back to article German law smites Warhammer fan flick

German copyright law appears to have done for "one of the most ambitious fan films ever made" - a 110 minute spin-off of Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 game, lovingly crafted by German fans and enticingly entitled Damnatus. According to the BBC, the epic cost more than €10k, took months to film, features 11 principal actors …


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  1. Mark

    Riddle me this, batman

    How can it be, if there are inalienable rights the author cannot give up or away in german copyright law, that allowing someone to make a movie on your IP without transferring those same rights to you, mean that you lose your rights to your IP?

    Say that you cannot give away moral rights (the right to say where and what reason your work can be used in another way) e.g. you can deny your art be used in a NeoNazi site, even though the copyright is "CC" licensed.

    Then someone comes along and wants to use your work on another non-profit website (say, help poor starving african orphans fund).

    How can agreeing this use in the HPSAOF site mean you can't stop someone taking your work and putting it on the NeoNazi site? OK, you can't stop someone from the NeoNazi site using the HPSAOF content to show how the Aryan race is so much better, but the art they used is STILL someone else's work.

    So please, Games Workshop (killer of the best RPG mag, Dragon Magazine and turning it into "Games Workshop magazine", yabasa's) please let me know what inalienable right you give away because of someone else's inalienable right.

  2. Stuart Van Onselen

    No Lawyers

    No, The Emperor does not have German copyright lawyers in His armies.

    I know this, because if He did, He would have unleashed them millenia ago, and they would have tied up all His enemies in so much red tape, that there would no longer *be* any threat to Humanity.

    And thus Games Workshop would be out of business.

  3. Michael B.

    Something else going on?

    I read this article on the BBC News website and then again here and I just wasn't convinced. Germany produces films based on copyrighted material, Asterik being the first that came to mind, and they have been released. Is Games Workshop just hiding behind a legal excuse because the film is bad and it would irreperably tarnish their brand? Am I just missing something bleeding obvious?

  4. Hate2Register
    Thumb Down

    Everyone should boycott Warhammer..

    Killjoys at Warhammer! Who cares if they are worried about their copyright. Anyway, it was kind of foolish to shoot the film without agreeing copyright terms first.

    But Warhammer is boring, and the company should be showered with tomatoes for banning a fan film.

  5. James Summerson

    A solution

    Here's my solution:

    1) Have the movie 'leaked' onto the internet - making sure you post a blog denouncing the leak and instigate a hunt for the perp;

    2) Games Workshop demand that all copies are pulled, thus protecting their intellectual rights;

    3) Games Workshop and the movie makers sue YouTube or which ever carrier is selected for step 1 - a nice little earner;

    4) 'Pirate' DVD copies appear on eBay - like all of the other bootleg shows that are freely traded;

    5) Games Workshop ask for all copies to be de-listed from eBay - again protecting their rights;

    repeat 3 - 5 until you recoup your 10,000 euro outlay.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I love how...

    ...everyone totally ignores the bit in the article saying that Games Workshop can't legally let the film be released - if it hasn't been assigned to them - without losing their copyright (this makes sense; it's rather draconian but similar to the trademark situation in the US - use it or lose it) and that some asinine law in Germany prevents the authors of the film from signing those rights over to Games Workshop. I'm not sure how it could be made much clearer. Try reading this paragraph over and over until it sinks in.

    But hey, forget it - just ignore the facts and trash on a company. It's much more fun that way, isn't it, to go after the big bad businesses? I see this crap all the time - guys at a company bust their asses working for peanuts creating stuff they love, and then get viciously attacked at the first sign of doing something required to not lose their jobs. How about you walk a mile in their shoes before ranting about stuff you know nothing about?

  7. Anonymous Coward

    You forgot

    The immortal emperor has been dead 10000 years and his rotting continued existence is as a soul, which is fueled by 10000 people being killed each day in his name at the foot of his throne.

    ....Sounds like the Bush administration to me.

  8. Spleen


    Have you ever driven for an hour or more to the beach only to realise you've not brought your swimsuit?

    No, nor have I. Nor have I ever spent over 10 thousand euros and several months making a film based on someone else's intellectual property without getting the rights *first*. That's because I'm not a cretin.

