Warhammer 40K

Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark ma­terial involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author’s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

This is the opening paragraph of FL-108, from the US Copyright Office… There is some confusion that I have run into on online forums regarding 3D printed miniatures for games, where there was a concern about being sued for violating the Intellectual Property rights of companies such as Games Workshop or Wizards of the Coast by creating miniatures for their games without a license.

IP rights are Copyrights, Trademarks, or Patents. There isn’t any other type. You can’t copyright a game–only the art or text within it. Ideas are not protected by copyright, only their artistic expression in fixed form. Some people think that the rules (game mechanics) are protected since they are within the copyrighted rule book, but that aspect of the work is specifically not protected by copyrights:

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work

This is from a ruling on a cloned tabletop game, where the judge ruled summarily that there was no infringement. The artwork and story can be protected by copyright–The rules cannot.

This issue came up in 2011 when an artist created 3D printable versions of pieces for the game Settlers of Catan and made them available on Thingiverse. The 3D printed tiles are not based on the printed tiles from the game (which could make them derivative work), so are perfectly legal in regards to copyright.

Trademarks are a different type of intellectual property, that identifies the source of a product or Service. Games Workshop has a trademark on the term “Space Marine” as the name of a product:


The Trademark (word mark) identifies “Space Marine” as a product of Games Workshop. This trademark identifies the source of the product–specifically the tabletop wargame. It does NOT mean that Games Workshop owns the word, except as the name of a game.

The actual  miniatures and illustrations from the many Warhammer Codexes are protected by copyrights. To create your own version of these pieces, if based on them, would be to make a derivative work–a violation of copyright.

Games Workshop “Space Marines”

However, there is nothing preventing an artist from creating miniatures intended to be used as space marines, which is why you see miniatures from 3rd parties such as Scibor Miniatures:


As long as your sculpture is original and not based on a copyrighted drawing or painting, it is not a violation of anyone’s intellectual property.  As stated above, games are not protected under copyright.

There is an “Open Gaming” movement, which I have an issue with–The copyright holder granting you a “license” to use their rules to make your own content! Wizards of the Coast started this with their D20 System, to encourage 3rd parties to create content that was compatible with their game.

But  game rules are not protected by copyrights, there is no need for permissions at all. The OGL license does not grant the right to use any of Wizards of the Coast’s copyrighted artwork, so it is essentially granting a license where none is required. Maybe this is a way to relieve 3rd party creators concerns that they could be sued, and to encourage them, but it also creates an illusion of “IP Rights” that don’t exist….

In this new era of 3D printed tabletop games, an artist could not only create a line of miniatures for 3D printing, but also publish stats (warscrolls) for playing them in Warhammer 40K, Hordes, Warmachines,  D&D or Pathfinder!

Another possibility is to create standardized tabletop rules, where players can bring in their armies that they have bought, built or printed and play them against any army–regardless of the setting they were originally created for–A Multiversal Wargame™




  1. A Multiversal Wargame™ you say? Perhaps small enough to fit onto a single page for ease of reference? One with pre-balanced army lists matching those used in a certain grim dark universe, but allowing you to create your own army lists using the same rules and point costs?

    I have no idea where one would find such a OnePageRules(.com) system 😉


  2. I’ve got a specific query relating to copyright. An artist not affiliated has created a piece which would look fantastic as a 75mm miniature. The image is inspired by the GW universe (specifically a sister of battle) but is not owned by GW and the artist owns the rights to it.

    What potential issues might there be if this type of mini were to be produced, potentially on a larger scale. The artist is happy for the image to be used as inspiration, so no issue there, though there is some iconography, (Fleur de Los, the imperial eagle) which would be visible.

    Would producing such a miniature, as a Kickstarter for example, cause any kind of copyright breach?


    1. If the artwork is ruled “derivative work”, because it is based on GW art, then I would run it by a lawyer—especially if you want to mass produce it.
      If a casual person looks at your concept as says “cool Sister of Battle!”, then you may be skating too close to the line 😜


  3. What about the sale of educational content, such as how to play the game, or how to use certain factions best, being mass produced?

    Does giving access to any buyer count as mass reproduction if the platform for the content is entirely digital?


    1. I think you could publish a “strategy guide” under “fair use”, even with photos of miniatures and things…. But don’t use logos and graphics that would make it seem “official”—because that would probably violate trademarks


  4. Hey I was wondering if I were to make a warhamer 40k Model (to cast in silicone and sell) (that was made but is no longer is made) by Kit bashing other bits from warhamer boxes, Would it get me into trouble if I used the name of the original model warboss wazzdaka Gutsmeg (I could rename it to get past this) OR if the rider of the bike was an 40k ork made of left over ork bits becouse the ork would be made of 40k ork parts (or does it being part of the bike negate that)


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