Cross’, or ‘Geneva Cross’ may not be employed, either in time of peace or in time of war, except to indicate or to protect the medical units and establishments, the personnel and material protected by the . . . Convention.[viii]

Therefore, the Red Cross is not a merely a trademark, but also a protected sign under international law. Accordingly, “deceitful abuse of the Red Cross symbol may be considered a war crime.”[ix]

Prison Architect was in violation of the law because it used a five pixel-wide symbol on the paramedic vehicle within the game.[x] Using it is "restricted under the Geneva Conventions for the Protection of War Victims of 12 August 1949."[xi] Further, the "unauthorised use of this sign in the United Kingdom is an offence under the Geneva Conventions Act 1957,” and since the developers, Delay and Morris, were under British jurisdiction they were also in in violation of British law, as the Geneva Conventions were incorporated into British law in 1957.[xii]


Prison Architect is only one of the Red Cross’ recent targets of video games in general; other popular games such as Halo: Combat Evolved, Half-Life 2 and Doom have been accused by the Red Cross as having violated the Geneva Conventions.[xiii] The Red Cross in articles and studies have encouraged game developers and law makers to introduce consequences for violations of international law games, stating that the concern over the illegitimate use of the symbol is the loss of its recognition for neutrality and protection of Red Cross personnel.[xiv]

In an article by the Canadian Red Cross, the organization states the red cross emblem is “an important symbol of humanitarian protection. It is recognized as such in both Canadian and international law which prohibit its unauthorized use. Misuse of this valued symbol distorts its meaning and its protective value for victims of conflict and the aid workers that assist them.”[xv]

The Red Cross has a legitimate concern that erosion of their symbol could be a danger to war victims.[xvi]  In its email the British Red Cross stated “if the Red Cross emblem or similar signs are used for other purposes, no matter how beneficial or inconsequential they may seem, the special significance of the emblem will be diminished.”[xvii]

Mark Morris and Chris Delay, Prison Architect’s developers, did not bother to fight the Red Cross; instead, they changed the cross symbol in the game from red to green.[xviii]  In Morris’ interview with PC Gamer, he said that “Lots of people donate money and the assumption is that that money is going to treating [people in need] and it turns out that a portion of that money is going to lawyers writing letters to videogame companies who are apparently abusing use of the red cross symbol,’ Morris says. ‘How much money do they spend every year enforcing their abuse of the red cross emblem . . . ?'”[xix] Seemingly arguing that he does not feel the Red Cross’ resources should be spent regulating developers from using the famous red, red cross symbol/ 


Well, the Red Cross as long been recognized for its wonderful work across the global. It is an interesting debate whether the use of the symbol in games really dilutes its symbolism. Is it really worth being considered a war crime? One thing is for certain, at the time the international law was passed I do not think drafters contemplated this type of violation.

* * * * *

[i] Ryan Morrison, How Indie Developers Accidentally Violated the Geneva Convention, Morrison/Lee (Jan. 19, 2017),

[ii] John Butler, Red Cross Targets Game Developers of ‘Prison Architect for Violation of Geneva Conventions, Inquisitr (Jan. 16, 2017),

[iii] Gianluca Mezzofiore, Using This Symbol in a Video Game Violates International Law, Mashable (Jan. 17, 2017),

[iv] Id.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, Aug. 12, 1949, art. 44, 6.3 U.S.T. 3114, 3144; App. II, Tab 26.

[ix] Morrison, supra note 1.

[x] Mezzofiore, supra note 3.

[xi] Id.

[xii] Id.

[xiii] Butler, supra note 2.

[xiv] Id.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] Morrison, supra note 1.

[xvii] Id.

[xviii] Id.

[xix] Butler, supra note 2.