Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Another reason to love Games Workshop

They've hit a small self-published author with a takedown notice for use of the term "space marine" in e-books.

I'll quote a bit from her blog:
In mid-December, Games Workshop told Amazon that I’d infringed on the trademark they’ve claimed for the term “space marine” by titling my original fiction novel Spots the Space Marine. In response, Amazon blocked the e-book from sale [original post and update]. Since then, I’ve been in discussion with Games Workshop, and following their responses, with several lawyers. 
To engage a lawyer to defend me from this spurious claim would cost more money than I have, certainly more than the book has ever earned me. Rather than earning money for my family, I’d be taking money from them, when previously my writing income paid for my daughter’s schooling. And I’d have to use the little time I have to write novels to fight a protracted legal battle instead.
In their last email to me, Games Workshop stated that they believe that their recent entrée into the e-book market gives them the common law trademark for the term “space marine” in all formats. If they choose to proceed on that belief, science fiction will lose a term that’s been a part of its canon since its inception. Space marines were around long before Games Workshop. But if GW has their way, in the future, no one will be able to use the term “space marine” without it referring to the space marines of the Warhammer 40K universe.
I am (as I've previously said) not a fan of Games Workshop. This, however, takes the cake: I note with ironic amusement one of their upcoming titles is 'The Death of Integrity". No comment needed.

I find it, like the original author, very difficult to believe that GW invented the term 'Space Marine' any more than Lucasfilm/TSR had a right to the term 'Nazi': in fact, I've set some of my friends who are deeply steeped in Science Fiction lore and history to see just how far back they can go in a search for uses of the term.

Spread the signal.

[Note: John Scalzi has picked up on this, as has Patrick Nielsen Hayden.]


  1. Look no further... it was first known to have been coined in 1932...

  2. M.C.A. Hogarth is female, btw. Thanks for the signal boost!

  3. I presume the Tolkien family are on the case for GW's use of the word Ork.

    1. If I remember rightly from the appendices to Lord of the rings, It's an old Saxon word.

  4. if it wasn't so shonetty for the people they spuriously go after, I'd say that GW are a bad joke. How on earth can they think that "Space Marine" is their copyright?

    It's not even as if GW are guilt free over IP infringement. Someone should go after them.

  5. Yes - GW's been pretty free with the whole Chaos theme, even though Michael Moorcock was using it long before they were.

  6. I was going to comment with the Wikipedia link as well. Good job Games Workshop. Will post on my blog and YouTube channel.

  7. Given that when they first started out making chess sets and one of them wanted to continue in that vein they axed him without a backward glance, shafting strangers should not be a surprise.


  8. This really takes the cake. The Evil Empire has browbeaten this poor lady into giving in, even though they don't have a legal leg to stand on.

    I'm a published author with many years experience of copyright issues. Self-publishing has many benefits, but this case illustrates one of the major pitfalls a self-published author faces. Without an established publisher and its legal team to back them up, they're vulnerable to this kind of abuse. Shame on GW!

  9. It sounds like the prophesy that never comes true but now even I believe that GW has stretched things a tiny bit too far.
    Gradually, almost unconsciously, I've trimmed down my plans for The Hobby(tm). The recent price hikes are so ridiculous it borders on the edge of science fiction. There seem to be individuals within GW who try to turn it around but I don't think they can.

    What kept me in so long (2 1/2 years)? Having invested in it. I can't throw money around, I can't just switch systems and ditch my GW stuff. I recently saw someone summing up the cycles of disbelief and adapting/excusing GW fans went through since the 90s. I went through most of them in the same order but in a shorter span. Last summer was the last time I went to one of their shops, from then on only buying from resellers. They having a harder time getting their stuff. One stopped getting WD even though he ordered them.

    Will I entirely stop buying GW right here, right now? No. But no new rulesets, maybe a few models and my WD subscription will not be renewed.

    Still, there is this one thing. My son. He loves Warhammer, both versions. I've lately been able to interest him in other games. However, I promised I would try to go to Warhammer World sometime in 2014 doing a father/son doubles tournament. It would break my heart not to go. But it would also mean another investment in GW. He is 11. How do I explain the idiocy that is GW? By that time he'll be nearing 13, he might be wisened up. He already is prepared to look at other games, a real change from not even a few months ago.

    In general, the number of people being fed up are on the rise. They also don't get the usual counter arguments. That happened recently, over January to be precise. Not sure what that means for GW. The difference between my plans from December and as they are right now are vastly different. Buying books, buying WH Invasion expansions and all that. No more. I'm bummed I actually subscribed to WD last month. You live, you learn.

    * Every word used here is the intellectual property of Games Workshop - no infringement intended

  10. To play devil's advocate:

    Games Workshop Group is listed on the London Stock Exchange (GAW) and you are all free to invest in it, just as you are free to buy its products. GAW as a publically traded company has an obligation to give its shareholders value, and that includes protecting its brand through copyright law. Other companies, like Disney, are even more ruthless in protecting their brand. I am sorry for the author, but she had a choice as to what language she used.

    Here's a thought though for folks who are outraged. Why not put your money where your mouths are and raise money to fight for this author or folks like her? Choose a case where GW's protection of copyright seems especially egregious, and take a kickstarter approach to the legal defence. If enough people were to throw in 5 ot ten quid/bucks/euros, you could get a lawyer on retainer and annoy GW. Just a thought.

    1. > Other companies, like Disney, are even more ruthless in protecting their brand.

      How does that excuse unethical behaviour? Why should any sort of entity, be it company or individual, be excused from acting in a fair and reasonable manner?

      > I am sorry for the author, but she had a choice as to what language she used.

      What if she had never heard of GW but had read SF which used the term generically? "space" and "marine" are not words created and owned by GW. Taking that line of argument to its logical conclusion you could be sued for using any combination of dictionary terms provided it was TM by an entity.

    2. Just to play devil`s advocate a bit longer.

      Protecting your brand is not unethical behaviour. Corporations spend money to develop their name recognition, product awareness, reputation - everything we mean by the term `brand`. The Space Marine image is without doubt the most recognizable of GAW`s images, and therefore central to their brand. GAW owns that image, just as Paramount owns the image of the starship Enterprise.

      As for the author`s choice of language, a GAW attorney could make a convincing case that a science fiction author could not reasonably claim that they were unaware of the modern meaning of the words `Space Marine`. It would then be up to a judge and jury to decide whether this was a reasonable argument. It`s not that `space`and `marine` are indpendent words with their own existence, but joined together as a noun in an SF context, but they become something different in an SF context, or so I would argue were I a GAW lawyer (I am not, by the way).

    3. Sure you can protect your brand. I remain of the opinion that the way they go about is is unethical. It is (maybe) lawful but that doesn't make it ethical. Space Marines is a very generic term and it use dates back to 1932. Could I trademark Space Engineers? Maybe, but it would be highly unethical. If law supports it, claiming it would by as unethical as it gets.

  11. Will Wheaton just tweeted about it
    Hey, @Popehat and @EFF? An indie SF author is being bullied by a corporation and could use your help:


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