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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    Jay (profile), 6 Feb 2013 @ 3:00pm

    Well, I believe there's only one proper response to Games Workshop's opening salvo here.


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