Games Workshop declares war on its customers (again)

Terms of service banning fan art launch alongside a new transmedia subscription service.

Cory Doctorow
11 min readJul 30, 2021


Hello Kitty 40k mashup — an image depicting mecha Hello Kitties amid warring armies of power-armored Sanrio characters.

There’s a difference between a con-artist and a grifter. A con-artist is just a gabby mugger, and when they vanish with your money, you know you’ve been robbed.

A grifter, on the other hand, is someone who can work the law to declare your stuff to be their stuff, which makes you a lawless cur because your pockets are stuffed full of their money and merely handing it over is the least you can do to make up for your sin.

IP trolls are grifters, not con artists, and that’s by design, a feature of the construction of copyright and trademark law.

Progressives may rail at the term “IP” for its imprecision, but truly, it has a very precise meaning: “‘IP’ is any law that lets me control the conduct of my customers, competitors and critics, such that they must arrange their affairs to my benefit.”

In that regard, it is a perfect grifter’s tool — a way to put you on the wrong side of the line for simply living your life in the way that works best for you, not the grifter.

Now, copyright and trademark’s framers were alive to the possibility that they might become this kind of weapon, and they wrote limitations and exceptions into each doctrine that were meant to safeguard the public’s right to free speech and free action.

But those limitations and exceptions are weirdly self-eviscerating. Both trademark and copyright’s limitations assume that they aren’t being weaponized by immoral sociopaths. Both collapse if they are.

Take copyright. Copyright has a suite of limitations and exceptions under various global legal systems, including US law. US law also contains a specific set of exceptions colloquially called “fair use,” a subject of much mystification for lay people.

Under fair use, someone accused of copyright infringement can ask a judge to find that their use of someone else’s copyrighted work is permissible because to deny it would be socially harmful.



Cory Doctorow

Writer, blogger, activist. Blog:; Mailing list:; Mastodon: