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The anatomy of corporate bullying

Last December, the self-published author M.C.A. Hogarth (haikujaguar) received a notice from Amazon that her e-book Spots the Space Marine was being taken down due to trademark infringement.

It turns out Games Workshop, also known as the UK company that created Warhammer and Warhammer 40k, own the trademark to the term "space marine".

How is this possible, when space marines are a science fiction trope that have appeared in stories, comics and movies at least since Bob Olsen wrote "Captain Brink of the Space Marines" in 1934?

That's where the corporate bullying comes in.

Games Workshop, apparently, have a horrid reputation for being lawyer-happy. They've filed suit against one of the largest Warhammer fansites, against Chapterhouse Studios who make conversion parts for miniatures, and they reputedly hit independent toy and game retailers with clauses that they cannot stock any other gaming system if they want to stock GW miniatures.

For the past couple months, haikujaguar has been quietly contacting five separate IP lawyers and finding that the cost of fighting GW's claim would start at $2000 US and quickly climb into the $50,000 range when the lawsuit began. It wouldn't make business sense to protect the book. Independent authors don't make that kind of money.

If Amazon had investigated GW's claim, they might have discovered it stood on shaky legal ground (per legal publishing blog Scrivener's Error). But they didn't. They just pulled the book, and are refusing to reinstate it without GW's okay.

So essentially we have a situation where a dubious legal challenge from a corporation in another country has censored an independent author's work with no recourse. This is not a system which can claim to protect individuals' rights. It is a system where money can buy the best-equipped mercenaries, and those without it knuckle under in fear of having their livelihood crushed in the modern arena called a courtroom.

The only hope of the individual is enough publicity to embarrass their opponent into withdrawing their claims. This will be difficult against a company of lawyers, MBA's, and wargame designers which has pursued aggressive litigation since the early 1980's. A few days ago, it looked near impossible. Then haikujaguar made a clear, calm and concise call for help. Her relatively small group of friends and fans stepped up to the plate.

The internet rage machine is powerful once the ball gets rolling. 24 hours brought the attention of Elizabeth Moon, John Scalzi, Cory Doctorov and Neil Gaiman. 48 hours brought the Electronic Frontier Foundation and articles in The Guardian, The Register, and a host of other news sources. (Full list of media coverage here.) The Games Workshop lawyers probably thought a self-published author of e-books was easy pickings. Only time will tell just how wrong they were.

 

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
hyperion_swan
Feb. 8th, 2013 06:26 am (UTC)
Corporate bullying really sucks :[ I'm glad that momentum has been building to help the writer though.
pyraxis
Feb. 8th, 2013 11:55 pm (UTC)
It was enough! Amazon reinstated the e-book this afternoon.
ksol1460
Feb. 8th, 2013 03:03 pm (UTC)
This will happen as long as people are allowed to use tort law as sort of a get rich quick scheme. There was something we heard on NPR last night that this reminds us of.

interview here: http://www.npr.org/2012/05/24/153237583/fixing-our-broken-systems

entire speech by howard here: http://www.ted.com/talks/philip_howard.html
pyraxis
Feb. 8th, 2013 11:54 pm (UTC)
Excellent speech, thanks for the link.

Trademark law is apparently a "rabid dog" law, where the owner of the trademark is expected to aggressively pursue even small violations, or they could be used later as evidence that the trademark has been abandoned. That makes about as much sense as standing on your property and shooting everybody who sets foot onto it, good, bad, or just the mailman. Amazon saw sense this afternoon, apparently, because the Kindle e-book is back up. It's still disturbing that for every case where somebody manages to mobilize the blogosphere, there are dozens more where people just didn't have enough connections to get the snowball started rolling downhill.
epihaptic
Feb. 18th, 2013 10:21 pm (UTC)
Just so. Some more reliable anti-shithead measure that is also economically accessible would be nice. Perhaps the pain on both sides of the legal conflict should be made proportionate to the litigants resources.
pyraxis
Feb. 19th, 2013 06:38 pm (UTC)
Oh hello! It's been a while.

I wonder how a system like that would operate. I would like to see society-wide support for a code of honor among corporations. In the USA people are starting to speak up against outsourcing, but that doesn't address the power imbalance within a country. I understand that there are minimum and maximum penalties for certain offenses... heh, maybe they need to implement a sliding scale.
jimnightmare
Feb. 8th, 2013 05:29 pm (UTC)
Whoa, go internet, I hope they win this shit!

We do mail at work now and the other day we totally opened a envelope and found the most bullshit scam letter written in legalese being all "We have put a 2011 patent on any work system that involves using a scanner to put things into a digital file database and then also uses e-mail for stuff. We came up with this idea, yes we did. We assume your workplace fits this system because most of them do. Send us $1000 to get a license with us, or we will sue you". It was kinda like LOL yeah right.
pyraxis
Feb. 8th, 2013 11:48 pm (UTC)
This afternoon, the Spots the Space Marine e-book appeared back on Amazon. (!)

As for the scam, so long as there are gullible people, I suppose there will always be trolls.
jimnightmare
Feb. 9th, 2013 02:41 am (UTC)
Oh awesome about the book!!!!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )