So you may have heard, strewn across the 40k Internet a court case destined to rock our little universe: Chapter House Studios vs. Games Workshop.
On trial is the 41st millennium which includes shoulder pads, Tervigons, and Stormravens oh my!
For those unaware let me bring you up to speed.
A few years back GW slapped Chapter House Studios with a cease and desist order and threaten Chapter House with ligation. In return, Chapter House did something no other company had done before they called GW bluff. So, GW war machine began to turn out lawyers at a breathtaking pace, while at the same time Chapter House incredibly recruited a law firm in San Francisco to defend them all pro bono.
Now the stage was set, and almost two years later the cloak of secrecy is starting to be lifted. All the discovery evidence has been brought forth and both sides are seeking summary judgements before the case can go trial. This is typical behavior in a case of this kind; ask for the moon and hope for one mortally wounded side before the trial. What has caught the imaginations of many this past week is some of the witness testimony so far. Suddenly, we got a look at the inner workings of Games Workshop, and on many counts the worst was exposed.
There are many places you can find the gory details and don’t worry I will post them at the end of this article. I want to comment on the possible outcomes that could come from this trial; either why Games Workshop will become a more “mature” company because of it.
The case can go five ways, regardless if it gets settled by a judge or jury.
GW Massacre Win:
Chapter House crumbles and dies, but more importantly Games Workshop for all its flaws has a legal record to go back on, not just nasty grams without teeth. The documentation shown from discovery illustrates gaping holes at GW, from contracts, to artist renderings, to work records, GW seems less like global business and more like a pawn shop that has never been audited. At the very least GW will clean up some of their mess, so the next time they are challenged by a Chapter House they can avoid the baby mistakes they made in this case. GW will without impunity threaten and bully other companies that make compatible GW products. Even the most benign corporations would still push the legal bounds; there is no reason for GW not to claim everything under the sun as their own creation. The monopoly continues and a fringe market might die.
GW Minor Victory
GW wins to some extent. Charges levied by both sides are thrown out, but the core of GW suit remains. This will result in a better definition of exactly how far GW can go. A minor victory should still produce Chapter House destruction. Chapter House’s cardinal sin could end up being the blatant naming of models and products on their website with little disregard for GW creations. If, GW gets most of what they want, it provides a baseline for them and competitors to work from. This is a win for everyone that is not Chapter House. Now GW will know exactly where it stands legally and act accordingly. GW takes a few hits, but keeps on chugging along, and the rest of the upgrade kit market knows from court releases knows the boundaries.
The most unlikely of results, we have a draw. The judge or jury presses upon both parties to settle. This is what Games Workshop should have done in the first place. They should have given Chapter House cash and told them to go away. Chapter House is based out of someone house for Pete’s sake, throw a couple 100 grand and be done with it. Instead, GW just had to protect their IP without being prepared… to actually fight for there IP. This result would leave a lot of chaos with Nurgle getting most of the rewards. GW gets bad PR from the hardcore, and Chapter House goes away, but in the end it settles nothing. Worse and maybe the reason GW didn’t just hand over a briefcase of cash, is now every other company would try the same thing. If, it is a draw it would still force GW to clean house and actually act like a real company with all documents and paper trails ready to fight the next case.
Minor Victory Chapter House
Chapter House gets a lot of what it wanted. It wins and gets a slap on the wrist; forcing it to take down links and references to GW products, but is allowed to produce models that are obvious to everyone what work with. A minor wins could also mean Chapter House loses the full models like the Eldar Warlock because they are too close to actual produced GW models. GW without equivocation be forced to release every model in a codex on the day the codex is released. This is a tremendous win for the customer, no more waiting for the Mycetic Spore or Thunder Cav. GW once again is forced to clean house and actually back up claims with documentation. A minor victory for Chapter House also means other companies can sift through the legal documents and find more ways to exploit GW copyright weaknesses.
Massacre Chapter House Win
Precedent is set, and Chapter House wins on all or most counts. This opens the flood gates for competition. Instantaneously companies like Secret Weapon, Cool Mini or Not, Mantic all start to produce GW look alike without any fear. They openly link to GW products and GW is forced to reconsider their entire market strategy. Companies comb every Black Library book and old article to produce models without real representation by GW. Worst case it also means other fringe markets open up; think jewelry, posters, and Space Marine underwear all sold without reprisal. If Chapter House can prove that the house Rick Priestly has built on derivative material– boy are we in for some strange times. For the consumer in the short run it means more choice, it could mean GW opens up the full range bits to be bought online. It also means that GW must always keep its quality at a high level. GW will have to focus on making us want to buy the brand, in the face of so many legitimate alternatives around. It would be the wild west for miniature makers and GW will actually have to learn compete. On the flip side, a win by Chapter House could do the worst possible thing: GW goes nuclear. Nuclear by slapping lawsuits on everyone, they will go to war against everyone to establish exactly what there IP is and force the competition to lose through attrition or fight at high cost.
One of the sad things about this whole ordeal is the curtain being lift to reveal GW is on many levels incompetent or unprepared. Chapter House legal team has proved that GW was never prepared to litigate. If GW loses it won’t be because of their hired lawyers it will be all on GW corporate– not providing the proper documentation, testimony, or paper trail to defend this case.
I spent the better part of a day reading and skimming the hundreds legal documents around this case, and I have no legal background, but even I could see that GW turned a singularly winnable case into something of a horror show only Slannesh would have approved of. GW can still win because Chapter House is not without hubris, and since very few of us are legal experts who knows how the judge will rule.
For all your legal news on thread has it all! Read the last 10 pages or so for some of the best stuff.
The most recent developments here is another great post and links.
Here is the motions by both sides of the case. At the very least read these they are easy to read and are both convincing arguments for both parties.
If this case doesn’t go to trial we should get an answer by Christmas at the latest if it does go to trial then we could be looking at February for a decision.
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