Games Workshop Proves It Would Rather Bully Authors Than Be A Culture Participant

from the authors-unite dept

Back in December, I informed you of an unfortunate Amazon takedown of a novel by M.C.A. Hogarth, Spots The Space Marine, due to Games Workshop, maker of the Warhammer series claiming trademark over the term “space marine.” As I noted at the time, that term has been around for at least the better part of a century, becoming so common place as to be the placeholder name for anonymous characters in games like the original Doom. That said, one can't feign surprise at Games Workshop's actions, considering how they've treated their own fans in the past. Still, I had rather hoped at the time that cooler heads would prevail, some agreement would have been worked out between both parties ($1 license, anyone!?!?!?), and yet another novel would have been offered to a public in sore need of a good story.

Sadly, my hopeful optimism has proven once more to be a fool's stance. Despite ongoing conversations between Hogarth and the company, it appears no arrangement could be constructed and the only options are a court case or the disappearance of a piece of culture. Considering the potential costs of a trial and the villianous myopia of Games Workshop's legal department, the likely outcome would appear to be the latter, save some rescuing group swooping in at the last minute. Don't underestimate the company's bravado in this instance, since the precedent it sets is a dangerous one.

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.

Feel free to point out that the trademark only covers certain markets if you like, but the claim by the company so far overreaches what trademark was intended to be that such an argument fails to find many footholds. Hogarth may be one author and this claim may be over one book, but for a cultural term like “space marine” (snicker if you like, but that's what it is now) formerly shared, but now locked up in corporate perdition, the impact is all of ours. For a company to lock it up as though it birthed the term is disgusting.

Hogarth, for her part, isn't some IP abolitionist either, lest you get the wrong idea.

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.

It's difficult to imagine anyone but Phobos' fictional imps disagreeing with her. Still, while several lawyers she's spoken with have agreed to take on the case, the costs are predictably prohibitive. In her blog post, Hogarth seems bewildered that these are the only choices she faces: spend more money than her writing earns income in a legal battle, or relinquish her novel to the ether.

Which conjures another interesting question. Where are all of the author's groups that are supposedly built to protect their flock from this sort of thing? What good are groups like the Science Fiction Writers of America, The Writer's Guild, and their like if they refuse to get involved in cases like these? These groups are supposed to be about a great deal more than handing out their proprietary awards. They're supposed to be advocating for culture as well. Why they haven't in this case is a mystery to me.

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Comments on “Games Workshop Proves It Would Rather Bully Authors Than Be A Culture Participant”

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anonymouse says:

lawyers puh!!!

IS there no way to represent yourself in AMerica, i thought that was something done a lot but then i only know the AMerican justice system from what i have read in the internet and watched in movies.

Surely the court must recognise that this is a form of bullying as the defending party does not have the money for a true representative.

I for one would be ignoring them and telling them to take me to court, then when the case starts advise the court of evidence you have gathered and that you cannot afford a lawyer. if he continues with the case then take out a loan for a lawyer and pay it back from the damages you get , surely you can be guaranteed damages if you win and it is shown that the aggressive party had access to the same evidence you gave to the court, namely the fact that there is so much pre-art or whatever you call it. Then could you not also start in small claims court before they start in a more expensive court.

I am just confused here, what happens if someone with money takes someone else to court and the defendant cannot afford a lawyer, is one appointed by the court or is the case just given to the rich as you cannot afford to defend yourself?

What about approaching the EFF and seeing if they will fund your case and what about other places that might fund you, also what about lawyers that would see this as a case they cannot lose doing it pro bono or whatever it is called.

Sadly this is the type of case that needs to be fought, but the attackers will only attack those they know cannot afford to defend themselves and that is a broken judicial system.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: lawyers puh!!!

I’m not a legal expert by any means, but here you go…

“Is there no way to represent yourself in America, I thought that was something done a lot but then I only know the American justice system from what I have read in the internet and watched in movies.” (ftfy)

It’s harder than any movies or anything depict. At least at that level. Lawyers have a tendacy to talk in legal jargon, know the technicalities, can work a judge/jury, and worst of all has resources to search/reference previous cases. Since so many cases in America are based off common law, that gives them a huge advantage. An average American has trouble with any one of those things let alone all of them.

