Space Marine. What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear that phrase? MI dropping in from space? The Dorsai? William Mandella’s group of Future Warriors? Corporal Hudson crying, “Game over, man! Game over!”?
If you read science fiction, you’re very familial with the image of the grizzled solders who fight the goo d and not so good fight against all odds on whatever ball of rock your military overlords decides they need taken and/or held. It’s a staple that goes back for some time; the Lensmen tales mentioned them, and Heinlein mentioned them by name in two stories. Wikipedia tells me that the term was first used by Bob Olsen in the short story, Captain Brink of the Space Marines, published in Amazing Stories in November, 1932. Needless to say, we’re not dealing with something that erupted full-blown from Zeus forehead and plopped down upon the ground waiting for something to breathe life into the sucker.
If you’re been keeping an eye on things–and by “things”, I mean, “keeping up on strange things that happened”–you’ll have heard about the little row Games Workshop got into with writer M.C.A. Hogarth, whose story, Spots the Space Marine was pulled from Amazon for a while because Games Workshop complained that her use of the phrase, “space marine”, was giving their space marines–the ones found in the game Warhammer 40k, and the stores that are being created around said game–an unfair kick in the crotch. They threw a takedown order at Amazon, and the story was pulled in December of 2012.
Hogarth wrote about the incident, and made it pretty clear that GW was looking to corner the market on the phrase space marine, because, you know, they wouldn’t want you to think about all the other times the phrase, or variation there of, has been used–no, baby. You better think Warhammer when you say space marine!
GW claims they were protecting their trademark, but as Cory Doctorow points out, Game Workshop can’t go around demanding takedowns over a trademark; no, as Doctorow also points out, all GW is doing is showing the world how enormously dickish they could be.
As I write this, Spots the Space Marine is back up on Amazon, due in part because writers like Doctorow, Charles Stross, and John Scalzi, have also pointed out the dickery that was perpetrated by Games Workshop. Will this be the end? Hard to say. If not Games Workshop now, it’s likely to be some other fool with a bigger legal budget that one of use who throws a takedown notice in our direction, exclaiming, “No, you can’t call your story, Peter’s Purloined Penis Pump, because we own the trademark on the expression penis pump!” Yes, heavens forbid I ever do anything like that.
This is where you gotta do your research. Find out if what you want to name your novel is okay. Remember, you can’t copyright a title, otherwise you wouldn’t get 86,931 hits on Amazon when you search, “Dead of Night”. (I just did this, which is why I received the number I posted.) Then, when you get some bully who tries to intimidate you into crawling into a corner and giving up, let them know the errors of their ways, and explain to them why you can name your novel what you did, and they have no claim.
And if they’re still giving you the bully stare, d what Hogarth did: go to the Internet and tell your tale. Because if there’s one thing we know about the Internet, it’s that they love going after a bully.
If none of that works, then nuke them from orbit–
It’s the only way to be sure.