It’s raining Cease & Desist letters as Games Workshop has been going after 3D artists en masse lately if the rumors are to be believed.
As some of you may have seen recently a prominent 3d Modeler was given a cease and desist letter from GW about one of their models and is vowing to dispute it. So it looks like the stage may be getting set for another showdown similar to theChapterhouse Vs. Games Workshop case from 2013.
Games Workshop Opens the War Against 3D Artists
As it turns out it looks like a lot of artists also received similar notifications from GW lately in what many are calling a targeted campaign by them against 3d artists worldwide.
That got us thinking about how the copyright laws really have changed and what’s actually infringement and what’s not. Recently, there have been some changes in the laws, and a few big lawsuits from large companies have also changed how issues like these are handled now.
Disputes with miniatures are harder than most objects. Mainly because they are all so complex and based on things that have “already happened.”
How do you say you came up with a space robot? How do you say someone copied your space robot, and it’s too similar to theirs? Well, that’s what we’re going to try and get to the bottom of today for you!
We’ve included some videos as well because sometimes it is better to hear things from the experts themselves!
With 3D printing growing every day in the tabletop gaming space, its laws are evolving to protect products and brands, but those same laws do leave room for the big guys to push around the smaller ones a bit. Let’s get into it!
Copyright Issues in the Age of 3D Printed Models
Duncan Shadow is the creator currently under the microscope. His recent public posts say that GW contacted MMF to take down the model above. They say it is “identical” to one of their miniatures. Obviously, it has differences, as well as similarities to the Eldar Revenant Titan, and in his opinion does not contain a trademarked symbol.
Here’s a pic of his full model:
Here is a pic of the Forge World Eldar Revenant Titan:
Does this mean GW is starting to crack down hard on creators? Or do they just send out as many letters as they can since they are fairly cheap and the majority of people will just take the sculpts down? It’s hard to tell, but let’s look at a recent copyright case and what some experts have to say about the current state of copyright laws.
The Adidas Case
A trademark is about protecting from customer confusion. In a recent case, (he talks about it at the 2:34 mark) Forever21 was sued by Adidas by simply having three stripes on some shorts, (like something you would expect to see on a pair of Adidas shorts).
Seems quite crazy, however, Forever21 settled out of court as many experts believe they would have lost this case. So shorts with 3 stripes on them is sometimes all it could take for a judge to enforce a trademark.
When you look at Adidas, that is their main symbol. With GW, however, the question is how can they really say every miniature, devoid of symbols, is infringing? Still, if it is deemed close enough to cause confusion among customers, it’s possible that based on this example, GW would win the battle if it went to court.
It’s all if they can prove it is confusing their customer base to think it could be their model. Especially since 3D artists are working in the same medium. If you transferred a design to a shirt or even a poster/ patch/pin etc, instead of miniature, it would, perhaps, be harder to prove infringement.
Works are original when they are independently created by a human author and have a minimal degree of creativity. Independent creation simply means that you create it yourself, without copying.
So a defense against “copying” would be to show that you (the artist) created something completely independent.
Which has always been a sort of gray area in the 3D model space where some artists create 1:1 ports of popular GW models, some like Duncan seem to be inspired by them, while other artists go even further create something completely different but still 100% usable on the tabletop by hobbyists.
For example, if you did a scene for scene re-shoot of Star Wars but used glowing katanas instead of lightsabers and called it “space ninjas” that would likely be considered copyright infringement.
If you re-shot it as “Star Whores” and made it into a porno that only loosely followed the script, that would probably fall under the “parody” exception to copyright. (probably…)
The other item Duncan mentioned, trademarks, is a little different. Branding is related to trademark law, which is somewhat different. The double-headed Aquila, for instance, is probably trademarked, so that has stronger protection since that’s “the brand” and not just a particular design.
So part of the CDA “safe harbor” provisions is that the service provider (MMF in this case) is protected from liability if they take potentially “bad” things down once they’re notified of it. I.E. this design, which it seems that Duncan may dispute with GW.
In the case above, My Mini Factory is most likely protected from any actions that GW is taking against Duncan. So the good news is, places like MMF (or Cults, etc) will generally be affected little by claims such as these as long as they themselves comply with any requests like the one they received by GW.
In summary, seller platforms cannot really be attacked directly, as long as they don’t create the content. But, and a big but, they have to take down the items once notified. So if they do not take down the models after notification, then they could get into trouble as well.
Why This is All Super Relevant Now
Congress recently passed the 2021 Appropriations Act, which according to Norton Rose Fulbright makes it easier for any brand, large or small to take action against any they believe is “infringing” on their works.
For companies, the 2020 Trademark Act:
Improves the ability and consistency for obtaining injunctions against infringers by restoring and codifying the rebuttable presumption of irreparable harm where a likelihood of confusion is shown;
Since the act passed, it is overall good for smaller content creators but does leave room for the big guys to hassle them. When looking at something like the Adidas case, it may not look too good for some artists.
