Three-finger sign in Hunger Games movies isn’t infringement. It’s just cool.

expertlogo1A Scouter and blog reader saw something familiar in the marketing campaign for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2, the fourth and final movie in the popular franchise.

It was a three-finger sign — not unlike the one used by Scouts all over the world.

Hunger-Games-unite-saluteIn the fictional nation of Panem created in the Hunger Games franchise, the three-finger sign represents freedom from tyranny. And, apparently, it can be made with the left hand or the right hand.

The reader asked me how Lionsgate, the studio behind the franchise, can use “one of our core symbols” without the BSA getting upset. With Mockingjay, Part 2 releasing on Friday, I went in search of the answer.

I think it’s kind of cool to see giant signs of the three-finger sign all over the world. And if Hunger Games gets more Scouts and Venturers interested in archery, as I discussed in 2012, then I like the franchise even more. But given that BSA is not involved with the film, is the use of the three-finger sign a violation of the BSA’s intellectual property rights?

I asked the BSA’s licensing and contracts attorney, Burgin Hardin, for his take. 

“Understandably, there may be some people who view it as a nod to Scouting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the film has crossed the line in terms of infringing on our rights,” Hardin says. “If movie-goers were led to believe the film was sponsored by or somehow affiliated with BSA, that would cross the line.”

Even still, you might say the odds are in the studio’s favor.

Hardin says a film is a form of speech that is protected by the First Amendment, which, generally speaking, affords filmmakers and other artists a certain degree of latitude to evoke and refer to other organizations in creative works. That freedom, while not absolute, applies to works of almost any shape or size, regardless of a work’s artistic value.

Hardin continues: “It’s inevitable that, from time to time, our culture will reflect themes, attitudes and symbols found in Scouting because Scouting is a prominent and long-standing institution of American life. Scouting references that are largely incidental are typically permissible.”

Images from @HungerGames, Hunger Games Facebook page.


  1. In those photos, the left hand is being used as well, but what I will say is that pretty much the consensus of the youth I work with think that while the use of the sign is highly complementary and just plain cool. – Compliment accepted.

    • No, it’s actually the two finger Cub Scout Sign with the nuckles facing your adversary. French knights said they would cut off the bow fingers of the English archers when they won. After the English victory, the English archers showed their two fingers to show their contempt for the French. Today, it means “Go forth and multiply,” to put it politely as I learned when I did the European Camp Staff Program, and worked over there.

  2. Whether or not it’s infringement, it does make teaching the sign to Webelos frustrating — you have to build in extra time for them to make the same Hunger Games jokes every single meeting…

      • The Hunger Games is in the youth fiction area at the library. It was geared for young people from the beginning. It is a young person’s perspective of dystopia.

        • Debatable whether it’s a young person’s perspective. It’s more like an adult’s take on a young person’s perspective, at best, since it was written by an adult. I happen to agree that I find it disturbing for Cubs to watch, as well.

  3. What about “Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse” that came out a couple weeks ago?
    Has boys dressed in Boy Scout uniforms. I don’t know which I dislike more, their wearing the uniform or their wearing it incorrectly.Also talking about scouting being the perfect training for the apocalypse.

  4. Under no circumstances will the United States Patent and Trademark Office allow you to trademark a hand gesture by itself since it would be impossible to enforce since just about anyone is capable of making all sorts of hand gestures and there are few (if any) ways to use a particular hand gesture to brand your products or services. If the Vulcan Salute from Star Trek can’t be trademarked, no hand gesture can be. However, a particular hand gesture can be incorporated into a logo, and that logo can be trademarked as long as you are using it to brand your goods and services.

    • And the Vulcan salute was taken from the gesture Jews use when giving a priestly blessing. Leonard Nimoy who was Jewish remembered seeing it in synagogue when he was a boy. So that wasn’t original either.

  5. The three fingered Scout Sign is universal… used all over the world. When I was a young Scout we were told that if we were ever in a place and needed help.. hold up the Scout sign.. and it works.
    Among other symbolism, the three fingered sign does signify something righteous. If Hollywood uses it. that’s cool, it’s an opportunity for us in Scouting to share it and turn it into something positive within our units.
    I for one think its great. When I first saw the pictures I thought it was a new BSA campaign.. I think others will think the same and then realize it is for Hunger games.. good movies by the way.
    Just my two cents.

  6. An historian of African culture (I’m sorry, I don’t remember the scholar or his book) noted that the Scout sign was also a hailing sign of an African tribe that B-P knew, suggesting this was the source of the Scout sign. I’ve never seen any photo or contemporary account confirming any of this.

  7. So I think it is interesting that you are asking the question if using the symbol of a Scout infringes on any copyright, etc.

    Did you ever think that using pictures from the movie does the same? If not – how much in royalty dollars did you pay for those?

    I must warn you – that the use of movie stills, photos, etc. even in a Scouting Friendly movie such as “Follow me Boys” that is now OWNED by the BSA still requires the user to pay a royalty fee for the use of such.

    So should I get all flustered when I see a Scout uniform used anywhere or a Scout sign? Absolutely not. I think the BSA needs all the marketing help it can get – since it is still really bad at getting the word out that they still exist.

    • Matt, intellectual properties law which has a explicit exception for educational purposes and fair use. Use of pictures to visually convey complicated descriptions is a long accepted practice when discussing aa educational point as seen here. Frequently you will see this on television news for example. Royalties are not required.
      I think you missed the entire point of the article.

  8. As Scouts, we are very much like the “Divergent” group in the books and films. We are the subset of the population that strives to have a wide range of competencies and skills, and to lead well when called upon to do so. A marketing meme from my youth: “Scouting rounds a guy out!” Yes, we have well rounded skills. As do the Divergent.

  9. The two finger Cub Scout salute is the salute of the Polish military and has been for centuries. When Polish officers in exile in England during WWII saluted American officers they (the Americans) thought they were being insulted with a Cub Scout salute. They were not.

  10. A three finger sign (like the Scout sign) made with the thumb, index and middle fingers, splayed instead of together, has long been the sign of the Swiss military used when swearing allegiance. It is used by the Swiss Guards at the Vatican as well.

  11. Our son attended a Jewish Day School. A very liberal upper west side Manhattan teacher who first refused to give him the required academic letter for his Eagle application, probably due to the former membership policy held up the scout sign to get the class to be quiet. Our son asked if she knew that that was the Scout sign. She insisted that it stood for he Hebrew letter shin which looks like a W or three fingers pointing up. Shin is the first letter of the Hebrew word Shecket which means “quiet”.

  12. And when you feel the need to learn better archery to improve kids ask for help.

    USA archery has level 1&2 instructors and level 3, 4, 5 coaches.

    As a level 3 coach I offer bsa level 1 and 2 classes at least once a year. More often if I can find a range.

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