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Twilight of the idolators?
November 19, 2012 8:36 PM   Subscribe

And in today's fun IPR news we have Games Workshop VS. Chapterhouse Studios. In which the plaintiffs lawyers are claiming (p.44) copyright and design dress on common iconography such as crosses, skulls and riveted armor. But to get at the gist of it, what makes third party miniature wargaming accessories different to bodykits? Where doth this madness lead.

And the honorable Matthew F. Kennelly isn't amused "So in the words of one of my colleagues, you're really going for the capillary here. That would be as opposed to the jugular, okay. Really, I think that is such a small thing that you don't really need to do it. So I'm not persuaded by the argument of the plaintiff on that one."
list of some court documents can be found here.
wargaming hobbyists who happen to be lawyers are discussing it here
posted by xcasex (55 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Having bought Chapterhouse stuff in the recent past, it is beyond obvious that this is all a rip-off of GW, designed absolutely to be used with W40K. So as far as the rules of IP as they currently exist are to be observed, I find it hard to believe Chapterhouse have a leg to stand on.

What we think about GW and how rapacious they are and whether IP rules are fair or not is a whole nother thing.
posted by wilful at 8:43 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm actually more interested in the consequence of a ruling to either side, third party bodykits for cars, produced by _third parties_ often even include the unlicensed logo of the intended car manufacturer.
This has been in the courts and deemed "okay" or what have you, im very interested in the "why" this is different.
And from looking at chapterhouse's stuff i'm not all that impressed, but nevertheless, I find it very interesting that they cannot produce third party kit, no way, no how. According to GW.

To me, it's all too much shooting yourself in the foot instead of growing the market.
posted by xcasex at 8:48 PM on November 19, 2012


In which the plaintiffs lawyers are claiming

Minor but important semantic point: The lawyers are not making the claims. The plaintiff makes the claims.
posted by The World Famous at 8:52 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


So this is Chapterhouse's defence as to where they get their inspiration from:
Mythology, military history, fiction film, video games, physics, biology, gaming and many other disciplines, and there is a study in cultural expression. The Internet provides a wealth of informational and inspirational material for all creative endeavors, and we do Internet and other research when creating its products.
Oh and from Starship troopers and from Flash Gordon.

To which I say utter bollocks.
posted by wilful at 8:53 PM on November 19, 2012


IANAL :(
posted by xcasex at 8:53 PM on November 19, 2012


Lawyerses is never defeated in battle. If we win we win, if we die we die fighting so it don't count. If we runs for it we don't die neither, cos we can come back for annuver go, see!
posted by BeeDo at 8:54 PM on November 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


goddamnit xcasex, now I've got to go buy some more bitz from chapterhouse! I'd sworn off this drug!
posted by wilful at 9:00 PM on November 19, 2012


Have a look at their website and tell me they're not parasitical off GW. But they're sooo much cheaper than GW, particularly in Australia.
posted by wilful at 9:05 PM on November 19, 2012


Lawyers for the Blood God! doesn't sound quite so WH40k, but at the same time, I imagine they'd be pretty terrifying.
posted by Ghidorah at 9:15 PM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Statements of Claim for the Law God! And recitals for his briefcase!
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:18 PM on November 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


Have a look at their website and tell me they're not parasitical off GW. But they're sooo much cheaper than GW, particularly in Australia.

Wow, you weren't kidding. Total ripoff.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:19 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is nothing original about Warhammer 40k. There's nothing original about Warhammer. It's just elves and orcs and knights in space. It's like George Lucas suing Battlestar Galactica because they have dogfights in space, armored bad guys, and giant space ships. They are all drawing from the same wells. Warhammer isn't popular because it's Warhammer. It's cool because people like dragons and swords and armor and guns. They just happen to do it very well. Should Starcraft be sued as a rip off of Warhammer and Aliens? That's the ground we're treading here.
posted by JARED!!! at 9:31 PM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


sidenote, the creative director for starcraft is Andy Chambers, one of the former game designers of warhammer 40k (RT, 2ed). GW would have more of a leg to stand on there ;)
posted by xcasex at 9:34 PM on November 19, 2012


Lawyers for the Blood God!

Statements of Claim for the Law God!

Hmmm, I reckon I could do something with some cultists here. Have to be Tzeentch.


There is nothing original about Warhammer 40k. There's nothing original about Warhammer.

Are you an actual player and fan of these worlds? Because that's absolute and utter nonsense. Unless you're saying there's nothing original about anything, because there is some form of precedent. WFB and 40K are about much more than elves and orcs and knights in space.

