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Monday, February 25, 2013

Of Space Marines and Armadillos

By now, the story of Games Workshop's attempt to envelope the well-worn term "Space Marine" in its intellectual property dungeon is well-known. Hungry Ghosts is not interested replaying the indignant arguments against this action. While, yes, Hungry Ghosts is wordy, he also likes to let pictures do the talking.

So let us turn back the clock to an earlier time, when GW was not so keen on respecting intellectual property rights. The year is early 1989. The scene is the back cover of White Dwarf 110. The crime is unlicensed and unattributed use of the intellectual property of another for commercial purposes.

 Here we have a merry band of Space Marines who have found themselves a nice tank. But where did they find that tank? Why, they found it on the shelves of the local toy store. Because it is the Armadillo Mini-Tank from the GI Joe series of action figures made by Hasbro. 

The Armadillo was originally released in 1985, and was available in various forms throughout the rest of the 1980s, and came back in the late 2000s. The Armadillo appeared in the GI Joe cartoon, comic book, television commercials, trading cards... So many places that it is almost impossible to believe that Games Workshop did not know that they were using a product from one of the most popular toy lines of the time manufactured by one of the world's largest toy companies.


It seems that our Armadillo, known to thousands and thousands of boys as the GI Joe Armadillo, quite the popular choice for battlegrounds such as my backyard, is merely a "converted...toy tank model". As opposed to an IP-protected commercially successful product that should have been licensed for use from Hasbro. Or at least identified as what it was. I knew exactly what it was when I bought my copy of White Dwarf 110 in 1989, as my own Armadillo was lurking somewhere in my closet, and even then wondered how GW could use such a popular product for its own purposes without noting what it was.

Now, we do get told that the tank was "converted". But that converting consists mostly of painting it black and removing the roll bar. Or maybe the roll bar got lost, as YoJoe.com points out that it was an easy-to-lose piece.

Here is our link to YoJoe.com, containing a wealth of information about our Armadillo, including a nice Left Front Isometric picture of the tank from the same point of view as the White Dwarf photo.

(It also has a picture of the cover of GI Joe issue 37, featuring the Armadillo being airlifted under the Dragonfly helicopter over an amusement park with Flint leaping off to attack Xamot at the top of a roller coaster. Yeah. Despite Xamot's machine gun pointed his way. And Flint having an M16 and pistol. And the multitude of weaponry on the tank and the assault helicopter.)

Are we being unfair? Are we picking on the little guy, just trying to make it in a tough market? Should we think that maybe GW didn't have the intellectual property savoir-faire to know what it was doing?

Nah. There's the first page of White Dwarf 110, with a slew of IP notices. Games Workshop had already licensed the IP of many other companies - Judge Dredd, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Runequest, Dr Who, Paranoia, Lone Wolf, Dungeons & Dragons, Eternal Champion... in fact GW got its start as a licensed distributor of US roleplaying games for the UK market.

We could say that the Armadillo was an "oops" moment. But that would mean that we'd have to ignore all of the pieces of Zoids, Transformers, Macross, Gundam, and other toy lines that made frequent appearances in Warhammer 40K photos in the late 1980s and early 1990s. And Dark Future, a game blatantly based on a certain popular film series that was nearly unplayable without unlicensed use of Matchbox and Hot Wheels toys.

 So, Games Workshop, stop being a dick. Space Marines existed decades before you did, and you had no compunctions about encouraging the use of the intellectual property of others to fill the gaps in your own product lines for years, despite your full awareness of intellectual property rights.

Mark Ratner, 1977, FanTac Games (picture not taken by me)

Epic Space Marines Drop Pod, first version, from 1991 Blue Citadel Catalog