Since December, you haven't been able to buy M.C.A. Hogarth's book Spots the Space Marine: Defense of the Fiddler on Amazon, because Games Workshop claimed it owned the trademark on the phrase "space marine" due to its popular Warhammer 40K games. As far as we know, Games Workshop's lawyers haven't stopped making absurd claims about having a "common law trademark" to a phrase that goes back to the 1930s. But Hogarth's book has quietly reappeared on Amazon. Which means either someone at Amazon has seen sense, or Games Workshop decided to try and back down quietly. We wrote to Hogarth and haven't heard back, but this does appear to be good news.
Update: Games Workshop is still sticking to their "trademark" thing. They posted the following to their Facebook page:
Games Workshop owns and protects many valuable trademarks in a number of territories and classes across the world. For example, 'Warhammer' and 'Space Marine' are registered trademarks in a number of classes and territories. In some other territories and classes they are unregistered trademarks protected by commercial use. Whenever we are informed of, or otherwise discover, a commercially available product whose title is or uses a Games Workshop trademark without our consent, we have no choice but to take reasonable action. We would be failing in our duty to our shareholders if we did not protect our property.
To be clear, Games Workshop has never claimed to own words or phrases such as 'warhammer' or 'space marine' as regards their general use in everyday life, for example within a body of prose. By illustration, although Games Workshop clearly owns many registered trademarks for the Warhammer brand, we do not claim to own the word 'warhammer' in common use as a hand weapon.
Trademarks as opposed to use of a word in prose or everyday language are two very different things. Games Workshop is always vigilant in protecting the former, but never makes any claim to owning the latter.
Update #2: Apparently it was the Electronic Frontier Foundation that got the book reinstated on Amazon. According to a post on the EFF's site:
We were able to intervene and, to Amazon's credit, the company reviewed the claim and restored the book. Let's hope Games Workshop will now have the good sense to realize the bullying has to stop.
We're pleased that Amazon did the right thing here, and that we were able to help. And we're also pleased that so many internet users got involved to support Ms. Hogarth. Together, we sent a signal: Trademark bullies will not be tolerated online.
But the work is not yet done: this is just one instance of a much bigger "weakest link" problem that imperils online speech and commerce. Offline, most legal users can ignore improper trademark threats, because the bullies will probably have the good sense not to test the matter in court and have little recourse through third parties. In the Internet context, however, individuals and organizations rely on service providers to help them communicate with the world and sell their products and services (YouTube, Facebook, eBay, Amazon.com, etc.). A trademark complaint directed to one of those third-party providers can mean a fast and easy takedown – as it did here.
[via John Scalzi. Thanks to interrogator-chaplain for the heads up about the Facebook post!]