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Sci-Fi Authors Big and Small Rally Against Games Workshop’s “Space Marine” Trademark Bullying


If I say the phrase “space marine,” you probably know what I’m talking about, right? Halo, Aliens, Starship Troopers, Starcraft… highly trained men and women equipped with oversized future weaponry, a thirst for alien blood, and a disdain for intellectual pursuits (except for that one guy… there’s always that one guy). It’s a name that writers and readers of science fiction have been using to describe a kind of character since Heinlein.

“Space marine” is also a registered trademark of Games Workshop, the publishers of the Warhammer 4000 strategy games, and you’d think that in deference to the history of the term and the sources that inspired the genre in which Warhammer is set, they wouldn’t throw their weight around too much on its account. But as author M.C.A. Hogarth found last year, and the writing community found out this week, you’d be wrong.

Hogarth first encountered Games Workshop’s claim on the phrase “space marine” in mid-December, when Amazon.com took down her published ebook Spots the Space Marine due to a legal notice from Games Workshop and refused to sell it. Games Workshop initially acquired the trademark when they released an expansion to the first edition of Epic, a game set in the Warhammer universe, and named it “Space Marine.” Later, they made the phrase the subtitle (Epic: Space Marines) of the game’s rerelease. It turns out that recently, Games Workshop started publishing books digitally, and since they are now in the ebook market, they feel free to extend their hold over “space marine” outside of the tabletop gaming market and into this new arena. Cory Doctorow points out, however, that Games Workshop had no legal hold over Amazon.com:

Takedown notices are a copyright thing, a creature of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. They don’t apply to trademark claims. This is Amazon taking voluntary steps that are in no way required in law… Games Workshop’s strategy is to make “space marine” less generic by launching high profile, bullying attacks on everyone who uses it, so that there will come a day when people hearing the phrase immediately conclude that it must be related to Games Workshop, because everyone know what colossal dicks they are whenever anyone else uses the phrase.

Over the course of the intervening months, Hogarth remained in dialogue with an unrelenting Games Workshop, and finally went public about the whole thing and her feelings of helplessness. Getting the money together to hire legal council and then actually challenge Games Workshop’s claim is beyond her, as an author who uses her her spare time primarily to write, and her writing income primarily to pay for her daughter’s education, a factor that almost certainly made her seem like an easier target for Games Workshop’s lawyers. She doesn’t even keep all of the profits from Spots the Space Marine, donating a portion of them to the Wounded Warrior Project in tribute to the actual servicemen and women who helped her complete her research for the novel.

I used to own a registered trademark. I understand the legal obligations of trademark holders to protect their IP. A Games Workshop trademark of the term “Adeptus Astartes” is completely understandable. But they’ve chosen instead to co-opt the legacy of science fiction writers who laid the groundwork for their success. Even more than I want to save Spots the Space Marine, I want someone to save all space marines for the genre I grew up reading. I want there to be a world where Heinlein and E.E. Smith’s space marines can live alongside mine and everyone else’s, and no one has the hubris to think that they can own a fundamental genre trope and deny it to everyone else.

Going public has hopefully paid off, with lots of writers and authors on the internet spreading the word. She’s started talking to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit group that provides legal services to protect new technology (like the internet) and people using new technology (like folks who publish books on the internet), particularly if it feels they’re being affected by legal threats that don’t have much actual morality or even legality behind them. She’s pledged to keep everybody updated on the ongoing situation at her website here, and if you’d like to buy Spots the Space Marine regardless of whether Amazon.com, the biggest ebook retailer around, is selling it, you can get it right here, and even preview the first 15%.

(via lots of tipsters.)

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Real.Sean.Hodges Sean Hodges

    It’s like Games Workshop are becoming more and more like their own Imperium of Man, itself a bundle of tropes from various places in Sci-Fi. It makes me glad I got out of the hobby when I did; between this and the constant price hikes I can’t really say I want to play the games they make any more, which is a great pity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/randy.long.140 Randy Long
  • http://zadl.org/ Captain ZADL

    Looks like it’s also available for Apple folk in the iBooks store.

    https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/spots-space-marine-defense/id513034477?mt=11

  • Anonymous

    An easy target…?
    More like the dumbest target they could chose!!
    A mom writing to support her child and donating part of the profits to veterans!
    Jeeeeezuz – do they even have a PR department or do they only hire psycopaths at that place?!

  • Anonymous

    I have enjoyed the Warhammer Fantasy IP for some years now, but I have never thought highly of Games Workshop. They love their legal team too much. I still remember them trying to pick a fight with the Curse network over WarhammerAlliance. They were unhappy that the fansite had the name Warhammer in it and tried to turn a profit from ads. I don’t think attacking fansites is a good way to bring in new customers. I enjoy The Black Library’s books too much to drop Warhammer altogether. The world is chaotic and brutal, the world of Warhammer GW. Keep it in the IP, not the real world.