    What I'd suggest to the makers of Damnatus is that they edit the film. It can't be that hard to change all the names and maybe reshoot a few scenes with different costumes so that it's not a violation, seeing as W40k is based on standard fantasy and sci-fi clichés.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Any chance Vu can give the movie to Games Workshop as a gift? No signing of papers needed, I guess. Then surely they can stream the flick on their website?

    Just my naive view ;-)

  10. Dave

    The point

    Is that although the rights to Warhammer and 40k are, of course the property of Games Workshop, the movie wouldn't be. If the makers decided to introduce new characters, races, and so on, the rights on those creations would be theirs, not those of Games Workshop. These rights can't be signed away, and so there's no real option for Games Workshop other than to say no to the film, because it would open such a can of worms if they were to allow it to go ahead, it doesn't bear thinking about. (GW wouldn't be allowed to include such races and characters in their game without asking the Damnatus team first, for example).

    Also, the Damnatus team were told during 2005 (I think) that they would not be granted permission to show the film, but they carried on anyway, hoping that Games Workshop would change their minds. They didn't, but that just makes the Damnatus team somewhat naive to have progressed even though they had been told no.

  11. Will

    @ Mark

    Actually, it was Wizards of the Coast, a completely different company who killed off Dragon magazine. GW has had their own magazine, 'White Dwarf' for over ten years, and is not related to WotC or Dragon magazine!

  12. Mark


    (this makes sense; it's rather draconian but similar to the trademark situation in the US - use it or lose it)

    No, that's trademarks.

    You keep the copyrights. They never move because someone else made a derivative and didn't assign ownership to you.

    Please, since you seem to know so much more, tell us what rights Games Workshop would give up if the fanfic was released without all rights assigned to them?

  13. Mark


    So why does GW need the copyright on new characters introduced in the movie? Is it because GW MUST use all created characters in their products? No, GW don't. So if they DON'T introduce the new characters from the movie into their product, why do they need to ask permission from Damnatus?

    Something is missing and without it, GW *is* being an arsehole.

  14. Bob_Hunk


    ...the way I understand it is that they did indeed have permission when filming started. Only as a verbal promise though - which obviously isn't worth anything. I can see GW's position, and they're probably right, but I don't think it's fair to say that the Damnatus crew were naive... GW changed there position when the film was nearly complete and the film makers checked again, just to be sure. Presumably GW had read up on German law by then, and so changed their answer to "no".

    It's a shame really. I remember seeing a trailer for this a few years back and thinking it looked interesting. The fact that Damnatus wouldn't be released came to light a couple of months ago, and all the GW-related forums lit-up with righteous indignation for a week or two. I'm a little surprised to see this in the mainstream news now...

  15. Ash

    If it's anything like the Dawn of War intro...

    It would be phenomenal. Second best game intro ever.

    First was Mech Warrior: Mercenaries.

    Anyway, leak the film.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    the trailer...

    I'm sorry to say looks pap.

    Thats not to belittle the effort of the people who have made this film, they obviously put a hell of a lot of effort into it but to be fair it's not that high quality. I think even sci-fi would think twice about airing it!

    I Think GW are hiding behind the copyright issue, but quite rightly to. Why associate an otherwise good trademark with a slightly low budget and cr@ppy product. They already have good teams of writers and I'm sure if they wanted to go down this route they could afford to do a better job. After all the Dawn of War series was a pretty damn good effort.

  17. Dave
    Thumb Down


    OK, I'm not a lawyer or anything. I just play GW games, so I'm somewhat familiar with the situation. That's all.

    For those not familiar with GW at all, the videogame Dawn of War is based on 40k too. It introduced a new chapter, the Blood Ravens. GW own the rights to the game. After that game, world+dog now play Blood Ravens. They may even get their own rules. This is fine because GW own the rights. If the Damnatus team introduced a new chapter or race or something GW couldn't do anything with it. And yes, people probably would want to play the new race, character or whatever. The demand would be there but GW couldn't do anything about it. Damnatus would be free to produce their own rules for them without giving GW anything. This is because under german law, they can't sign over their author's rights.

    Not sure about this one, but they may even be able to use GWs own chapters, make models, magazine etc without thanking GW. Obviously, they can't allow this. It doesn't make them a big mean corporate greed machine. It's just good business sense.

