Amazon has overturned a decision to withdraw a book that used the term “space marine.” A games firm had complained about the book, claiming it violated a trademark.
The book by MCA Hogarth is titled “Spots the Space Marine: Defense of the Fiddler” and is described in the blurb as “Pollyanna meets Starship Troopers.”
The title didn’t go down well with British games firm Games Workshop, which has produced a series of board games and role playing products called Warhammer 40K and has trademarked the space marine term for use in gaming.
It complained to Amazon in December that the book violated that trademark and Amazon removed the e-book edition. It’s not clear exactly how Games Workshop was arguing that a gaming trademark covered books, though it seems it did get a trademark in the UK to cover spin-off publications, something that is unlikely to have any force on the Amazon.com site.
As you’d imagine, Hogarth was upset with the decision and enlisted the support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in protesting the decision, with the likes of Wil Wheaton publicizing the issue. They pointed out that in literature the term dates back to at least November 1932 when Bob Olsen wrote “Captain Brink of the Space Marines” for the magazine Amazing Stories.
After Amazon reinstated the book, Games Workshop posted a message to its Facebook page. It’s now been deleted, but it is reported as saying that the company has a duty to shareholders to defend its trademarks against unauthorized commercial use. It didn’t address the question of whether the trademark really did cover books.
The EFF says the incident is an example of how companies will simply go after retailers — which don’t usually have the inclination to fight trademark claims — rather than take legal action against the alleged infringer which would require them to make their case in court.
Special credit has to go to a user named “Yankton” on the io9 site who commented that ” If only Games Workshop had spent 10 more points to give their ‘Legal Adjucator’ models the Corporate Precedent ability and they would have totally won this skirmish.”