Just a simple example - orcs. Who gave orks green skin? Who changed their spelling? Who made red ones go faster? Who thought of WAAAUGH! And snotlings?

These are all things GW employees invented.
posted by wilful at 9:36 PM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


i'd have to argue you cant really defend the originality of GW's settings when they've tried time and again to lay claim to moorcook's eight-pointed star ;)

And if they are found to be in the right, how would others even begin to construct sci-fi knights in space - settings? :)

But we're not discussing the setting, we're discussing the what, where, who and why of the precedents this might set.
posted by xcasex at 9:42 PM on November 19, 2012


Hmmm, I reckon I could do something with some cultists here. Have to be Tzeentch.

"Do not ask which 2nd year associate screams in the night. Do not question who waits for you in the courtroom. It is my courier that wakes you in the night, and my letterhead that adorns the notice of discovery. I am Tzeentch, and you are the respondent that dances to my tune...”
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:44 PM on November 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


Necrons? T-800 Terminator Exoskeletons wearing Ancient Egyptian chestpieces over top

Tyranids? Visual pastiche of H.R. Giger's biomechanical designs that use the "your distinctiveness will be assimilated into our own" strategy of Star Trek's Borg.

Imperial Guardsman Sly Marbo? Muscular one-man-army jungle ambusher who carries a big machete. I don't have to tell you what character his last name is an anagram of, or the first name of the actor famous for playing that character.

Col. Schafer's Last Chancers? I liked this trope better when it was the film The Dirty Dozen.

Adeptus Arbites? "I'm sure the folks at A.D. 2000 won't mind if we keep using these molds after our license for Judge Dredd minis has lapsed as long as we change the shoulderpads slightly."

Imperial Inquisitors? The first Inquisitor ever named in any WH40K publication was Obiwan Sherlock Clousseau.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:55 PM on November 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


wilful: Having bought Chapterhouse stuff in the recent past, it is beyond obvious that this is all a rip-off of GW, designed absolutely to be used with W40K.

Words like "rip-off" are loaded with moral judgement and yet carry no legal standing. I would be loathe to assign any moral rectitude to Games Workshop in any case.

Are you an actual player and fan of these worlds? Because that's absolute and utter nonsense.

Are-- are you joking? I would disagree greatly with that statement.

WFB and 40K are about much more than elves and orcs and knights in space.

Well WFB isn't elves and orcs and knights in space at all. Doesn't change the fact that they didn't steal more than a few pages from Tolkien's playbook. At least Tolkien had the good sense to "rip off" things that were in the public domain, whew!

Just a simple example - orcs. Who gave orks green skin? Who changed their spelling?

Honestly if it hadn't been for your previous comments in this thread I'd think you were being sarcastic here.

Who made red ones go faster? Who thought of WAAAUGH! And snotlings?

So Crossroads ripped off all those things too? Gawsh.
posted by JHarris at 10:01 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You guys are letting your dislike of the company get in the way of the obvious creativity and new worlds that they unleashed.
posted by wilful at 10:06 PM on November 19, 2012


GW should probably go after Blizzard first. Or have they done that already?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 10:08 PM on November 19, 2012


Oh, and JHarris, get yer hand off it. Rip-off is quite plain in it's meaning, and does have legal standing as a word in common english. As you very well know, it means plagiarise, copy, imitate.
posted by wilful at 10:09 PM on November 19, 2012


You guys are letting your dislike of the company get in the way of the obvious creativity and new worlds that they unleashed.

So is GW.
posted by Malor at 10:09 PM on November 19, 2012


nope, they've not gone after blizzard at all :)
posted by xcasex at 10:09 PM on November 19, 2012


xcasex: "nope, they've not gone after blizzard at all :)"

I was actually going to ask about the same thing! xcasex, do you know if GW has any intention of trying to go after Blizzard?
posted by barnacles at 10:12 PM on November 19, 2012


Considering i'm not an oracle, i'd have to say that Andy Chambers working for Blizzard producing Starcraft, is pretty damning when you put together something like this
posted by xcasex at 10:16 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


disclaimer: I'm working on a neopunk rpg (cyberpunk rooted in the '00 instead of 1980's) as well as co-developing another scifi game, I know how weary you are as a writer not to intermingle concepts from two different projects.
posted by xcasex at 10:17 PM on November 19, 2012


JHarris: "Well WFB isn't elves and orcs and knights in space at all"

That all depends on if you believe the one about Sigmar being the Primarch of one of the Space Marine Legions that's been stricken from Imperial history, landing on some backwater human colony on a world dangerously close to the Eye of Terror.
posted by radwolf76 at 10:21 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


realm of chaos <3
posted by xcasex at 10:25 PM on November 19, 2012


I'm willing to go with Tzeentch as the law-god, but without a doubt, the dark lord of beauracracy has got to be Nurgle.
posted by Ghidorah at 11:06 PM on November 19, 2012


BOOM! new filing, same judge, new case, same plaintiff, same studio.