“I am just confused here, what happens if someone with money takes someone else to court and the defendant cannot afford a lawyer, is one appointed by the court or is the case just given to the rich as you cannot afford to defend yourself?”

Someone with more legal knowledge than me can answer this question for sure, but isn’t that only for criminal cases? In a civil lawsuit you’re on your own.

Atkray (profile) says:

Re: lawyers puh!!!

Based on the personal experience of watching my wife be hauled into court by the kid’s sperm donor(we are a “blended” family) because he didn’t want to pay support.

If you represent yourself the Judge doesn’t even want to talk to you. He will ask the opposing attorney to ask you questions and will threaten rule against you if you speak up for yourself. He will adopt a condescending tone when speaking at you and when eventually forced to rule in your favor because you were better prepared than the attorney, will act as though you were incredibly lucky and it is only because he is the kindest person to walk the earth since Mother Teresa that you are winning the case.

Going it alone against a competent attorney would be foolish.

Oh and they Judge and attorney discussed in open court how they had previously discussed the case over the phone. Neither of them ever contacted my wife by phone. The entire experience left me with the desire to obtain a JD just so I could represent people like this.

Atkray (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 lawyers puh!!!

“sperm donor” is the kindest way we have to refer to the barely human piece of refuse my wife was married to before.

@G Thompson. Yeah they were so arrogant that they didn’t even sidebar, just talked into the microphone like it was perfectly normal.

The attorney was a big screw up, plus his client was lying to him so he had a bunch of errors in his filings which my wife had pointed out in hers. So the judge had called him to make sure that on the day of the hearing he had all the corrected documents. So they just walk over and drop a 1 1/2″ thick stack of documents in front of my wife. I was really surprised we prevailed after that, I figured nothing she said would matter.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: lawyers puh!!!

I am just confused here, what happens if someone with money takes someone else to court and the defendant cannot afford a lawyer, is one appointed by the court or is the case just given to the rich as you cannot afford to defend yourself?

Ah.. I see where your confusion comes from. Welcome to the US legal system and their process of not abiding by procedural fairness or the system of “loser pays”

Basically it works like this. If you have enough money to claim some sort of legal wrong has been (or about to be) committed against you, even though you might not win (though there needs to be some sort of merit) you can basically bankrupt some poor individual by making them pay exorbitant legal fees (especially in a niche and specialised area like trademarks) and even if you lose the case the respondent (the defending party) can very rarely obtain legal costs or damages against the plaintiff (the bully)

Some parts of America have Anti-Slapp laws that come close to providing a ‘loser pays’ system but they only really work if the case is absolutely at face merit-less. In this case there are a lot of grey areas and no real affirmative defences. Also its mostly about obtaining a declaratory judgement that Games Workshop is pissing up a rope with there threats.

In other words Hogarth would be the plaintiff here and is up for costs at the very start no matter what. Which is why a call for pro-bono help has gone out amongst the legal and sci-fi blogosphere

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: lawyers puh!!!

Correct if me I’m wrong, but I think the guarantee of a lawyer only applies in criminal cases. And if you represent yourself, the judge will laugh you out of court- remember that judges and lawyers have a mutual respect going and they don’t really appreciate it when an average person tries to claim they know just as much about the law.

Plus, don’t forget about all the legal fees just for filing paperwork and responses.

This is why even a small corporation can easily outspend an average author or artist.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think someone needs to note that Games Workshop has NEVER worked well with ANYONE. Even authors that it hired (it’s true, look it up). They have ALWAYS been the industry defining fascists of their IP. Even going as far as to trademark words that date back to the 20s (which I think I read about here, actually).

This move should be surprise to no one. As they would rather sue every fan artist out of existence and have all that “imaginary revenue” that wouldn’t have been made to themselves.

The Real Michael says:

Just another story about copyright censorship.

“To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

The question becomes: is Games Workshop the first and rightful author of the term ‘space marine’? The answer is …no.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

DMCA for Trademark should cost GW $50,000 as a fine.
Misusing the law needs to be punished.

I’m not familiar with common law when it comes to actual law, I didn’t think it applied.

