A Space Marine By Any Other Name

Space marines. I can’t speak for most people, but when I hear those two words two very distinct images come to mind, which have thankfully been drawn together thanks to this image I found on dorkshelf.com:

On the left, a Terran Marine from the popular Blizzard RTS franchise [real time strategy game] StarCraft. On the right, an Imperium of Man Space Marine from the universe of Warhammer 40,000, by Games Workshop. Yes, the are both traditionally depicted as wearing blue armour. It’s fairly common knowledge that Blizzard owes a great visually creative debt to Games Workshop while still branching out on their own, but that’s not the point.

The point is that author M.C.A. Hogarth wrote a novel called Spots the Space Marine. On January 3rd of this year he received an email from Amazon telling him that they had stopped selling his book due to Games Workshop accusing him of infringement on their trademark of the word “space marine.”

To quickly explain the legal nitty-gritty of all this, in the US Games Workshop owns a trademark on the term that covers “board games, parlor games, war games, hobby games, toy models and miniatures of buildings, scenery, figures, automobiles, vehicles, planes, trains and card games and paint, sold therewith.”

It turns out that in Europe they have a Class 16 trademark, which includes, among a whole slew of other things, “printed matter.”  With that in hand Games Workshop brought their complaint to Amazon Kindle Publishing UK, which then caused Amazon Kindle Publishing US to block the e-book in all countries everywhere. A later update states that since the company has since delved into e-books themselves, they own the trademark in that respect as well.

Now let’s put all this legal business to the side for a while and concentrate on what Hogarth has to say about the term “space marine” means to him personally:

I used to own a registered trademark. I understand the legal obligations of trademark holders to protect their IP. 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.

Space marines have been part of the sci-fi cultural landscape for decades at this point, going as far back to Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 novel Starship Troopers [later adapted into a film in 1997]. While Bungie’s Halo franchise concentrates on their Spartan supersoldiers, fighting alongside these technological titans are members of the UNSC [United Nations Space Command] Marine Corps. In Gears of War the protagonists are infantry soldiers known as Gears, clad in bulky armour and waging war against the same sorts of extraterrestrial terrors the aforementioned servicemen do.

Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene 2, lines 43-44:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.

Science fiction has long been about exploring what lies beyond the Earth’s gravitational pull, and where there is the unknown there often lies danger. To put together a military force similar to what exists here and now while using the same naming convention simply makes sense.

What Hogarth wants is for science fiction authors, video game creators, etc. to be able to continue use a term that was long made available to everyone. It’s like saying that Blizzard and WarCraft placing a trademark on a term like “paladin” or “shaman,” or Star Wars placing one on “bounty hunter.” Space marines should be free to defend humanity on Tarsonis, Sera, Reach, or Macragge, and go by that title if they wish.

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