M.C.A. Hogarth, artist and author, is one of a large crop of new technology writers that have largely bypassed traditional publishing and write solely for a specialized e-book market, selling their stuff on B&N and Amazon.com. As the market diversifies by leaps and bounds, I find myself growing a little jaded about this huge influx of fiction, even at rock-bottom rates.. when output increases to firehose proportions, it’s easy to not catch a specific e-pub publication when it comes out. So it’s safe to say Hogarth’s SPOTS THE SPACE MARINE: DEFENSE OF THE FIDDLER came out late last year, it wasn’t on my radar even a little bit. This is what the book looks like:
Suffice to say, this book has a unique visual style that was contributed to by the author, who is also an artist. Speaking only for myself, I’m not going to confuse this with any other product.
Here’s the rub. Our favorite bullies, GAMES WORKSHOP in the UK, contacted Amazon.com with a cease and desist order, citing trademark infringement for the author’s use of the phrase SPACE MARINE in the title. It was Games Workshop‘s contention that since they are entering the electronic fiction market with the “Black Library” enterprise, Hogarth’s book would cause “brand confusion” and infringes upon their copyright. On January 3rd, Amazon blocked the sale of SPOTS THE SPACE MARINE. Just being on the “safe side”, I guess.
Now, if you’re an older fan of science fiction like yours truly, there’s already alarm bells going off in your head. NO, Games Workshop DOES NOT and COULD NOT own the phrase and term “SPACE MARINE”. That term was coined several decades ago and has been in popular parlance in Science Fiction since (easily) the 1950s, and likely an example of the phrase could be found earlier than that if someone dug real deep. The point is.. it might have been Heinlein, maybe it was Hamilton or E.E. “Doc” Smith or Bob Olsen that created the term.. not some Black Library literary hack*. You can’t copyright words, you can copyright a product.. but not language.
Naturally, in this day and age, actually being right doesn’t amount for squat. If you can act like a big enough asshole, you get people accepting the notion that “Hey, these guys seem pretty wound up about the subject, maybe they really DO have a right to the term Space Marine, who would have thunk it?” That’s why companies like Games Workshop aren’t the least bit afraid of the PR repercussions of going nuclear with bullying. They’re relying on a couple of things A) Small Fry like Howarth, predictably, don’t have the $$ to take them to court to fight their allegations (Certainly true in this case) and B) They’ll generate enough hate and fear in the proletariat that the next guy who is considering using a phrase that they are also using thinks twice or three times before doing it.
Very fortunately for Ms. Howarth, the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) did not take this one sitting down, and picked up their cudgels in her cause. It also didn’t hurt to have high visibility author/activists like Corey Doctrow taking her side in the issue, either. See: “Games Workshop trademark bullying goes thermonuclear: now they say you can’t use “space marine” in science fiction” in a recent Boing Boing. I like Corey, and he put together his reasoning well. The big takeaway from this is that Game Workshop is expecting for it to blow over until the next one.. and the only way to combat this kind of greedhead response is do your bit in blogging and posting it on social networks. I agree with him… when you can’t afford a lawyer, concentrated ridicule works wonders. The intercession by the EFF did the trick, and Amazon reinstated the work, for which we should all be very thankful. I can’t stand the idea of a big greedhead entity coopting the English Language like this. Big bucket of win for the EFF and Howarth. The best thing the rest of us can do is keep up the guffawing as loudly and publicly as possible, and thus the reason for this post.
Please don’t get the wrong idea, just because the MOST VISITED POST on this blog is entitled “Why I’m boycotting Games Workshop, and So Should You“. I’m no longer a customer of GW, but they have a right to exist. This isn’t a call for jihad. As I’ve said elsewhere, Games Workshop is a publicly traded company and has a duty to its stock holders to do right by them– a responsibility they have wielded with the subtlety of Ork warrior with a pole arm in a glassware shop on this issue and other issues. When you play the bully to the point of playing the fool, your company’s fortunes often suffer.
* “Hack” being a relative term. GW has and still does employ some damned fine writers for its fictional universe building. In particular, Dan Abnett, William King, and even Kim Newman…
- The many instances of the phrase SPACE MARINE in science fiction, prior to the existence of Games Workshop.
- Trademark Bully Thwarted Spots the Space Marine Back Online
- MISFIT discussion on Goodreads (first known appearance of the term “Space Marine”)
- John Scalzi weighs in, in his own inimical fashion.
- The creator of Schlock Mercenary thinks it’s a kerfuffle over a hackneyed concept, anyway