For years, there have been stories about Games Workshop being trademark bullies and sending threats to people who use the term "space marine" in connection with games. But now that they've started publishing ebooks, Games Workshop has begun to assert a trademark on the generic, widely used, very old term "space marine" in connection with science fiction literature.
MCA Hogarth, an author who has published several novels in ebook form, has had her book "Spots the Space Marine" taken down on Amazon in response to a legal threat from Games Workshop. She could conceivably fight the trademark claim, but that would cost (a lot) of money, which she doesn't have.
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.
At this point I’m not sure what course to take. I interviewed five lawyers and all of them were willing to take the case, but barring the arrival of a lawyer willing to work pro bono, the costs of beginning legal action start at $2000 and climb into the five-figure realm when it becomes a formal lawsuit. Many of you don’t know me, so you don’t know that I write a business column/web comic for artists; wearing my business hat, it’s hard to countenance putting so much time and energy into saving a novel that hasn’t earned enough to justify it. But this isn’t just about Spots. It’s about science fiction’s loss of one of its foundational tropes.
I have very little free time and very little money. But if enough people show up to this fight, I’ll give what I can to serve that trust. And if the response doesn’t equal the level of support I would need, then I still thank you for your help and your well wishes. For now, step one is to talk about this. Pass it on to your favorite news source. Tell your favorite authors or writers’ organizations. To move forward, we need interest. Let’s generate some interest.
A few important notes:
* Amazon didn't have to honor the takedown notice. 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
* Trademarks only apply to commercial works. You can and should use "space marine" in your everyday speech, fanfic, tweets and so on. For one thing, it will undermine Games Workshop's attempts to homestead our common language.
In the Future, All Space Marines Will Be Warhammer 40K Space Marines (Thanks to everyone who sent this in)