Games Workshop Claims To Own Trademark On Space Marines

fb share tweet share


Here at Giant Freakin’ Robot, we liberally spread our opinions over the stories we bring to our readers, but rarely do we dislike something so much that we want to throw a big, heavy book at it. The company Games Workshop, creators of the Warhammer series, has our crosshairs aimed directly at it, however, for trying to co-opt a science fiction term that has been around for decades longer than the company itself.

See, Games Workshop claims to own the decades-old phrase “space marine.” Back in December, they convinced Amazon to stop selling author M.C.A. Hogarth’s novel, Spots the Space Marine, claiming they have trademarked “space marine” and no one else can use it, so nyah nyah. It’s worth noting that Amazon didn’t have to take the book away, since no legal steps were undertaken at the time. While it seemed like a frivolous case, nothing has been resolved and Games Workshop is continuing to stake their claim.

Hogarth posted a blog that updated the communication between her and the company. Highlights, or lowlights rather, include the following:

In their last email to me, Games Workshop stated that they believe that their recent entrée into the e-book market gives them the common law trademark for the term “space marine” in all formats. If they choose to proceed on that belief, science fiction will lose a term that’s been a part of its canon since its inception. Space marines were around long before Games Workshop. But if GW has their way, in the future, no one will be able to use the term “space marine” without it referring to the space marines of the Warhammer 40K universe.

A Games Workshop trademark of the term ‘Adeptus Astartes’ is completely understandable. But they’ve chosen instead to co-opt the legacy of science fiction writers who laid the groundwork for their success. Even more than I want to save Spots the Space Marine, I want someone to save all space marines for the genre I grew up reading. I want there to be a world where Heinlein and E.E. Smith’s space marines can live alongside mine and everyone else’s, and no one has the hubris to think that they can own a fundamental genre trope and deny it to everyone else.

At this point I’m not sure what course to take. I interviewed five lawyers and all of them were willing to take the case, but barring the arrival of a lawyer willing to work pro bono, the costs of beginning legal action start at $2000 and climb into the five-figure realm when it becomes a formal lawsuit. Many of you don’t know me, so you don’t know that I write a business column/web comic for artists; wearing my business hat, it’s hard to countenance putting so much time and energy into saving a novel that hasn’t earned enough to justify it. But this isn’t just about Spots. It’s about science fiction’s loss of one of its foundational tropes.

When reached for comment by IGN to clarify the situation, Hogarth wrote back:

Right now I am hoping to for one of the following things:

– To find a lawyer willing to work with me pro bono;
– To be able to pay for a lawyer otherwise;
– Or to have the public support to encourage Games Workshop to contact Amazon and tell them I am no longer infringing on their trademark. Amazon won’t re-instate the e-book without their okay.

When I called Games Workshop and pointed out previous books using the word “space marine,” they told me their grounds for complaint was based on the European trademark (which is not valid in the US). I explained that, and was told they believed their publication of novels and e-books awards them a common law trademark in America. This would only work if there weren’t other authors predating them who had used the term — they’re the ones, then, that would have the right to the common law trademark.

That’s my understanding, anyway.

I could go on for quite a while about the heinousness of Games Workshop’s attitude and actions, but instead, I’ll just sit back and seethe while you readers take control. Maybe go tell Games Workshop that you’re a space marine, and you want nothing to do with them. But don’t use the word “nothing,” cause that one’s mine.


  1. Sam Ricketts says:

    Heinlein used the term “Space Marine” in various books since 1939.

  2. Glen Waldrop says:

    Do they somehow predate Aliens?

  3. Elliot Owen says:

    I am a GW Fan, I love the universe they have created and read the books they are on about, but this is wrong, a military warrior in space is a Space Marine, seeing as everyone see’s a Marine as an Elite warrior. So this Stinks, what next Orc? Ogre?

  4. Ryan Head says:

    It seems a little odd to me, I didn’t think Games Workshop would be that dumb to even attempt to trademark something like Space Marine. I can’t help but think we’re missing the bigger picture here. So far we’ve only heard from one source, and surely if GW had trademarked the term Space Marine back in December, then surely there would be a critical backlash from the science fiction writing community, not to mention the rest of the writing community.