And Kennelly, is being coy as per his "a. Assume Discovery Cutoff is Written in Stone

Among the important deadlines that will be set is a deadline for completing discovery. The best way you can think about a discovery cutoff date is to assume it is written in stone.
" stance. he's getting ready to smack someone.
posted by xcasex at 11:27 PM on November 19, 2012


Well, as someone who's known for having flexible regard for IP laws, all I can say is Chapterhouse sure is awfully derivative, even down to the company name. Not sure if it is enough to make a case on, but.. I do have to wonder though if they couldn't get them on making unauthorized mod kits (using the officials names and all) or something. I do realize you lose your ability to act if you do not defend your service marks...
posted by Samizdata at 2:48 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


the dark lord of beauracracy has got to be Nurgle.

Slowly, stealthily, the dark hand of the Bureaucracy spread across the land, strangling all in its path.... The cult stirs, drawing forth the dreaded symbols of folder file, filing cabinet, and tripartite form!
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:54 AM on November 20, 2012


Looking over Chapterhouse's site, yeah, they really don't have much of a leg to stand on here. Even if GW is a derivative stew of sci-fi/fantasy pop culture, you still can't swipe their iconography and insert your own stuff into the setting without permission. Straight up using terms like Tyranid or Eldar on your site is a pretty big give away.

Back in the day, Forge World produced 28mm scale versions of Epic figures. These were huge resin cast Titan robots. Even though I'm sure you could find some links between Epic 40k and Battletech, you can't just straight up say "Here's your Warhound Titan that we made so you can use it with this other game!" There were lawyers and lawsuits and somebody at GW woke up and said, 'Look, we're not making these giant things right now. You can license the rights to do so from us, provided you meet certain standards of quality" (ie, your pieces can't be that good or that cheap). Eventually, GW just straight up bought ForgeWorld and now use them as a sort of premium model maker. You can get all the huge robots, Thunderhawk gunships, and custom conversion bits you need now.

Speaking as someone with an attic full of half finished armies, I think it would be great for GW to have some sort of licensing option for smaller producers to make stuff (Barrow Princes supplement to Tomb Kings, for example), but can understand why they would be reluctant. GW is aware that they have an IP that can be minded for other media on their hands, so are reluctant to open the floodgates. Also, given the inflated cost of GW figures, they wouldn't want the competition. It's now something like 3 bucks per infantry troop model for some armies. While the re-playability factor can make the game affordable (you spend 200 bucks on an army, 100 bucks on paint and accessories, then take 50 hours to paint and assemble and play 25 2-hour games, which means your fun costs $3/hour), that initial army outlay is a pretty bitter pill to swallow. While companies like Chapterhouse arn't at risk for stealing away new players, they do tend to lure away GW's core fanbase with promises of cheaper/more unique figures. GW knows that the 50 bucks spent on Chapterhouse stuff would have otherwise gone to them.

Thus, lawsuit.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:59 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Speaking as someone with an attic full of half finished armies,

I remain convinced that no one has ever played more than three or four actual games of any variety of Warhammer before their army ends up half finished and in the attic. I had a pretty damn good space marine army, a decent eldar/harlequin army (old rules with the harlequin codex), and a massive epic scale marines/imperial guard army. I don't think I played epic more than once.

Somewhere in a storage box near Chicago, there's an old tackle box filled with figurines that cost me hundreds of dollars many, many years ago.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:05 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Looking around at some other GW-compatable figure sites, I see Gamezone. They mostly do fantasy sculpts and they are clearly GW inspired. What they don't do, however, is use GW vocabulary. 'Wood Elves' are called 'Silvanus' on Gamezone's site. 'Night Goblin Fanatic' is simple a 'Mad Goblin'. 'Bretonnians' are 'Feudal Knights' and so on.

What's more, GW's shift to plastic "finecast" means they, for once, can actually undercut the little guys on prices. I see a pack of 5 Chaos Knights on GW's site for 33 bucks. A similar unit of Anointed Cavalry is twice that at 50 euros. Now, I remember when a unit of Chaos Knights could cost 50+ bucks. Toss in shipping and you're paying three times as much for the non-GW models.

