In mid-December 2012, Amazon.com removed the e-book “Spots the Space Marine: Defense of the Fiddler” by MCA Hogarth from their store upon Games Workshop’s request. Games Workshop claimed Hogarth’s book infringed their trademark of the term “space marine.” Hogarth denied infringement, asserting to Amazon that “space marine” is a generic term and a fundamental trope to science fiction as a genre.
The term “space marine” has been alive and well for over 80 years. Authors such as Bob Olsen, E.E. Smith, and the renowned Robert Heinlein used the expression in connection with various short stories, novellas, and novels. Olsen published “Captain Brink of the Space Marines” and “The Space Marines and the Slavers.” while Heinlein’s “Misfit” and “The Long Watch” both reference to the phrase.
More recently, space marines appear in and are integral to Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe. These genetically enhanced super-soldiers serve the God Emperor of Mankind in a dystopian future and appear in table top games, video games, and literary works.
Though Games Workshop owns registered marks in the term “space marine” in connection with games, they have additionally claimed a “common law trademark claim” over the idiom in other media. Hogarth, and many science fiction authors and enthusiasts, feared that this claim could cause science fiction to lose one of its fundamental archetypes.
Hogarth contacted The Electronic Frontier Foundation (“EFF”) fearing that a legal battle with Games Workshop after private defense firms quoted prices outside of her budget. EFF intervened on Hogarth’s behalf, and Amazon has reinstated the e-book for sale. Games Workshop’s claim to the term in connection with books, EFF argues, is disproportionate and describes the company’s behavior as trademark “bullying.” EFF encourages Amazon to ensure their “trademark takedown policies include easy-to-use counter-notice procedures.”