In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war between fan communities and the corporations that own the intellectual property they love. The Warhammer 40k community is furious at Games Workshop, the tabletop game’s creator, because of new “zero tolerance” policies about fan-made animation videos.
Warhammer 40K’s space marines are a ubiquitous character in hundreds of animated videos. Creator Bruva Alfabussa has been running the parody show If The Emperor Had a Text-To-Speech Device (TTS) on YouTube for 8 years. The human world of Warhammer 40K is run by an all powerful god-emperor who might be dead. He sits on a huge throne and is attended to by servants.
In TTS, the tech-priests set up the Emperor’s corpsian eminence with a simple device that allows him to communicate with those around him after millennia of silence. It’s a comedy.
On July 29, Alfabusa announced he’s putting TTS on hiatus and looking for a part time job. “A future under this GW, or at least these policies, is untenable,” Alfabusa said in a video about the decision. “The indefinite hiatus of TTS will have to serve as our statement.”
At issue is an update to Games Workshop’s intellectual property guidelines. The new policies explicitly laid out the dos and don'ts of how the company wants fans to handle Warhammer 40K and its other universes. At the bottom, it detailed a list of infringements it has a “zero tolerance” policy towards. It includes pirating books, using a 3D printer to make copies of their models, and a ban on fan animations.
“Individuals must not create fan films or animations based on our settings and characters,” the guidelines said. “These are only to be created under licence from Games Workshop.”
On Reddit, the /r/Grimdank Warhammer 40k meme subreddit has for days been taken over with people furious about Games Workshop’s new policy. Since Friday, the subreddit has been locked down in protest: “Animators like TTS have introduced hundreds of thousands of people to Warhammer. Content makers are pillars of this community and are a constant source of free community engagement that GW has received for years. To stab these people in the back after years of profiting from their work is unforgivable,” the moderators there wrote.
Alfabusa said he would need affirmative consent from GW about fan animations before he’s willing to start up again. Bruva Alfabusa has 386 thousand subscribers, 136 million total views, and racks up more than a million views on each video. As a parody, it’s possible that TTS could get a copyright lawsuit thrown out as fair use. But, as Alfabusa pointed out in his video, it would require an incredible amount of time, effort, and money to fight GW and win. All that time he’d likely be facing problems with his YouTube and Patreon accounts.
“Our hope is that should GW, at some point in time in the far future, change their policies and become explicitly more amenable to fan works such as ours, then we will return to TTS,” Alfabusa said in the video.
GW is a notoriously litigious company so it’s no shock that Alfabusa and others are packing it in ahead of possible litigation. It has repeatedly attempted to enforce a trademark on the words “Space Marines” with mixed results and gone to legal war with a company that was manufacturing miniatures of characters it had never made.
On August 25, GW will launch Warhammer Plus—a subscription service for Warhammer fans that includes access to several planned animated series, which may in the community say must be the impetus for the new policy. One of those series is Astartes, which began life as an unlicensed fan-made YouTube show by creator Syama Pedersen. It caught caught GWs attention and it offered Pedersen a job. This is the exact kind of thing GW’s new policy seeks to eliminate.
Neither Pedersen nor Games Workshop immediately returned Motherboard’s request for comment.
The fan reaction has shocked Alfabusa. “The support has been so immense that my meager primate brain has had a hard time internalizing it,” he told Motherboard in an email. “Like, imagine a crowded theatre, and an ape sitting on stage making funny paintings or whatever. The whole crowd starts clapping and hollering and cheering super loudly. The ape is absolutely startled and overwhelmed. I am this ape right now.”
He hasn’t heard from GW and he doesn’t expect to. “Neither do I see the need for any response past an eventual change to their policies,” he said. “That is all I really want, I do not want or need any recognition, just the policy change.”
Update: The original version of this story cited Pedersen as the creator of The Exodite. He is the creator of Astartes. Motherboard regrets this error.