Gaming miniature giant Games Workshop is pressuring an author to stop using the term "space marine," and Amazon has taken her e-book off sale in response to a request from the company. The author, MCA Hogarth (who also writes a business column/Webcomic for artists), revealed the dispute over her book, Spots the Space Marine on her blog. Hogarth says that GW, which has a trademark on “space marine” for games, figures, and miniatures, is now asserting that because it’s publishing e-books, it has trademark ownership of "space marine" in all formats. Hogarth said in her post that she didn’t have enough money for an attorney to fight the claim.
The problem is that "space marine" has been used in science fiction since 1932, when E.E. (Doc) Smith first used it. Robert Heinlein also used it. So the assertions by Games Workshop, which came much later, are getting a big reaction, including a post by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing on Wednesday, a tweet by Neil Gaiman, and a lot of other attention. Hogarth also says she has been contacted by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The kerfuffle with Games Workshop comes on the heel of a recently published interview with comic artist and Bronx Heroes Con organizer Ray Felix in which he details his experience with attorneys for Marvel and DC over his comic title Cup O Java studio Comix A World Without Superheroes. Marvel and DC, who jointly own the term "superhero," are fighting Felix’s trademark on the title.
While there are differences in the two cases, both are situations in which relatively large companies assert ownership over words in common usage and protect their rights against use by relatively powerless individuals. Whatever their legal rights, the optics aren’t good.