    Further, they were already told no, years before now, but of course the story doesn't mention that. The fact that they carried on is their own misguided choice, which is at best naive and at worst damn stupid. They should have sought permission BEFORE shooting, not after.

  18. Mark

    you're right, it was White Dwarf

    Aye, it was WD. It used to have stuff regularly for dozens of RPGs then GW bought it and it always had one warhammer and one other GW game in it (where it used to only always have one DnD/ADnD article). Then it became always a few articles and none of the occasional "oddball" RPGs. Then almost all GW and a few others. Now, I suppose, it's ONLY GW. I have up when there was no oddball RPG (chaosium or paranoia or glorantha, and the like) for six months and it was at least half GW.

  19. Jon Double Nice

    If only...

    They'd spent some of that money on some back issues of White Dwarf and made a film of the excellent fan fiction cartoon strip "Travellers' (I think it was called that anyhow) .

  20. O
    Black Helicopters

    Re: You Forgot

    The warmongering Imperium / Space Marines are indeed an allegory for the US.

  21. James Summerson

    40k® Disclaimer

    The Games Workshop disclaimer for websites:

    "WARHAMMER 40,000

    This web site is completely unofficial and in no way endorsed by Games Workshop Limited.

    40k, Adeptus Astartes, Blood Angels, Bloodquest, Cadian, Catachan, Chaos, the Chaos device, the Chaos logo, Citadel, Citadel Device, Cityfight, Codex, Daemonhunters, Dark Angels, Dark Eldar, Dawn of War, 'Eavy Metal, Eldar, Eldar symbol devices, Eye of Terror, Fire Warrior, the Fire Warrior logo, Forge World, Games Workshop, Games Workshop logo, Genestealer, Golden Demon, Gorkamorka, Great Unclean One, GW, GWI, the GWI logo, Inquisitor, the Inquisitor logo, the Inquisitor device, Inquisitor:Conspiracies, Keeper of Secrets, Khorne, the Khorne logo, Kroot, Lord of Change, Necron, Nurgle, the Nurgle logo, Ork, Ork skull devices, Sisters of Battle, Slaanesh, the Slaanesh logo, Space Hulk, Space Marine, Space Marine chapters, Space Marine chapter logos, Tau, the Tau caste designations, Tyranid, Tyrannid, Tzeentch, the Tzeentch logo, Ultramarines, Warhammer, Warhammer 40k Device, White Dwarf, the White Dwarf logo, and all associated marks, names, races, race insignia, characters, vehicles, locations, units, illustrations and images from the Warhammer 40,000 universe are either ®, TM and/or © Copyright Games Workshop Ltd 2000-2007, variably registered in the UK and other countries around the world. Used without permission. No challenge to their status intended. All Rights Reserved to their respective owners. "

    Lots of those words are oddly ®, TM and/or © Copyright Games Workshop Ltd 2000-2007 - Chaos? Ork? 40k?

    Anyways, can't the movie just have a nice Star Warsian scrolling intro that repeats all of the above gubbins? There is the slight problem of the following, tho, even if it seems to relate to video games / animation rather than live action:


    The video games that our licensing partners have created have done an incredible job of bringing the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 games to life, and we appreciate that hobbyists may even want to make movies based upon our intellectual property. Unfortunately, due to the nuances of the law in some territories, we cannot allow any unlicensed movies to be created which are based upon our intellectual property. "

    All quotes taken from the legal page of the GW Site.

  22. Mark

    @Dave again

    OK from what you're saying is that GW have rights to Wharhammer 40k which they produced. I think. You're prepositions need working out, because I can't tell at which point which "they" you are refering to, GW or Damnatus.

    So GW have rights to the 40k universe in the game. I take it the movie is based on Blood Raven (else the name doesn't mean anything, since it's just "Warhammer 40K"). But it isn't produced by GW. The chapter "Blood Raven" is a new thing created by someone else. That they exist in the Warhammer 40k world doesn't change that the movie is about them, they are a creation of Damnatus and that GW still own the 40k universe.

    You now say that if Damnatus produce new race/rules or whatever that GW would have no rights to it and would need to ask Dmnatus for license. So? You're presupposing actions not in evidence (by your own admission: "if"). If they do, Damnatus still own the new idea. And even though they've had a new idea bout the 40k universe, GW still own everything they did in creating the 40k universe.