The lawfirm sending the nastygrams needs to be hauled before whatever bar has the misfortune of having certified them and suspend them until such time they are practicing the law and not just making crap up.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This is not about a DMCA’s which is only to do with copyright. Instead it is about Trademark on a quite obvious common generic term that has been used in Sci Fi since early 1930’s, sadly though Amazon is playing it safe and covering there ass from legal action.

Common Law (sometimes called case law) is a term applied to all law that is set by precedent ie: by judges and tribunals and not by statute which is what criminal law and administrative law is based on (not tort). Well that’s the simple explanation anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Books and Trademarks

Does Games Workshop’s infringement claim include the use of “space marine” as part of the novel’s body, or is it just the title? Could the author publish her novel and avoid infringement by changing the title? Also, aren’t book titles generally unprotectable save for things like book series?

Beth says:

Re: Books and Trademarks

Does Games Workshop’s infringement claim include the use of “space marine” as part of the novel’s body, or is it just the title? Could the author publish her novel and avoid infringement by changing the title?

According to the comments at, the original email claimed that the infringement covered both the title and the text of the ebook. The way Amazon is set up, GW would have to write a letter to Amazon saying that all was settled; it is unclear whether, even if the author complied with changes like “space trooper” or “space soldier,” GW would bother to ever write that letter. (I suspect there is some missing data; from what I know of the author, if there were a choice that was likely to get her book back in action, quickly, it seems more plausible that she’d have gritted her teeth and made the changes rather than raising a ruckus.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Nice try, but...

Feel free to point out that the trademark only covers certain markets if you like…

I think the real issue here is that if the trademark did apply to any markets, Games Workshop wouldn’t own it.

Even in the fairly specific market of tabletop war gaming with miniature models, there was a Fantac game called “Space Marines” that came out in 1977 and a FGU follow-up that came out in 1980. For reference, Warhammer 40K was created in 1987.

In books, Bob Olsen published “Captain Brink of the Space Marines” in 1932 and a sequel in 1936. Doc Smith wrote about Space Marines in the 30s. Heinlein wrote a couple of books about them in the late 40s and early 50s. Oh, and GURPs came out with a rule-book for playing in the Lensman universe in 1988, and that also included Space Marines.

Games Workshop should be awfully careful about claiming common law trademark on a generic term, especially when the term has been used in print for longer than the company’s been in existence.

anonymouse says:

Re: Nice try, but...

So this is a problem created by the Justice system then. There is no doubt that the defendant in this case would win. Unless the judge was paid off, which i hear is a real issue in America.

So in America the Justice system can be used to steal something from another person and the courts would protect them from any repercussions.

No wonder the prison system is the largest in the world by far. The court is creating criminals from honest hard working people. Talk about corruption, this is just as bad as any third world country, it is just created to look like you could possibly get justice….if you have the money to buy it.

Nemo says:

Abuse vs Free Speech

If this goes forward, it sets the precedent that a corporation can trademark a generic term, and use it to suppress all publications using said generic term.

GW is trying to steal a generic term here. They did not invent it, they did not popularize it, and it has only a passing reference to their miniatures project.

GW are trope thieves.

Ninja (profile) says:

I’ve played the cardgame with those space marines (Death Angel). It is awesome. It is unfotunate I’ll never ever buy anything from the series ever again due to the extreme imbecility the company has displayed with this.

I’d like to pose a question to my fellow TD readers and editors: wouldn’t this trademark be easily torn apart using the prior art defense or something like?

dirtyoldgoat (profile) says:

Games Workshop

I called the Games Workshop customer service number to complain about the treatment of MCA Hogarth. The number is 800-394-4263 for the United States, please call them. They told me that I had to contact the legal department in the UK. I sent them an email at They send me back a form letter. So I called them in the UK. In order to do this I had to stock my Skype account that I never use and it costs me like $0.60 for the call. I talked to a nice British guy that said their legal team would not talk to me. Please call him at 44-011509140000 and tell him that you are not happy with the treatment of authors by this company.

Below is a copy of what they sent me in their eamil. As you can see it doesn’t say anything.

Thank you for your email to Games Workshop Group PLC’s legal department.

