Games Workshop Opens the War Against 3D Artists

marine-copyrightIt’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 the Chapterhouse 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 IP copyright

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:

Eldar Titan

Here is a pic of the Forge World Eldar Revenant Titan:

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).

adidas shorts forever 21
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.
According to the US Copyright office:
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…)

gw hq marine statue wal horThe 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.

What This Means for Platforms

Myminifactory logoIn a very recent law, which was made to protect places like YouTube from Copyright issues, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects platforms from what its users do.

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

forge world top sellers Vorgaroth & Skalok of Khorne

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.

Do you think Games Workshop has started to crack down on the 3D printed miniatures space? 

Let us know in the comments of our Facebook Hobby Group, and make sure you enter the latest monthly giveaway for FREE today!  You can also support us on Patreon and get ad-free access to the site, plus a ton of minis that helps support some of the best creators out there

About the Author: Rob Baer

Virginia Restless, Miniature Painter & Cat Dad. I blame LEGOs. There was something about those little-colored blocks that started it all... Twitter @catdaddymbg
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