    I still can't see where GW lost rights in letting this go ahead.

    Now you may be saying that Damnatus MUST give GW rights to use the new creation they (Damnatus) made. But why? fan-made maps for doom didn't get given to iD. New arrangements of songs don't get given to the original author.

    Star Wars books aren't owned by Spielberg. Though they must get approval from Lucasarts to become canon, which seems like this situation here. And George hasn't lost rights to "A New Hope" just because "Splinter of the Minds Eye" doesn't fit ANYWHERE in the canon of SW. But GW can't seem to manage this. Incompetent lawyering?

    Damnatus, no matter WHAT they think up new based on Warhammer 40k, cannot use GW stuff without permission. They can't reproduce rules with GW original stuff included, they can't use the trademark and that probably includes the name "Warhammer 40k". GW giving permission to use their property in a work (and that work can be just "the movie you've made") doesn't mean that they can ignore GW's trademarks and copyrights. It doesn't and cannot happen.

    Unless something not in evidence is happening. The orignal article doesn't say what bit of "rights" that cannot be given to GW is the problem, there's no explanation of why, absent this gift, GW is in danger of losing any rights, and no explanation of, if rights are lost, what they might be.

    Absent ALL these answers, the only logical conclusion is that GW are being arseholes and using handwaving arguments to try and hide the fact. They don't *have* to give permission, but that's only because they *are* allowed to be arseholes. There's no law against it.

  23. James Summerson

    @ Jon Double Nice

    "They'd ... made a film of the excellent fan fiction cartoon strip "Travellers' "

    See Firefly / Serenity for that one...

  24. Pum

    so how come there are so many Star Wars fan films?

    ... without a problem. Indeed, George Lucas specifically says they are OK.

    Is this purely a German law strangeness. If so then they could probably get around it by doing business in another jurisdiction - one that allows the film-makers to assign rights to GW and GW to pay them something for what should be good publicity for 40K.

  25. Anonymous Coward

    blood for the blood god

    Blood for the blood god, skulls for the throne of skulls!!!

    Aghast, the horror! Release this or let foul daemons and chaos run amock!

  26. Anonymous Coward

    @ 'blood for the blood god'

    It's "blood for the blood god, skulls for the throne of khorne!", you nonbeliever!

    Get 'im, boys, he's an imposter.

  27. Mark


    I knew it was Lucas, so why the hell did I type Speilberg?

    Maybe the thought rays are interfering with me again...

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seems no one understands german law...

    german law is called "authorship law" and not "copyright law", and it provides a framework for "authors" to selectively provide "rights" over their work to others (copying is just *one* thing you can allow/disallow, and there are many things more)

    however the concept is the following... the author of a work always remain the author of a work, and that is unchangeable; you can however transfer all use *rights* that are associated with being the author of the work (modify the work, copy the work, lend the work, create derivative works, assign rights to the work to a third party) to anyone; what you *cannot* do is to declare someone else to be the author of the work (it's the same as with childs... whether or not your child is adopted by someone else and whether or not you lose the right to have contact with your child does not change the fact that you are physical father/mother)

    so "copyright assignment" would be: 1) grant all rights to a third party; 2) make this grant exclusive (promise you will not grant this right to anyone else); this is a contractual thing and still does not make assignee the "author" of the work, but it is from now on controlled by the assignee exactly as if he were. Why games workshop is not satisfied with this is beyond me (it has certainly been good enough for anyone else in the past); what they expect appears to be "authorship assignment", and this is indeed not possible.

    Bottom line... either their lawyer is mind-boggingly incompetent and does not know squat about german copyright law... or they are using this as a pretext for something, whatever...

  29. Spider

    GW - the M$ of gaming

    Sorry, I simply don't believe that they couldn't find a compromise if they actually wanted to. Like simply employing the guys so their product becomes the property of the company they work for - same as software, films, tv ad nauseum.

    Still, i look forward to downloading for free!

