Per Mare, Per Terram…Ad Astra?

From time to time, Dear Reader, I get annoyed about things. I usually feel the need to convey this displeasure, which is why on this blog you find rants on such topics as Jan Moir and Trafigura; the BNP; the Daily Mail; etc., etc… Are those things deserving of rants? Certainly. Are they hideous blights upon the cultural health of the nation? Without doubt. But they are not things in which I have a personal stake. The offensiveness of the Daily Mail does not actually impinge upon my ability to get on with my life.

However, gallumphing over the horizon comes the pustuled mastodon that is Games Workshop. And they actually have managed to pick a fight where I have a personal level of involvement.

But first, a few brief words of explanation. Games Workshop (GW) is a model manufacturer specialising in tabletop wargaming figures and vehicles, concentrating on fantasy and science-fiction games called ‘Warhammer’ and ‘Warhammer 40,000’ respectively. (They also do figures for ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’). My own involvement with the company’s products is fairly minimal – their paintbrushes are ghastly but some of the acrylic paints they sell are really good. Their scenic products are done better – and cheaper – by suppliers in the world of model railways. So I’m reasonably familiar wih their products, but I seldom have need of them. Basically, up until now, GW and I have nodded at each other in passing and carried on in our own ways.

That has now changed.

It has changed because of a woman called M.C.A Hogarth. She is a writer of science fiction and the author of an original novel called ‘Spots the Space Marine’. She made it available as an e-book on Amazon…until Games Workshop told Amazon to remove it from sale. You can read the whole sorry tale here, but the gist of it is this: GW believes that now that they are publishing e-books set in the universe of their sci-fi and fantasy wargames they own the common law trademark on the phrase ‘space marine’. Essentially, as far as GW is concerned, “All your space marines are belong to us.” And so Ms Hogarth, whose fiction has nothing to do with that of GW, was told by them to cease and desist.

This is staggering overreach, and for a very basic and simple reason: the term ‘space marine’ is a common usage trope in science fiction that goes back at least to 1932, before the founders of GW were even born. E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith made mention of them in his ‘Lensman’ series, but the doyen of the phrase is Robert Heinlein, who used the term in a number of novels and then defined it (albeit not by that name) in ‘Starship Troopers’, which then became required reading for the actors playing Marines in the film ‘Aliens’. ‘Space Marines’ is a phrase with a long and distinguished pedigree in science fiction, and for GW to come along and claim trademark on it is simply ludicrous.

I am not the only one to think so. John Scalzi, an author of military SF and the current chairman of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, was most displeased. BoingBoing joined the clamour of reprobation. Various other authors and knowledgeable types weighed in, as did the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organisation devoted to preserving and defending internet freedom). The upshot of all this heaped opprobrium is that Amazon has quietly reinstated Maggie Hogarth’s book for sale.

Games Workshop has stayed fairly silent on the whole matter, except for a Facebook post explaining that they were required – somehow – to make the claim of trademark infringement (however spurious everyone else knew it to be)…but that Facebook post has now been taken down. In any case, it is difficult to imagine what on earth they could say to mollify anyone at this point. They have annoyed science-fiction authors, readers, supporters of internet freedom, and many others besides. One group of people I could imagine as being more than a little annoyed are the individuals on this list; another group might be the scientists working on this concept.

They have also annoyed me, and, like I say, I do have a dog in this fight. My novels are military SF and they feature space marines. (Quite apart from anything else, I have an affection for Marines anyway and so there is no way I’m not including them). I am relieved to discover that GW, with this whole sorry escapade, have created a phenomenally huge PR disaster for themselves and are unlikely to try it again any time soon (it’s hard to imagine a more sure-fire way to annoy people than to say “We’ve decided we own something you know to be yours, and if you start using it we’re going to take it away – even if, as in Ms Hogarth’s case, some of the proceeds from sales of the book were going to a veterans’ charity”).

One final note. I work with a nation-wide model retailer. There has been some discussion, recently, between all levels of management about whether or not we ought to stock Games Workshop products. On the basis of this debacle, and seeing the contempt with which GW  appears to treat its customers, fanbase, stock-holders and all media outlets, I will be ensuring that my objection to forming any kind of business relationship with the company is heard at every level. There is no way I want either myself or my store to be associated with Games Workshop.

Per Mare, Per Terram, Ad Astra.

Sandringham Teak Bridge

Hornby Gresley B17 ‘Sandringham’ leads a train of teak suburban coaches across the suspension bridge

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About Gavin

I am a 32-year-old PhD student in Aberdeen, Scotland. I work in QC at an e-learning company. I'm originally Northern Irish, though I've lived here in Aberdeen for several years. I am, essentially, somebody who is very normal, yet to whom very strange things keep happening...
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3 Responses to Per Mare, Per Terram…Ad Astra?