But things start to break down when you start to look at individual figures, not units. These are the heroes and leaders of your army and tend to be the most unique. Since GW has a limited number of sculpts, you might want your Dark Elf Sorceress to look different than your opponent's. A Sorceress on foot on GW's site will run you ~15 bucks. A Gamezone Sorceress is closer to 11. Looking across both sites, that's a pretty consistent comparison: 15$ GW, 11$ Gamezone for a hero on foot.

Gamezone skirts the line that Chapterhouse plunged over - they don't use trademarked GW IP. They also don't cost GW a big chunk of money luring gamers away from costly troop miniatures. A unit of 5 Mournful Knights costs about the same as 5 Blood Knights. Although the Mournfuls look damn prettier (I hate bat helmets), they can't be used in sanctioned tournies which tend to be the core of the game for the sort of player that would be willing to order 100 bucks worth of vampires on horseback over the internet.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:18 AM on November 20, 2012


Dammit you guys. I've never played this game but every time someone posts about it I have to go spend a few hours in the rabbit hole of the Warhammer 40k wikia. I've got work to do!
posted by Existential Dread at 7:00 AM on November 20, 2012


Hey, Dread, you should dig into which C'tan dreams beneath Mars.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:29 AM on November 20, 2012


In the same way I find it difficult to sympathize with the music and film industries in their fight against piracy, I find it difficult not to take the side of anyone going up against the company that thought Dark Eldar™ were a good idea.
posted by 7segment at 7:38 AM on November 20, 2012


From page 59 of the first link, the second-to-last listed alleged infringing work (Chapterhouse item on left, GW response on right):

"96. Tactical Rhino Doors with Skulls Kit"---> "Games Workshop sells products decorated with piles of skulls. "

CASE CLOSED.

More seriously, I'm wondering -- not being a lawyer -- if the fact that Chapterhouse is only selling conversion pieces matters? It feels like the intent isn't really to replace sales by GW, it's to add to them -- buy a unit from GW, convert it with parts from Chapterhouse. That might mean driving money to GW, if it means more people buy models to convert, rather than taking it away.
posted by cjelli at 7:58 AM on November 20, 2012


GW already has an arm of the company that sells conversion pieces.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:02 AM on November 20, 2012


robocop is bleeding: "Hey, Dread, you should dig into which C'tan dreams beneath Mars."

Earth's government and technological development subtly influenced by something from a primordial alien race, lurking hidden beneath the surface of mars, a alien race that as it turns out, aren't really that friendly? Plot point from Babylon 5, Season 3.
posted by radwolf76 at 8:44 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


"96. Tactical Rhino Doors with Skulls Kit"---> "Games Workshop sells products decorated with piles of skulls. "

I'm definitely not one to defend GW in this case, but just to clarify, it looks like they could easily have referenced earlier parts of the document or other GW IP (and in other cases did) to flesh this out more. As they point out, for example, in item 79 on that list, Chapterhouse is using the exact (presumably trademarked) Games Workshop names to designate what their product is supposed to be. (In both cases, a door to a "Rhino", which is a specific vehicle in GW's IP).

As has been stated by others, much of this lawsuit seems to boil down to, Chapterhouse chose to use GW's own in-universe terminology for all this stuff, which makes it really hard to argue that your intent wasn't to replicate their IP. There are a whole lot of companies that make models and kits that are the right scale to use alongside GW's models (or even add on to GW's models), and most of them aren't getting sued. Avoiding explicitly calling out GW IP is probably part of why that is.
posted by tocts at 8:57 AM on November 20, 2012


GW should probably go after Blizzard first. Or have they done that already?

The contentions between Blizzard and GW are fraught with spiritual peril.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:23 AM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't the change of spelling from orcs to orks be something that allowed it to be copyrightable?
posted by mippy at 9:34 AM on November 20, 2012


FatherDagon: "The contentions between Blizzard and GW are fraught with spiritual peril."

Only if you try to claim Blizzard did it first.
posted by radwolf76 at 9:35 AM on November 20, 2012


As they point out, for example, in item 79 on that list, Chapterhouse is using the exact (presumably trademarked) Games Workshop names to designate what their product is supposed to be. (In both cases, a door to a "Rhino", which is a specific vehicle in GW's IP).