That is because with some miniatures, regardless of the use of a trademark or not, it may not be that hard for someone like GW to prove that something could very well create confusion among customers as to where it comes from.
But again, it all comes down to the judge if it is too derivative or totally of an artist’s own actual creation. Even experts like Legal Eagle are not 100% on anything at this point since the new act has become law.
Models are Hard
Miniature disputes are hard, as it’s the same medium as GW’s core business. If their legal team can establish that an artist’s customers are their customers, and the sale of those models hurts them and their brand just like the Adidas example above- they may have a case.
We’ll have to see if GW cracks down harder with the new laws or if the little guys can win some because it honestly can go either way depending on the “art,” medium, and judge.
Either way, if an artist gets a letter to cease production, oftentimes, it’s just easier to comply because the court fees can be astronomical at that scale, and a long-drawn-out court battle against a giant company is never easy.
So what does this mean for 3D artists going forward?
Well, the only way to be totally safe would be to create something that potentially could not be mistaken for a Games Workshop miniature and still be super dope to the plaint and play with on the tabletop (like this DemonSlayer-Knight).
Even Games Workshop is Using 3D Printing for Faster Minis
You may not know this, but GW has been using 3D printing to produce most of the painted models they have been showcasing for at least 7 years. These models can be seen everywhere, from previews to digital files on Warhammer Community and even in the supplement books themselves.
The reason? It is so much easier just to print out a file instead of waiting for all the plastic to get in. With all the minis getting such great paint jobs, they need to get the miniatures to the painters early to get them ready for previews, etc. So, they just print a few out for them, and the perpetual cycle of GW releases continues.
But, if they can print out 3d minis, they also have the files hanging around somewhere.
Turns out they definitely have some 3D model files archived in their computers that could, at some point in the future, be transformed into sellable downloadable products. Obviously, this isn’t happening soon, because they would first have to find a way to control how the files were used and distributed.
Check out some of the stuff that GW looks to have 3D printed in the past, present, and future…
The First 3D Printed Model We Noticed: Taurox Prime
Back in 2014, the Taurox Prime was previewed and released. We think this is the first time we saw GW use 3D printing for their finished model prototypes. You can tell by clear issues on the model that is still posted on GW’s Webstore. The quality of the model in the picture appears to be much less than what their plastic injected models can produce.
First off, you can tell that the tracks are slanted at something like a 15-degree angle to the right. On top of that, the autocannons on the sides look to fit a little wonky. You can see a clear gap on the right gun even.
At the front of the vehicle, you can still see the tracks angled completely off from the rest of the chassis and the assault cannons have something in some of the barrels.
Finally, the track guards are bent and malformed. You can see a clear bowing of the back guard compared to the front.Now keep in mind, that they never sold a model like this. This was just used to preview their product ahead of time.
3D Printed Minis We’ve Spotted
Picture fromGarroat GSC Showcase From Warhammer New Years Open Day
Looking at the Locus in a case from an event preview, you can see striations at the top of its hood. While this could be just some weird kind of drybrush, it is a bit odd that the effect doesn’t appear in Warhammer Community’s preview online?
Looking at GSC’s official picture of the Locus, it looks like the striations from the top of the hood are gone. Could this be the fact that the pictures have been “cleaned up” with some simple editing? Some striations still appear on the robe next to his staff which is indicative of 3D printing, however, they are a lot more subtle than what was spotted in the display case. Better 3D printing technology and painting techniques help to keep the printing lines to a minimum.
This is definitely a lot better than the Taurox from 2014.
Next, the new exclusive Sister of Battle Sister Novena also appears to have some of the same tell-tale 3D printer striations that indicate the painted model was also a 3D print.
First, at the top of his axe where the flat area behind the blade is as well as the vice-grip-looking counterweight on the other end. Looking at the bottom of the weapon, the battery pack that makes the thing a power weapon is also showing some striations on its side.
The Latest Minis We’ve Spotted
You can see some of the lines on this look very 3D printed, but with the Ad Mech stuff still a while away, it only makes sense they would just print a few out instead of making a bunch to paint up.
The mold lines on this are very strong in the highest points compared to the rest of the mini.
Lelith was one of the most obvious of newer releases with the random hard mold lines, some things off-kilter, and the issues in the dagger. This one used for the preview was definitely 3D printed.
Why 3D Printing Makes Sense
Without going too far into detail, 3D printing makes sense because it’s just faster for rapid prototyping. Looking at GW’s standpoint, they have to get their models ready ahead of time so they can have pictures for their codex, box kits, previews, etc. It takes a fraction of the time printing off a 3D sculpt in-house vs having materials sent off for plastic injection.
It seems like GW is printing off a “master-prototype” model that they use in all of their promotions while the main product is getting amassed.
Obviously by the time these products make it to market they are the actual material(s) they are supposed to be and do not have the 3D print marks on them (well except Forge World, which a whole separate post altogether).
Do you think Games Workshop has started to crack down on the 3D printed miniatures space?