The New Games Workshop IP Wars have Begun

by | Jul 22, 2021

It has been almost a decade, since the infamous Chapterhouse vs. Games Workshop legal battle, crippling Games Workshop will to go after bits makers for models they hadn’t created or add-on parts. In the 10 years since Games Workshop has mostly taken a backseat to defending it’s IP, defending in only the most egregious cases, like Chinacast or digital book re-publication. Games Workshop’s hands off approach has allowed fans to create a vast amount of content and products based off Games Workshop IP. Fan art, YouTube videos, painting, gaming supplies, home décor have all grown thanks to the popularity of Games Workshop games.

Over the last 18 months or so Games Workshop approach to dealing with its IP has been changing, and fans and creators are noticing. The first noticeable change came when Games Workshop dropped its Epub Warhammer 40k digital rules and replaced it with a broken mobile app. That was followed by Games Workshop striking down an YouTube lore provocateur for a few months. All the while, Games Workshop started to gobble up online animators left and right, ahead of the not so secret launch of Warhammer+. I have referenced these changes in past articles, but what I didn’t anticipate until recently was the legal avenues Games Workshop could start taking.

The potential, and I want to stress the word POTENTIAL here, is Games Workshop is laying down the ground work to go after any creator online or offline that uses their IP in ways they don’t see fit. So, it was this week that Games Workshop decided to update its Intellectual Property Guidelines, causing mass hysteria from Youtubers and graphic designers. Even making it to PCgamer.

The main point of contention comes from these blurbs.

Fan-artwork – Be non-commercial, with no money being received or paid. This includes all forms of fundraising activity, and generation of any advertising revenue not be publicly distributed, except for no-charge digital distribution

&

Fan-films and animations – individuals must not create fan films or animations based on our settings and characters. These are only to be created under license from Games Workshop.

Lets start with the Fan art one, the big change is Games Workshop threatening almost every artist, including those who use Patreon or commission work. This can be as insane as a local organizer commissioning an artist to make a digital flyer for an event, to an artist posting tutorials on how to draw a Space Marine with a GoFundMe link. IP defense does require very broad brushes to be painted for companies, so when they go after anyone they have legal standing to do it. The short sightedness by GW though, is every artist is a free advertiser for products making it extremely dumb to clamp down on them. 

The fan animations blurb we could have seen coming. It is a known fact that Games Workshop went to the largest Warhammer 40k animators, and “bought them up” while forcing them to take down their creations, moving them to Warhammer+. This means future creators most likely will be hit instantaneously by Games Workshop and shut down. Were other IP fan use can be produced as long as you don’t make money from it, not the case with animators or live action content. What does this also mean for Cosplay potentially as well?

This all goes to say that Games Workshop legal is back, and back with what looks like a vengeance. What we don’t know is how far will they go. The Chapterhouse ordeal was a failed overreach by Games Workshop, since then Games Workshop has brought in new legal council and fortified the IP, and made internal changes like no rules for units that don’t exist. What remains to be seen is how aggressive will Games Workshop go after folks, is we just don’t know yet. If I though was an animator, I would not touch Games Workshop IP.

The success of Warhammer+ will play a huge part in Games Workshop calculus going forward. They have two choices they can either let the community continue to do what it has been doing and pluck the best bringing them to Warhammer+. They can also go down the evil path, attacking the very community which since the Chapterhouse has grown the hobby by leaps and bounds. There is dystopia potential here, where copyright claims start flying all across YouTube going after lore, battle reports, painters, and digital artists causing the online community around Games Workshop to suddenly be crushed. 

I though will leave you with some hope, one of the defenses against this though is oddly the United States, and British companies inability to navigate its legal terrain, from Fair Use to Legal Tourism, will put limits on how far Games Workshop can and will go. Games Workshop most likely will go after UK creators first. So even in the worst dystopia you can rest easy knowing you will still be able watch all parody and criticism of Games Workshop idiotic behavior no matter what.

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