The term "space marine" seems like it's the sort of term one could use without fear of copyright infringement, right? Surprise!
We were only just talking about how Marvel and DC hold the rights to the term 'superhero,' which seemed a little unreasonable on its own. Now we've got another example that somehow seems even worse.
Author and artist M.C.A. Hogarth recently ran afoul of Games Workshop, who picked a legal fight with Hogarth over one of the books she sells on Amazon. By "picked a fight" we, of course, mean that Games Workshop contacted Amazon claiming trademark over "space marine," which resulted in Amazon blocking the sale of Hogarth's e-novel, Spots the Space Marine.
Being the proverbial little guy, Hogarth didn't feel she had much traction to fight back, especially over a book that wasn't making her overwhelmingly rich. In her own words, Hogarth felt that "rather than earning money for my family, I’d be taking money from them, when previously my writing income paid for my daughter’s schooling. And I’d have to use the little time I have to write novels to fight a protracted legal battle instead."
Hogarth's final contact with Games Workshop ended with them claiming they hold common-law trademark over the term. Unwilling to fork over tens of thousands of dollars to mount a formal legal battle, Hogarth is facing what she sees as a moral dilemma. She feels this issue is larger than herself.
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.
The term "space marine" existed long before Warhammer 40k did, and asserting trademark over it could very well serve to inhibit not only sci-fi creators but the entire genre itself. As of now Hogarth is looking into the possibility of someone taking on his case pro bono. We sincerely hope she succeeds, because this is one battle worth fighting.
(via MCAH Online)