Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Spots the Space Marine

Well readers it seems a large company have once again embarrased themselves over a ridiculous issue. I can't even begin to comprehend why they would have chosen this issue to embarass themselves over! What am I talking about you ask? Why the Games Workshop Space Marine controversy!


Now for those of you who haven't heard about the controversy (or didn't want to read the article) it boils down to this. Spots the Space Marine is an Amazon Novella written by author M.C.A Hogarth. The story is set in the future where humanity has allied with an alien race engaged in a brutal war with another expansionist race of aliens. The titular character is a space marine who is taking part in the fight against these aliens.

As an aside I've now purchased the novella and I have to say it's written in an interesting format which flows very well and since it's already in partial script format it would transfer easily to television or film. I highly reccomend readers look it up.


In line with the rest of the article however, it gets weird. UK based Games Workshop sent a legal application for the book to be taken off Amazon because 'the book infringed on their trademark'. Now Amazon of course took the book down, but this understandbly upset the author, who posted about it and from there the story spread.

It garnered attention from other bloggers, authors, and members of the science fiction community who rightly called it 'absurd' and demanded the legal action be called off. In turn this prompted massive backlash from many of Games Workshops's own supporters and Warhammer players who launched a campaign of their own speaking out against the ridiculous action.

In response Games Workshop released a statement (which due to events I do not have a copy of, more on that in a second however) and have said:

"The law requires us to protect our trademarks in certain ways – and if we do not – we might lose them. As you can imagine, we do not want to lose our trademarks as we would no longer be able to create the great miniatures and tabletop hobby wargames that we pride ourselves on!"

Now let me just say something here, the idea of trademarking the term 'space marine' which has been around since 1932 is ridiculous. It would be like trademarking the word 'drone' or the name 'Enterprise' for a ship. However, Games Workshop has claimed that the loss of being able enforce a tradmark on the term would somehow cause a loss in their revenues or sales to their tabletop games. One of their biggest reasons for cracking down on the term was because of their recent forays into paperback publishing with Warhammer 40k fiction which can be found in the Black Library and much of that fiction has of course featured the ever popular space marine chapters of the Warhammer 40k universe.

Or video game series with the 40k logo

 However, the thought that someone else using the term space marine in an independent setting will somehow detract from the international sales of these books is absurd. In fact many of Games Workshop's own fans saw through this thinly veiled bully attempt and called them out on it, which lead to the Facebook page for Games Workshop on Facebook being taken down, as mentioned earlier.

Now when you upset your own fans that much you know you have made a mistake. As of time of writing no further legal action has been taken against Hogarth and Spots the Space Marine is back up for sale on Amazon. How Games Workshop will deal with the fallout among their consumer base and supporters remains to be seen, but hopefully they can manage it with grace and dignity.

As a final aside I would normally defend an author or companies intellectual copyright or trademarks, in this case however (just as with the case of DC and Marvel owning the word 'superhero') I do not support it. The idea that you can own a common phrase or word in the English language just because it ties into your franchise is absurd, it would be like Tolkien claiming he owned the term hobbit or halfing, or J.K. Rowling saying she owned the word 'muggle'. This is a case of legal overstretch and murkey copyright laws as they attempt to gain dominance over a subject, but thus far from lack of support and outspoken disagreement they have not been able obtain it.

I would encourage readers to use space marine as much as they please in their own stories or events and to always remember that free press and expression is important, and we can't let people pick and choose what words they want to trademark.

Space Marines forever readers!


  1. Well at the very least, JK Rowling created the term Muggle, didn't she?

  2. She did, but she isn't trying to say no one else can use it.