? If your email is in respect of an infringement of Games Workshop intellectual property, such as counterfeiting, we would ask you to kindly forward that email to

Please be aware that any emails that are not related to an infringement of Games Workshop rights will be deleted from the mailbox.

? If your email is in respect of a legal query, we would encourage you to review in detail our Intellectual Property policy on the internet. This policy contains comprehensive information in relation to what you can and cannot do with our intellectual property without a license. Please log on at: Any query that you have in respect of Games Workshop?s intellectual property should be answered by that policy.

If in the unlikely event that your query is not answered by the IP policy or if your query is not about intellectual property matters, we would ask for your patience with regard to a detailed reply as, unfortunately, some emails are inadvertently identified as SPAM by our filters. If you have not had a response within a reasonable period of time we would invite you to forward your email to To speed up the process we would encourage you to prefix the subject header of your email with the words: “Legal Query”.

This is an automated email response.

Yours faithfully,
Games Workshop Group PLC Legal Department

Games Workshop Group PLC
Willow Road
+44 (0)115 9168100

Anonymous Coward says:

Your game writers (why did you lose Alessio?) suck, Your models are (flaming phonix?) lame, and your best games were (Goth, Necro, Mord) Specialist Game. There is no creative culture left at Games Workshop. You don’t have the vision to create continuity between games (goth ~ epic ~40k ~ necro ~ inquisitor). You make game rules designed to boost profits (high attrition, low tactics). You have developed a complex Dark Age Sci-fi setting that you do practically nothing interesting with. You have a fantasy franchise that could destroy Dungeons and Dragons; but you never support your gaming books with any diversity in your miniature line or create continuity between the two. GW stores are a joke and promote the worst kind of gaming culture. This one employee model for stores is pathetic and frankly everyone just feels sorry for the guy that has to deal with that bullshit.
I could go on all day about how you guys have set back table top gaming 15 years. You guys are going the way of cardboard punches and Avalon Hill. I remember when people used to fight over space in game shops to play Necromunda; twenty kids going crazy for bits and new figs to buy. You could have built Necromunda into a 30-40 fig skirmish game; but no, you guys dropped it. Dropped Necromunda when you could have opened the gates for Genstealer cults, Ademptus Arbities, PDF forces, Traitor Guard, Choas Cults, Eldar Corsairs, Exodites, Rebel Grots, Mutant Zombies, Robot Rebels, Penal Legions, Hive Gang Militia, House Knights, Riot Anarchists, Redemption Crusaders. There is a lot of diversity there that you just don’t use.
The last original thing you guys did was Tau and how long ago was that?
My point is that I’m 31 years old, I have some money now, and I really love tabletop gaming. The way you guys are looking right now I don’t believe I will be introducing my kids to GW gaming. It is overpriced, consumerist, dumb downed, uncreative, and frankly doesn’t even come close to being counter culture cool anymore.
The truth is all my demographic wants is a single specialist shelf at the game store and the ability to throw some Genstealer Cultists at a Guard Army. We wouldn’t care if we got slaughtered, if we blew the tread off a Land Raider we would call it a victory. A chance to pair a squad of PDF forces with a Marine Chapter or play a skirmish campaign where Eldar Exodites fight off a Rebel Grot Revolution. You could launch every one on those factions with only three different troop types, and a couple of equipment variations; everything else you need is supplied by your existing miniature line (captured Rhinos, stolen Sentinels, modified skimmers and trucks).?
Bring the diversity and creativity back to your gaming culture. You are the keepers of Fantasy miniature gaming, you have done wonderful things with LOTH but that setting doesn’t posses an open enough narrative to let people think outside of the books.
?Whatever profits you are making off exploiting pop culture and that shitty Hobbit movie wont make the game last. Use some capital to develop the integrity of your narrative. Get things back to game theory and sand box creative settings. You have kept me interested for 15 years; that is now over. Making only 10% of the company specialist games would still keep a huge window open for the diversity of your hobby. The games you wrote 10 years ago are still really good games, keep them alive and let them connect to your core game systems.?
I saw what was left of the Mordiheim and Necromunda lines on the GW web sight and that is what sparked this message. Would it be that hard to do a limited re-issue? And please don’t say you destroyed the molds, that is history we are talking about here.

Thank you for your time,
Eric Howanietz

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