Parties Ready for Battle Over Warhammer 40K | Courthouse News Service
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Parties Ready for Battle Over Warhammer 40K

CHICAGO (CN) - A federal judge leveled the playing field for an upcoming copyright trial against a seller of accessories for the popular tabletop game Warhammer 40,000.

In the dystopian fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, players compete against each other with 28 mm miniature creature and army figurines. Games Workshop, the Britain-based creator of Warhammer, sells such figurines along with rule books, strategy guides and other products.

Warhammer 40,000 fan Nick Villacci started a company called Chapterhouse Studios in 2008 to sell accessories such as shoulder pads, shields and weapons for the miniature figurines sold by Games Workshop.

When Games Workshop learned of Chapterhouse's existence, it sued for copyright and trademark infringement on 110 of its products. Both parties moved for summary judgment.

In a 36-page decision, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly partly granted and denied both party's motions.

"In this particular situation, the court finds that a reasonable jury could conclude that Chapterhouse's products are substantially similar to the GW works at issue in the litigation and were not created independently," Kennelly wrote. "By the same token, a reasonable jury could find that Chapterhouse's products are not substantially similar or were independently created. Summary judgment on this point is therefore inappropriate for either party."

Kennelly held that a number of Chapterhouse products are substantially similar to Game Workshop drawings and protected by copyright.0

For example, "upon independent examination, the court finds that GW's shoulder pads involve enough originality to afford them copyright protection," the ruling states. "The unusually large proportional size of the shoulder pads as compared to the Space Marine's head is a creative addition to the common shoulder pads sometimes worn by real-life soldiers in battle. The shoulder pads created to fit onto GW's physical figurines, though more proportionally accurate, are nevertheless still larger and boxier than those typically found outside of the Warhammer 40,000 fantasy world. The court thus concludes that GW is entitled to copyright protection as to the design of its shoulder pads."

He also found, however, that Chapterhouse's "Tactical Rhino Doors with Skulls Kit" was not subject to copyright.

"A depiction of a pile of skulls is not copyrightable without more," Kennelly wrote. "If it were, GW potentially would have viable claims against countless movies, paintings, or drawings."

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