I Am a Genius: listen to my words

I Have the Conch

listen to my words

Send in the Space Marines

Games Workshop makes a game. Actually, they make several games, one of which is the well-imagines Warhammer Fantasy RPG, which I will never play because of decisions they’ve made about another of their games: Warhammer 40,000.

Warhammer 40k is a table-top miniatures wargame that is set in the far future. The armies include space orks, space elves, and space marines. Games Workshop has a trademark on the term “space marine” as regards to games (a trademark which I think is on iffy foundations). And because of that when they recently started publishing ebooks set in the Warhammer 40k universe, they decided their trademark extends over pretty much any industry and goods throughout all space and time.

They chose to attempt to enforce this trademark recently by sending amazon a DMCA notice about Spots the Space Marine by M.C.A. Hogarth.

Note: I’ve never read this particular book. Or any prose by Hogarth, but I have been reading The Three Jaguars which I have found to be creative and imaginative. But this isn’t about Hogarth’s creative abilities or talent, it’s about her rights.

Amazon, as nearly all third parties do when served a DMCA notice, promptly yanked the Kindle edition of the book from their virtual shelves. This highlights what is troubling about the DMCA, and which would be terrifying about SOPA and PIPA. The third parties act first. The oft-times legitimate person whose content is threatened by such notices have no chance to defend themselves. The third party has no requirements to do any research or questioning about the content-revocation (it really shouldn’t be their burden anyway). And so the person serving the DMCA has an excellent tool to be an intellectual property bully.

And that’s exactly what happened here.

More specific than the tweets to your right, it’s easy to see that “space marines” has appeared in literature for more than eighty years. “Captain Brink and the Space Marines” by Bob Olson, published by Amazing Stories in 1932 is an obvious early example.

So pretty much Games Workshop’s claim about a trademark is a load of crap. Fortunately, the Internet was on Hogarth’s side. There were a rash of Twitter accounts changing their display names to involve the phrase Space Marines. Games Workshop banned a bunch. Famous geek celebrities spoke out on Hogarth’s side, including author John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow. And freedom of speech crusaders Popehat and the Electronic Freedom Foundation helped her get a platform and seek for legal assistance.

After a few days, Amazon restored the book to the store. Which is the solution that I believe they should have done. It was the only honest thing, once they had enough attention. So on the whole this story had a happy ending (assuming Games Workshop doesn’t take it to court. The problem is most stories like this don’t necessarily get that happy ending. Often the victims of intellectual property don’t get a voice. They don’t get famous people repeating their stories.

And sometimes, even when they do, the bully has too much money. If it goes to court, the bully can afford to litigate eternally. They can pay the lawyer, and the victim can’t — even with the hope of getting compensated for the court costs that doesn’t happen for a long time. In the mean time the victim is ruined. There’s a plethora of problems manifest in this case. There’s a need to reform litigation procedures; there’s a need to reform copyright laws to reflect creative needs and encourage innovation.

Fortunately, Amazon decided to do the right thing in this case.

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