Thursday, February 07, 2013

Of Trademarks and Space Marines

What do you think of when you hear the term "Space Marine"? For many, it conjures images of Heinlein's Starship Troopers. For others, it's the tough hombres of the Colonial Marines in the Alien franchise. For a certain sort of gaming nerd the image conjures one of a tabletop miniature in a war game published by Games Workshop.

It's a term that's been part of science fiction for decades, but one greedy corporation is now making a grab to associate it with their use and their use alone, and siccing lawyers on anyone else who wants to use it.

The site I edit, Big Shiny Robot, brought this to my attention and it should be terrifying for writers of all stripes, but particularly indies.

Games Workshop, the company behind the Warhammer 40k game, has started asserting that ANY use of the term Space Marine infringes on their trademark and intellectual property. Recently, they went after the author MCA Hogarth and forcibly removed a self-published title on Amazon from the author.

Then it gets worse.
In their last email to me, Games Workshop stated that they believe that their recent entrĂ©e 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.
Games Workshop is asserting that ANY use of the term is theirs. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. This is over the line.

Now, here is her cover for the book they have an issue with, Spots the Space Marine:


Does that look like anyone, in a hundred years, would confuse this with the battling tabletop marines of the Warhammer 40K universe?

No.

Never.

This is not something that we can let stand. Those of us who work in the creative industries know how difficult it can be to fight against these corporations with deep pockets and expensive lawyers, and here were are scraping together scratch for a cup of coffee. Ms. Hogarth needs help with this and can't possibly afford a lawyer to fight these guys.

What can we do?

Well, I have a proposal and it goes way beyond just writing letters, either to Games Workshop or our congressperson. It goes beyond screaming about this from the highest hilltops that we have on the Internet. An age ago, when I was in high school debate, there was a technique we'd use to spread the opposing team thin, so they couldn't possibly answer every argument, inevitably drop some, and would then lose the debate.

Let's spread Games Workshop.

Gather every artist and writer we know and let's all write or draw our own personal interpretations of what Space Marines would be. The world could always use more iterations of military space fiction, it could always use more creative interpretations of what a Space Marine could be. We'll all put our short stories for sale, make art prints and sell those. Anything you can think of.

If suddenly there are hundreds of new Space Marine stories for sale, it certainly would dilute their claim to ownership of the phrase, it would put many more ideas of what Space Marines could be into the aether, and it would force them to police more vigilantly the term. It's going to cost them more money than it's worth trying to track all of the instances down and the more of us that get shut down by their greed machine, the more negative publicity it creates for them.

Or, they could simply drop it. I understand protecting their intellectual property, but this novel, and any story that happens to use the incredibly generic term "Space Marine" simply isn't their IP.

Who's with me?
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