Which is a perfectly appropriate use of trademarks. This fits That™ is fine. What trademarks prevent is someone else marketing their own That™. I'm not familiar with the W40K universe, so I'm not sure if the latter is being alleged.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:44 AM on November 20, 2012


"Chapterhouse Studios"? Seriously? I'm definitely not a fan of GW and would raise eyebrows if they started going after Mantic or the like. But "Chapterhouse Studios" selling parts to a Rhino and selling Eldar? I'm surprised Chapterhouse haven't been laughed out of the court. "Assault squad shoulder pad".

And whoever said that GW hasn't been creative doesn't know what they are talking about.
posted by Francis at 9:58 AM on November 20, 2012


I'm not familiar with the W40K universe, so I'm not sure if the latter is being alleged.

From the documentation, it looks like they are in fact alleging that. Whether it stands up in court, I don't know. It's entirely possible much of it will be seen as too generic or non-infringing. But, the list from the first PDF shows a litany of items where GW is saying that they sell a trademarked product called X, and Chapterhouse has a product that's the same thing called X. (For example, Chapterhouse sells "Eagle Thunder Hammer for Space Marines"; GW has a product called a "Thunder Hammer" which is for the Space Marines faction in their game).

Poking around the document and Chapterhouse's site, it seems frankly like they are pretty lax with regards to whether they say something is compatible with X, or it is X. Sometimes they say in the product name that it's a conversion kit, or it's compatible with a GW model, but in other cases they just call it what GW would call it. That might turn out to be the deciding factor.

Again, I'm not wanting to be on GW's side on this. While I do like their products, I think they make some pretty terrible business decisions, and I don't like them bullying other companies around. But, it's kinda hard not to go after a competitor whose very company name is a reference to your trademarked IP, that also sells a bunch of things that are equivalent to items you yourself sell, frequently using the same trademarked name.
posted by tocts at 10:22 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


tocts, excellent summary. I also stumbled across this third party producer who more or less recasts gw weaponry, i mean the "bolter" type weaponry is somewhat new, but the other look like the GW counterpart.
posted by xcasex at 11:10 AM on November 20, 2012


(For example, Chapterhouse sells "Eagle Thunder Hammer for Space Marines"; GW has a product called a "Thunder Hammer" which is for the Space Marines faction in their game)

At least going by the GW web store, they don't appear to claim a trademark on Thunder Hammer.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:18 AM on November 20, 2012


...but the other look like the GW counterpart.

You'll note, though, that Anvil Industry has studiously avoided using the same names GW uses. The item you've linked, Anvil Industries calls a "Fusion Cannon". Anyone who has played WH40k would identify it as an obvious stand-in for a Meltagun, and it's highly likely that people buy it with an intent to use it as such in a conversion of a GW miniature. But, they don't outright say it (and don't even mention GW in their description, simplying saying it is compatible with "similar plastic kits from other manufacturers.")

That might be what differentiates it. To be clear here, I'm not an IP attorney. I'm really just looking at what GW seems to be alleging. It might end up that what they say is true, but doesn't count as infringement. But if you're looking at this from a perspective of "regardless of the legality, how can I avoid even a meritless lawsuit from GW", step one is probably "don't use the same names they do for your items, regardless of trademark".
posted by tocts at 11:28 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


damnit tocts, its a MELTAGUN
posted by xcasex at 11:31 AM on November 20, 2012


Games Workshop's games get a lot of energy from picking pop cultural archetypes and interpreting them, which is fine and great (if exceedingly overpriced). But now they're trying to go the Disney route, staking their claim on these interpretations, when there's no way their games could have gotten off the ground if the sources they plundered had been so miserly.

But that's kind of off-topic really. GW may or may not have a case against Chapterhouse specifically (the FPP doesn't actually give us a lot of images to go on, but the legal discussion is interesting), but GW's actions in sustaining its little GRIMDARK universe, like getting VASSAL modules based off of their games pulled off of websites, are more objectively destructive. Stuff like that does a lot towards destroying people's willingness to give your actions the benefit of the doubt.

Also, because I'm surprised no one's mentioned it yet, the only link above the fold is to a single, unheralded PDF. There are no rules against that sort of thing to my knowledge, but I personally think it'd be nice if the above-the-fold content contained more gist sort of stuff, with the geek-out material saved for behind it. And please, mark your PDFs, for the benefit of those poor folk who are still using Adobe Reader.
posted by JHarris at 12:51 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


My favorite line so far from that dakkadakka link: "Goodyear should start making their own cars instead of leeching on other car manufacturers"
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:41 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


So where can I buy knockoff Space Marines and knockoff Genestealers for my knockoff Space Hulk? I don't want new bits to stick on original minis - I want whole knockoff minis.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:14 AM on November 21, 2012


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