Warhammer Publisher Owns the Term “Space Marine,” Apparently

In mid-December, author M.C.A. Hogarth had her original fiction novel “Spots the Space Marine” e-book blocked from sale on Amazon after Warhammer publisher Games Workshop made a trademark claim on the term “space marine.” While the e-book was relisted on Amazon last week, the fact that Games Workshop trademarked such generic and time-honored sci-fi jargon — and has lawyers actively enforcing the trademark — is baffling.

Why do they want to bully authors out of using a term that has existed decades before Warhammer? Why are they even fighting this battle, when they lost the war over their intellectual property over a decade ago to Blizzard?

Let’s begin by addressing the trademark that Games Workshop has on the term “space marine.” In the US, the trademark covers:

“Board games, parlor games, war games, hobby games, toy models and miniatures of buildings, scenery, figures, automobiles, vehicles, planes, trains and card games and paint, sold therewith.”

The European trademark covers a banal list of items too long to repeat in its entirety, including “common metals and their alloys” and “scientific apparatus and instruments,” but the following snippets highlight the parts relevant to us:

“Paper, cardboard and goods made from these materials, not included in other classes; printed matter; bookbinding material; photographs; stationery; adhesives for stationery or household purposes; artists’ materials; paint brushes; typewriters and office requisites (except furniture); instructional and teaching material (except apparatus); plastic materials for packaging (not included in other classes); playing cards; printers’ type; printing blocks.

“Games and playthings; gymnastic and sporting articles not included in other classes; decorations for Christmas trees.”

Books fall under this category, which gives Games Workshop’s lawyers the right to go after authors, like the unfortunate Ms. Hogarth, who use the term “Space Marine” in the title of their works.

But here’s the problem — Space Marines have been a staple of the sci-fi genre long before Warhammer existed. The term “space marine” has been used as far back as 1932, when it first appeared in a short story by Bob Olsen titled “Captain Brink of the Space Marines.” Even Robert Heinlein, who is widely regarded as one of the “Big Three” of sci-fi, used the term well before Games Workshop did.

Space marines have become ingrained in science fiction — no one should claim ownership of the term any more than anyone could claim to own the rights to “hyperspace.” Even works that don’t outright use those exact words make use of the idea of marines in space — Starship Troopers, Aliens, and Doctor Who, for instance.

Further, clinging to this Space Marine trademark seems ridiculous when you consider that Games Workshop lost the war on protecting its IP over fifteen years ago to Blizzard Entertainment. StarCraft’s Terran Marines not only share half of the “Space Marine” name, dropping only the corny prefix, but they wear giant suits of armor that are probably more similar to Warhammer Space Marines than any other marines in the history of gaming. StarCraft’s Zerg race would be unmistakable from Warhammer’s Tyranids to someone seeing both for the first time. As for StarCraft’s Protoss race, while they are less visually similar to Warhammer’s Eldar, they do share commonalities in their lore and aesthetic that simply can’t be ignored when all other similarities come to light. But, hey; when a rival game series has used huge, recognizable ideas and visuals from your own IP en masse, it’s clearly of tremendous importance to fight to prevent science fiction authors from arranging two nouns in a specific sequence.

I understand that Games Workshop has a legal obligation to protect its IP, and that if it doesn’t take action against trademark infringement of the term “Space Marine,” its trademark will be significantly weakened. I can’t fault them for that. But what I can fault them for is for having the audacity to trademark the term in the first place, a term that came with decades of history when they appropriated it. Tyranid, Eldar, Adeptus Astartes — these are terms they can rightfully lay claim to. Let the science fiction community have its space marines back.

As for Ms. Hogarth, while things have worked out for her with help from the community and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, she’s all-too aware of how easily the litigation surrounding trademarks could devastate individuals or entities that lack the resources of a large company. Speaking with Game Front, she said:

“I’m grateful that my book has been restored, but it’s clear that technology is creating legal gray areas faster than we are finding ways to protect individuals attempting to navigate them. This situation has taught me that when we stand together we can start setting those precedents… and that one of our duties as beneficiaries of technological changes is not to be a bystander when someone else runs afoul of them.”

Let’s stand together.

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8 Comments on Warhammer Publisher Owns the Term “Space Marine,” Apparently

Aedelric

On February 20, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Was a good read CJ Miozzi.

It is not right people can copyright generic terms and especially terms that they did not even invent, like Space Marine. Reminds me of the Mojang/Bethesda kerfuffle a while back when the word Scrolls came into question.

I would like to point out Eldar can not be claimed by Warhammer, JRR Tolkien used it first for his elves and even then it is used by other forms of entertainment. I bet if I researched Tyranid, Adeptus Astartes I would probably find earlier usage of these terms which Warhammer ripped off.

Another stupid case I just remembered, White Wolf trying to stop the creator of Underworld because they say they own the idea of vampire/warewolf conflict.

Axetwin

On February 20, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Oh gawd, this is Bethesda trying to sue over another game using the word “scrolls” all over again.

folklore

On February 20, 2013 at 4:00 pm

That is just sad. I love warhammer, but my respect for gamesworkshop keeps dropping.

Mike

On February 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm

” I bet if I researched Tyranid, Adeptus Astartes I would probably find earlier usage of these terms which Warhammer ripped off. ”

I bet you wouldn’t. While this particular case is incredibly stupid for GW to pursue, they had every right to go after Blizzard since they were in collaboration together over an RTS that GW decided to pull out of. Blizzard thinks they got something, make some light skin changes, and boom you have Warcraft/Starcraft (Warhammer/40K).

quicktooth

On February 20, 2013 at 10:36 pm

While I like Games Workshop’s games, this is a clear case of the company being a patent troll. Common terms CANNOT be allowed to be trademarked or copyrighted; this defeats the purpose of those tools. They are there to encourage people to create stuff, giving them (in effect) a guaranteed income from them. They are NOT there to merely enable someone to leech off of everyone else. “I trademarked/copyrighted it first! How smart am I to get everyone else to pay me for what they invented/etc!!” is THE OPPOSITE of what those tools are for. Games Workhshop gets another black mark on it’s name from this, along with it’s outrageous price hikes and (recent) armies books f|_|ck-ups. What the h3ll happened to the company I liked so much in 2000???

Maniacfive

On February 21, 2013 at 6:33 am

@Aedelric it wasn’t the werewolf vampire conflict theme, it was the obvious lifting of huge chunks of lore and plot from the various World of Darkness books that got the makers of underworld in trouble. As it was resolved in a settlement that neither party has commented on we cant say for sure, but I’d suggest that White Wolf got a nice chunk of change out of Sony. Probably didnt help matters when the writers went on record at a comic con before the film was released stating what huge WoD fans they were. Whoops.

Quinsec

On February 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Trademarks and patents were created to protect creativity and intellectual property – but we are finding more and more that they are more used to stifle creativity and block progress.

If someone discovered fire today, they would slap a patent on it and block the rest of us from using it without paying royalties.

Blaketank

On March 1, 2013 at 5:42 pm

The reason Games Workshop sued M Hogarth (I never saw that name outside the Iron Giant until today) is because she can’t fight back. Unlike Blizzard, she doesn’t have access to the resources of a major international corporation or the billions of dollars (as far as I know) that would make it financially easy to contest the lawsuit. It is an act of bullying from Games Workshop, who is trying to make people think they invented the term, instead of the author Bob Olsen in his 1932 (over 40 years before Games Workshop existed) novel “Captain Brink of the Space Marines”. They have lost sight of caring for the customer and will do “anything for the dollar”. It’s a shame because I and many others enjoy Warhammer.