  1. Seraphism says:

    I have long been a distant fan of GW’s 40k Universe and it has served as an inspiration to a number of ideas I’ve had floating around in my head for a while. I used to play 40k (badly) and had fun painting their figures (also badly), but here my allegiance is wholly behind M.C.A. Hogarth, not only because it is the only attitude which makes any sense, but because Ms. Hogarth is a very strong voice and prominent figure in the world of web fiction and I have found the stuff she has to say on the Web Fiction Guide forums to be helpful and insightful as regards my own efforts in this field.

    It’s very sad to think that a big company like GW can make such an impact on writers trying to make a living in this way (which I, so far, am not – trying, that is) by just storming in and making ridiculous claims. Can’t say I’m impressed by Amazon’s immediate action either, although I understand that for them, the best thing to do in looking after their business and not getting embroiled in lawsuits is to shoot first and ask questions later…

  2. Philip Browne says:

    Aaaahhh, the Great Satan that is Games Workshop.
    Modelzone partnering with them? Don’t do it. Don’t go near them. Let me tell you for why.
    I used to read the magazines, and the universe they created is actually a very strong, complex and interwoven one. I actually think that as fantasy universes go, it’s as strong as Middle-earth; they’ve never found an author good enough to drop an epic story into it though. The universe is appealing, and the backstory is engaging.

    So much for the good stuff.

    The fantasy is good, the reality is terrible. I wanted to collect a space marine army for a while, and I used to draw up army lists when I was bored in school. I think the cheapest I ever managed to get a usable army (a very small one – the minimum required for a game) was something like £130. This is in 2002/2003. The kits are just preposterously expensive, and then you see the size of the figure you’ve forked over £15 quid for, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny just how small it is.

    I read a couple of years back that, in order to keep their profits up during the recession, GW (without consulting anybody, and with no warning given) increased the list price of all their products by 20%. And, since they distribute through their own stores, it’s difficult to get them any cheaper than list price. When the kits already cost £20-35, and your customers pay for it with money from their paper round, that’s a big hike. The fans were up in arms.

    You mentioned the founders of GW… it’s worth noting that there were two of them, who set it up in the seventies. Not one of them has been involved with the company since the early nineties, when it was bought out by shareholders. They are all still involved in gaming – one makes card games, the other owns a computer games studio. But the key point is that they’ve basically severed all relations with the company they founded, and the most successful thing they ever did. I think that speaks volumes. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, you might say.

    It doesn’t surprise me that they’ve been daft about the space marine thing – it’s their flagship model range, and the thing they’re most closely associated with, after all.

    Anyways, there’s my thinking.

    Take care and God bless,
    Philip

  3. Philip Browne says:

    And for your delight, this is what appears on their website:
    “40k, Adeptus Astartes, Battlefleet Gothic, Black Flame, Black Library, the Black Library logo, BL Publishing, Blood Angels, Bloodquest, Blood Bowl, the Blood Bowl logo, The Blood Bowl Spike Device, Cadian, Catachan, Chaos, the Chaos device, the Chaos logo, Citadel, Citadel Device, Cityfight, City of the Damned, Codex, Daemonhunters, Dark Angels, Darkblade, Dark Eldar, Dark Future, Dawn of War, the Double-Headed/Imperial Eagle device, ‘Eavy Metal, Eldar, Eldar symbol devices, Epic, Eye of Terror, Fanatic, the Fanatic logo, the Fanatic II logo, Fire Warrior, the Fire Warrior logo, Forge World, Games Workshop, Games Workshop logo, Genestealer, Golden Demon, Gorkamorka, Great Unclean One, GW, GWI, the GWI logo, the Hammer of Sigmar logo, Horned Rat logo, Inferno, Inquisitor, the Inquisitor logo, the Inquisitor device, Inquisitor:Conspiracies, Keeper of Secrets, Khemri, Khorne, the Khorne logo, Kroot, Lord of Change, Marauder, Mordheim, the Mordheim logo, Necromunda, Necromunda stencil logo, Necromunda Plate logo, Necron, Nurgle, the Nurgle logo, Ork, Ork skull devices, Sisters of Battle, Skaven, the Skaven symbol devices, Slaanesh, the Slaanesh logo, Space Hulk, Space Marine, Space Marine chapters, Space Marine chapter logos, Talisman, Tau, the Tau caste designations, Tomb Kings, Trio of Warriors, Twin Tailed Comet Logo, Tyranid, Tyrannid, Tzeentch, the Tzeentch logo, Ultramarines, Warhammer, Warhammer Historical, Warhammer Online, Warhammer 40k Device, Warhammer World logo, Warmaster, White Dwarf, the White Dwarf logo, and all associated marks, names, races, race insignia, characters, vehicles, locations, units, illustrations and images from the Blood Bowl game, the Warhammer world, the Talisaman world, and the Warhammer 40,000 universe are either ®, TM and/or © Copyright Games Workshop Ltd 2000-2012, variably registered in the UK and other countries around the world. Used without permission. No challenge to their status intended. All Rights Reserved to their respective owners.”

    Well, that cleared things up.

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