Games Workshop is not known to be lenient with its trademarks and copyrights. Its prolonged dispute with Chapterhouse Studios was widely covered by the Blogosphere. A much smaller, but no less interesting quarrel seems to have played itself out now too. It appears that M.C.A. Hogarth’s ‘Spots the Space Marine‘ is available from Amazon again. Did Games Workshop concede?
#1 – What is ‘Spots of the Space Marine’?
Though the book (written in the style of a script, and not that of a novel) is branded as ‘military science fiction’, it does not appear to be written with the explicit intent to tap into the fan-base of Games Workshop’s Space Marines. It flaunts no gothic grim-dark theme and the story revolves around a cookie-baking heroine (cookie-recipes included).
I doubt a large number of Warhammer 40K fans identify with that.
M.C.A. Hogarth describes her work as “Pollyanna meets Starship Troopers“. Doing so, she taps into the long history of the term ‘Space Marine’, which Wikipedia traces back to 1932.
The earliest known use of the term “space marine” was by Bob Olsen in his short story “Captain Brink of the Space Marines” (Amazing Stories, Volume 7, Number 8, November 1932), a light-hearted work whose title is a play on the song “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines”, and in which the protagonists were marines of the “Earth Republic Space Navy” on mission to rescue celebrity twins from aliens on Titan.
Hogarth’s credits page also lists a sizeable amount of resources on Marines (as in.. United States Marines), including interviews with women in the military, which she drew upon in her writing.
‘Spots’ moved from online-serial to paperback with the help of a Kickstarter earlier this year.
#2 – Does GW Own the Term ‘Space Marine’?
Nevertheless, Hogarth seems to have roused the ire of Games Workshop Legal. On December 13th, M.C.A. Hogarth wrote on her website:
Today I got an email from Amazon telling me they have stopped selling Spots the Space Marine because Games Workshop has accused me of infringement on their trademark of the word ‘space marine’.
If you go to the Trademarks Database and look up the word “space marine” you’ll find the Games Workshop owns a trademark on the term “space marine,” but it only covers the follow goods and services: IC 028. US 022. G & S: 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.
Fiction isn’t included in that list, which means Games Workshop has no grounds on which to accuse me of trademark infringement.
I didn’t get my use of that term from Games Workshop. I got it from Robert Heinlein. Apparently the first use of the term was in 1932. E.E. Smith used it, among others. Also there are other novels on Amazon being sold that have “space marine” in the title. I don’t know why Games Workshop decided to complain about Spots in particular, but my guess is because the Kickstarter made it a little higher-profile than the average indie offering.
Do you agree with M.C.A. Hogarth? Or do you think Games Workshop has a point?
#3 = Return of Spots the Space Marine!
Personally, I would side with Hogarth’s view of things.
Because of that, the story made for a depressing read, when I first came across it on io9.com: A most likely undeserving, young author, it seemed, was bullied, not even by a proper legal proceeding, but by a letter from Games Workshop to Amazon and on – in my opinion – rather questionable grounds.
So what happened? It has only been two weeks since MCA Hogarth announced on her homepage that she received notice from Amazon. Certainly far too short for a legal dispute of any kind (much less the kind GW fought with Chapterhouse for most of the year).
Did Games Workshop relent? Did Amazon?
I am certainly not the person to crusade for a free-for-all on trademarked stuff, but ‘Space Marine’ is both a fairly generic and found in a variety of sources, many of them pre-dating Games Workshop.
Of course, Games Workshop’s Space Marines have a unique spin on them. Obvious rip-offs should be discouraged.
But Spots of the Space Marine isn’t that. It does not strike me as trying to free-ride on Games Workshop’s IP. A blanket trademark on the generic term of ‘Space Marine’ in all instances is not a claim that Games Workshop should be able to make (in my humble opinion).
This is a book that clearly deserves to be out there.
I’d love to hear what happened there!