Unfortunately, they actually do say this – or words to that effect – as one independent author found out to her dismay when Amazon, in response to a takedown notice from GW, blocked sales of one of her books because it has the words “space marine” in the title. While there’s no question that they’d lose, and badly, in a court case, the author doesn’t have the money to fight a court case against a large company which appears to have moved from making money through games to rent-seeking and lawyering.
With a little digging, I found that GW’s basis for this claim is a limited trademark registered in England (we won’t go into the sanity or otherwise of whoever granted a trademark for what is damn near as generic a term in science fiction as “spaceship” or “hyperspace”) for games. That trademark protection does not apply in the USA, nor does it apply to ebooks. Or any other form of books.
Frankly, this is one of those cases where the question “what were they thinking?” has one word too many. It’s not so much a weak case as one where all the lawyers involved had to have been on some really potent hallucinogenic drugs. Space Marine is, not to put too fine a point on it, generic. Hell, it’s a trope that’s damn near migrated to cliche status. The first Internet-known appearance of the term was in the 1930s, before GW was a twinkle in the founder’s eye. Quite likely before the founder of GW was a twinkle in its parents eyes, presuming said founder is in fact human (and if so, still actually running the company. Right now the evidence is strong that the place is run by demons in lawyer form).
This is the next wave of anti-Indie activity, where the big players lawyer up and try to sue or intimidate the independents out of business. It has to be stopped.
Since my resources are limited, I can’t donate to the author, but I can make some suggestions. Tweet with #SpaceMarines and wax sarcastic about GW in said tweets. Spread the word as far and as wide as you can, making sure to state the facts as best you know them and direct people to the author. Don’t buy anything GW sells. Email GW and tell them you’re disgusted, post to their corporate Twitter (@VoxCaster) and mock them for trademarking generics. Use #GamesWorkshop hashtag to talk about trademarking “the”, “and”, “very”, and “a”.
Idiots like this are allergic to mockery. Mock them.
Now, that said, I need to make room for some extra deaths in the next Con Vampire book. A large game company that’s given up producing new stuff and just sues the pants off anyone who uses generic terms in their books is going to lose some of its lawyers and staff, in a nice gruesome fashion.