I’ve been watching this one develop all day, since I saw John Scalzi’s post about it, and things look to be turning around for the writer involved. Still, she’s still pretty firmly in suckland at this point, and the fact that it’s happening at all is outrageous.
MCA Hogarth wrote a book called Spots the Space Marine and self-pubbed it. Games Workshop (a large game company that publishes the very popular game Warhammer 40K) has recently decided to exercise its trademark of the term “space marine” — it has the term trademarked in the area of tabletop games and video games — against fiction. It sent a DMCA notice to Amazon, claiming that Spots violated its trademark, and Amazon took the book down.
Wow, where to start?
First, Games Workshop does not own the term “space marine” in the context of fiction. There’ve been space marines running around SF for about as long as there’s been a recognized genre called science fiction, and maybe even longer. Doc Smith and Robert Heinlein had space marines. There’s reams of prior art. Just because GW’s got a lock on the term in the gaming arena doesn’t mean they own it in fiction too, and the fact that they’ve started publishing fiction recently doesn’t change that.
Second, as Cory Doctorow points out, the DMCA doesn’t cover trademarks, only copyrights, so Amazon was under no obligation to comply with the take-down notice. They chose to do so freely when they didn’t have to — a thwap of the salmon to Amazon for being an auxiliary idiot here. (The comments to Cory’s post are pretty entertaining, if you’re at all familiar with Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. )
Third, someone at Games Workshop must know their trademark assertion is completely bogus, because they’re going after a tiny little indie-pubbed book, but (so far as I’ve heard) haven’t said so much as “Peep” any of the big New York publishers who are “infringing” just as much on their supposed trademark, but who all have lawyers on staff.
This is pathetic behavior on the part of Games Workshop. I don’t know where their legal advice is coming from, but it’s not a source I’d ever hire, because it’s making them look like idiots.
The legal blog Popehat is calling for pro bono help for Ms. Hogarth in fighting this crap, which she can’t afford to do on her own. (Which GW counted on, I’m sure.) Popehat has a good track record with this sort of thing, as when attorney Charles Carreon sued Matt Inman; I’m betting they can get help for Ms. Hogarth too, and I’m looking forward to reading about the results.
I’ve been a gamer since I was a teenager. I played in the same FRPG campaign for almost twenty years, until I got married and moved away from my group. I used to work as a developer/gamemaster for a company that does online multi-player RPGs. I have no local gaming group, but still play computer games. As a member of the community Games Workshop is trying to do business in, I have to say that I’ll never again buy one of their products, ever. They’re a pack of cowardly, bullying douchebags and don’t deserve my business. I hope a lot of other gamers make the same decision.
And I hope a trademark attorney or two responds to Popehat’s call and gives Games Workshop a good smack upside the head on Ms. Hogarth’s behalf. They definitely need a few brain cells jarred loose.
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