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.