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ 'blood for the blood god'

    i've still got the plastic single that was on the front of a very, very old white dwarf


    dwarf has always been owned by GW, all 30 years of its existence

    and the reason they don't want the film coming out is that they're probably in talks to have something made themselves & they don't want some scrappy fan film messing them aboot, eh?

    anonymous by choice

    trollslayer by destiny


  31. Michael

    This is dirt simple really is.

    According to German law, the movie-makers cannot assign their intellectual property rights to GW thus enabling GW to distribute the film. The only recourse, then, to still distribute the film would be for GW to give rights to the movie-makers, which under an antiquated German law, would cause GW to lose THEIR intellectual property rights to WH40k.

  32. Mark


    Which bit of german law says that the author of the film cannot assign distribution rights to games workshop? And why must it be GW to distribute it? Take a look at the opening credits for a movie, you'll see a stream of maybe a half dozen companies. The distributor isn't the one making the movie, and the distributor can be different in different countries.

    What I'm basically saying here is that you're wrong.

    That's mostly because GW are just saying "we can't let them" without saying why. Currently the only reason that makes sense is GW are a bunch of bastards. Maybe if they came out with the reason, we'd be able to say "ahhh, so THAT'S why...". But so far, nowt.

  33. lglethal Silver badge

    High Quality vs Crap

    @ Mark

    GW originally covered multiple gaming systems until they began making detailed gaming systems (ie Warhammer Fantasy & 40K) at that point they basically realised that it was a bit of a conflict of interest to report on these other systems which were in competition to their products. At that point they went solely to the current GW only format.

    As for the whole movie thing. Frankly, GW only release things that are to a VERY high standard - there models are amazingly detailed, the Dawn Of War games have been top of the line - so why all of a sudden should they allow a dodgy fan film to be released which could compromise there Copyrights in Germany?

  34. Brett

    GW are bastards

    Well thats kinda enough said. I thought that it was particuarly ironic that they ended up releasing a LOTR game when Warhammer Fantasy appears to ripped off from LOTR.

    They have a bad habit of enforcing copywright to things like Ork and so on. A lot of this stuff is ripped off then copywrited.

    Back to the doom maps and ID. ID did release map packs made from user mods. In the doom fine print they took the rights to user created content. ID have done this since. Same with Valve (couter strike) and some othe companys. It does make sence to me that someone with fiction IP should be able to take control of Fan stuff based on it. But there should have to be a very driect link.

  35. Iamfanboy


    Or compare it to Star Trek The New Voyages - sure, TNV is a bit dodgy, but still it receives a fair amount of attention because it's created by fans and tells stories that truly does appeal to the fans!

    Games Workshop does not care about their customers as fans, they care about their customers as money sources. Now, I've got nothing against paying money for fair value, but recently their business model has been "Screw the game and the players who've been around for a decade or more, we're just going to sell as many pretty models as we can to all the beginners we can."

    *sigh* I'm not angry.

    I'm not even surprised.

    I'm just disappointed.

    And I'm glad I unloaded $500 of my GW models on eBay.

  36. Kevin Murray
    Paris Hilton

    LOTR? Yeah right.....

    "Well thats kinda enough said. I thought that it was particuarly ironic that they ended up releasing a LOTR game when Warhammer Fantasy appears to ripped off from LOTR."

    Sure thing - LOTR invented elves, orcs, trolls, dwarves, etc.

    These things have been a fantasy staple since before Tolkien was even born, believe it or not. Certainly they were making their way into mythology well before his 3-part snoozefest was ever penned (not to mention the crap after, although The Hobbit was not too bad).

    While your comment does have a certain irony to it, it's certainly not to do with the reasons you were going for.

  37. randomtask

    Once Smitten...

    ...Twice Shy


  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Sod off Brian Ansell"

    Way back in the mists of time, there was an issue of WD where the initial letters of the contents list read "Sod off Brian Ansell" - googling says that this was a reaction to the editorial changes instigated by GW combined with an office move to Nottingham. IIRC it was around issue 75 or so.

    I recall speaking to a games shop owner at the time (the Games Room on Elm Hill in Norwich, if anyone remembers that) and he claimed that GW had taken on distribution for nearly all the RPG manufacturers in the US (except TSR, who were too big) and had allegedly choked the supply, releasing stuff about once every six months or so in order to ensure their own products flooded the market.

  39. Spider

    fight the power!

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