  5. Jeff Brewer says:

    Re-reading what I have written below, this really struck a nerve with me. Read on at your own peril…

    If GW had their way, they would have trademarks on “Elf”, “Dwarf”, “Goblin”, “Giant”, “fantasy”, “science fiction”, “sci-fi”, and would have their lawyers working on a way to make breathing illegal without paying for a licence for it sold exclusively by them, and you would only be able to breathe official GW air…

    Just another case of this ageing dinosaur trying to do everything they can to eke out every possible cent from the consumer, to appease the ever-growing appetites of their stockholders/shareholders.

    Now, I love GW games, but I really dislike modern GW as an organisation. Gone are the days where they used to listen to their customers. Here are the days where they design all their games in a bubble.

    GW used to have a great forum, where you could provide feedback on games, which may or may not be read by developers and designers. Now, they don’t even have that.

    They are easily one of the most expensive miniature companies around today, but they no longer have the product to support their prices.

    There are a number of miniature companies out there at present with far superior products, at much lower prices.

    Be a wise consumer! Stop giving GW your money, and start supporting other miniature companies that will give you much more bang for your buck. A simple google search will turn up at least half a dozen companies that provide a better product than GW, both in terms of price and quality of miniature.

  6. Ahriman says:

    I believe if you go and check aliens there is a note in the credits that says the term space marine is used with the permission of GW.

  7. bhak1 says:

    Oh Games Workshop is absolutely nuts. I knew a guy that worked for them years ago and he got a job there because he was a fan of the games and winded up hating the company. They’re essentially… fascists? Not politically, but their business model is insane. They basically aim to crush all opposition by whatever means necessary (I guess including ownership of the term “Space Marine”) and “taking over the planet.” That may not sound all that different from Wal-Mart but it gets worse. Apparently the big wigs almost role play as “The Empire” when promoting and talking about all of this. Rather than just being typical weasely CEOs they’re like psycho geeks that get a hard on by talking about expanding their empire while using Warhammer 40k terms. They would show them videos that would basically show corporate as The Empire (the Empire eagle logo shown spreading over the globe I’m told). The guy told me it’s creepy because they act like it’s all sort of a joke/part of the game… but then you pause realize it’s not when you look at all of their company policies. Absolutely batsh*t insane.

    They did create a really cool universe though… 😉

  8. Mike Moore says:

    Not that it will matter much to THQ now..

  9. Desdinova says:

    Bob Olsen (1884–1956) was an American science fiction writer. His real name was Alfred Johannes Olsen.[1] He often wrote humorous science fiction in Amazing Stories, from 1927 to 1936. He was one of the first writers to use the phrase “space marine”. 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) —– From Wikipedia (The Humble Precursor of the REAL HitchHiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – and very much like how the HHGTTG is described)

  10. Dave "Knighthawk" Simpson says:

    Hi, my name is Dave Simpson. You may know me from Gamers on Games. We just concluded an interview with Maggie Hogarth, you can check it out here. Please share it if you can.


  11. malthos says:

    funny when i read space marine first 2 things that popped into my head were aliens and ofcourse starcraft i have heard of warhammer and when i think of warhammer i think minitures ..not space marines i would love to see WG go up against Blizzard and see which of the 2 has the bigger budget to trademark space marine

  12. monbade says:

    Sorry Games workshop, your in violation of using the word Marines, the
    term comes from the Royal Marines, founded in 1755. You must pay all
    proceeds to the Royal Marines for use of the term Marines.

  13. madhippo says:

    whats to say that ganes workshop did not steal the phrase space marine from the book and they are in the wrong

  14. madhippo says:

    whats to say that games workshop did not steal the phrase space marine from the book and they are in the wrong

  15. Chris Nix says:

    What about Space Marines by tac games advertised in White Dwarf issue 8?

  16. edward says:

    Think I might trade mark the word ‘the’

  17. Matthew says:

    If gamesworkshop continues on that road, I will boycott their products. Nothing more need be said