  • ClockworkTiger

    There have been many PR disasters that could have been avoided if the guys in legal talked with the PR guys before unleashing vicious man-eating red tape on someone. And lawyers rank second only to CEOs on the list of profession that employ the largest percentages of psychopaths.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kitfoxtrot Christopher LaHaise

    This is affecting a friend of mine (the author in question). Games Workshop is responsible for two game stores in Ottawa being shut down, had sent angry letters to John Wick when he was working on Orkworld, and tried to get money from the company making the Red Dwarf RPG “because it might confuse people in regards to our White Dwarf magazine”.

    If you buy Games Workshop products, please stop. These people do not care who they hurt in the hunt for making money, and are responsible for bullying and attacking independent writers and small businesses.

  • http://twitter.com/SarahARoyce SarahAndrea Royce

    Yay, I love Vascez. Many member of the challenge #1OneGameAMonth expicitly stated to make their game and title for february about SpaceMarines because of it. Some even dropped existing projects.

  • http://twitter.com/MelissiaKuromoi Melissia

    Games Workshop is well known for its legal dickery amongst its fandom.

    I wish her luck. Hell, I think I’m gonna buy her book.

  • http://twitter.com/KatherynChristy Kate Christy

    I’ll admit that I don’t understand the intricacies of trademark (as opposed to copyright) law, but I would think the phrase itself not valid for trade mark protection. If it was a certain design of the words (like, for example, Chase’s logo) or an image, yes. However “space marine” is not an expression and, I would think, is not sufficiently distinctive to permit it to be used unambiguously to refer to Games Workshop’s product. I’d be very interested to find out if they ever went through the process of legally registering the trademark, or are tying to make an argument for getting legal registration.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=658941447 Mats Nylund

    I don’t think Heinlein used ‘space marines’, in Starship Troopers (which established the big, power-armored dudes) they were the Mobile Infantry. But I agree, Games Workshop has a history of assholery and general belligerence.

  • Anonymous

    The term “space marine” was used in the Lensman series in the 1930′s. Where do those thugs at Games Workshops get off saying they have the rights to a name that has been in general use in the science fiction genre for over eighty — thats 80 – years? “Space Marines” in caps, maybe, but “space marines” generically in lower case? Are they going to take the USMC to court for using the word “marine” which is part of their trademark? I think those numbskulls at Games Workshops are going to find out they’ve poked a stick at a hornets nest.

  • Anonymous

    Oh, and Amazon has put Hogarth’s ebook Spots the Space Marine back up for sale. I just bought it for my Kindle. That’s “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series that used “space marines” starting in 1937. The Wikipedia article on the series used the term “space marines” also . I hope those jerkovs at Games Workshop don’t go after Wikipedia next. . .

  • Benjamin Eisenhofer

    Please note that Warhammer (and 40K) is NOT a strategic game, but a miniatures game.

  • Anonymous

    Heinlein did use the term in his earlier work Space Cadet, though Lensman is probably the earliest example.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sam.bottoms.1 Sam Bottoms

    I actually just wrote them an email a few hours ago and told them the same thing! It’s one thing to publish stories and games about a crumbling empire of religious space fascists but it is quite another to have that be what you are trying to emulate. I only buy the books nowadays since I love the setting and the game is way too expensive. Although I’m not going to do that any more after this.

  • Christopher Geoffries

    A novel I wrote in protest is available there, for free.

    http://christophergeoffries.blogspot.com/2013/02/space-marines.html

  • http://twitter.com/BabeinArmor Josephine Maria

    Has anyone pointed out that it’s “Warhammer 40,000″ (as in Warhammer 40K), not “4,000?”

  • Chris Nix

    UK law
    The main reasons why you may want to invalidate, or partly invalidate, the registration of a trade mark are:

    1) you think the trade mark is one which is not unique to the proprietor and should be free for you (or anyone) in that line of trade to use;
    or
    2) you own a trade mark (which does not have to be registered itself) which is the same as, or similar to, the proprietor’s trade mark.

    As space marines or SPACE MARINES or Space Marines are not unique
    spellings to GW but appear in sci fi literature, it can be invalidated
    under rule 1.

    Rule 2) could be applied by anyone who has used the words space marines

    Also the trademark for goods is rather suspect as Asgard minitures
    sold Space Marines (re laserburn rules), Minifigs (not the Lego version
    but MINIATURE FIGURINES LTD.) sold space marines and both advertised in
    White Dwarf.

  • Chris Nix

    Spaces Marines by tac games reviewed in issue 8 of white dwarf.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Williamson/1608880891 Michael Williamson

    RAH never used the term Space Marine. His Starship Troopers were infantry, known as Cap[sule] Troopers.

  • Anonymous

    Nobody expects the Imperial Inquisition!