OK kids, we’re going to start out today with a little game. I’m going to say some words, then ask you some questions, and then we’ll move on. Ready? Great.
Q1: What do you call a person who searches unknown territories? (I came up with “explorer” for this one myself)
Q2: Now… what if that man or woman did said work and/or activity, in oh, I don’t know, the deep sea? What would you call that person? Would you call them a deep sea explorer? Of course you would – it’s an explorerthat does their thing in the deep waters of the damn sea.
So now let’s talk about another occupation/location combination phrase – Space Marine. That phrase has been used a bunch of times over the years in science fiction and gaming and conjures different ideas to different people. For me personally the term makes me think about Blizzard’s Starcraft series, and the nameless hero from id Software’s Doomback in the day when gore only came in 16 bits. But for a lot of other people, Space Marine is synonymous with Warhammer 40,000, a tabletop and video game from Games Workshop. And that’s cool, because it’s not like it’s a specific and proprietary thing that someone could own right?
Well it definitely was a question that came up when science fiction authorM. C. A. Hogarth surprisingly found her book Spots the Space Marinepulled off of Amazon’s digital shelves thanks to a DMCA takedown request from Games Workshop. As it turns out that Games Workshop kind ofdoes own the name to a certain degree with trademarks they have registered in the USA and Europe. And while in Europe that trademark covers pretty much everything involving the Space Marine name, in the United States it only covers the tabletop game and pieces. So why then, were they able to take action against a book in the United States?
The DMCA, that lovely set of rules that a couple weeks ago said you couldn’t unlock your phone anymore, allows copyright owners to get content taken down via a takedown request. It’s the reason that there’s certain videos on YouTube that you can’t watch anymore – because copyright holders have requested that the content be removed. But the problem for Games Workshop is that the DMCA works with copyrights – you know, what the “C” stands for – and not trademarks. So when Amazon took the book off of their site, it was premature on a claim that didn’t have any teeth to begin with.
But what if the DMCA did support trademarks? As mentioned before, their US trademark doesn’t cover books. So how did Games Workshop justify trying to shut Hogarth down? By claiming that after starting to sell digital books online, that they have a “common law” trademark on the phrase Space Marine in the United States.
These trademark trolls came after Hogarth hard and as a small author she didn’t have the money to fend them off with a legal team. But I still don’t really understand how any court would entertain the claim – “Space Marine” in both concept and name, has been used a number of times historically. If you check out TV Tropes to see the list. That in conjunction with their gimped trademark and I’m not even seeing a case here. At any rate, she’s found support from a number of people on the internet through social media backing her cause, in the sci-fi and gaming community, as well as fans organizing boycotts of Games Workshop pieces. And it’s helping shine a giant spotlight on the bullying tactics of copyright (and now trademark) trolls.
But there seems to have been some progress. While Games Workshop has been following their policy of not commenting, as of my checking this morning, you can again find Spots the Space Marine on Amazon. I applaud them on their decision to put it back up for sale and not allowing this sort of corporate bullying to stand.