Editorial by Gene Turnbow
There are some pretty wonderful things out there that we geeks geek out over. There are novels, movies, games of both the electronic and non-electronic variety, cosplay, music and video blogs and all manner of great things produced for – and sometimes by – the world of fandom.
We often don’t think about where these things come from, or when we do it’s to applaud the people who make them. Every now and then, though, it becomes apparent that the people who promote and manage the stuff don’t have the same spirit of sharing that the people who create it do. What do you do when you earn your living on creative works of others, but can’t actually create anything yourself and don’t have a sense of ethics or responsibility?
You squabble over it and try to take things that don’t belong to you – and you do the calculus on how much ill will you’ll generate if you proceed, and you do it anyway.
Games Workshop is the creator of the Warhammer series of tabletop miniatures games. Back in December they had Amazon pull M.C.A. Hogarth’s Spot the Space Marine novels, claiming that they had a trademark on the term “Space Marine” – a term which dates to the 1930′s and has been used by authors like Robert Heinlein and many others. Amazon complied, even though there is no rule of law compelling them to do so, and Games Workshop could not provide them with proof of their registered trademark. Here’s the really jaw-dropping part: there is no registered trademark, and Games Workshop never actually asserted that they had one.
What they’re trying to assert is that they have an exclusive trademark on the term “Space Marines”, because they’ve now begun publishing electronic books and they think that gives them a common-law trademark. A common law trademark. That means they think that we the public, when we hear the term “Space Marines”, we think of Games Workshop’s Warhammer games and nothing else. Believing this and actually going to court over it takes some serious pot metal hand-painted miniature clangers.
M.C.A. Hogarth has no choice but to comply, as he can find many lawyers who would take the case, but so far none that will do it pro bono (“payment deferred and conditional on actually winning the case”). Yet if this goes unchallenged, they’ll keep going and start attacking other people with these specious arguments and winning.