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German law smites Warhammer fan flick

Damnatus damned to eternal darkness

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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, a whole rack of extras plus "sophisticated post-production special effects".

All well and good, but the flick's producer/director Huan Vu said his team had "now given up trying to get the film in front of an audience" because "despite lengthy negotiations with Games Workshop, the company has refused to give permission for the film to be shown".

The whole sorry affair hinges on German copyright law, which "confers rights on the creators of works that cannot be given away", according to Games Workshop's legal and licensing big cheese Andy Jones. This means "the creators of Damnatus cannot assign their rights to Games Workshop even if they wanted to".

Furthermore, if Games Workshop greenlights the film's release without this "assignment", it would be "giving up the title to the Warhammer 40,000 intellectual property".

Jones issued a written explanation of the ban on Damnatus, which included the clarification: "To lose control of Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 is simply unthinkable. So we must be vigilant, and perhaps sometimes seemingly heartless in our decisions to safeguard the IP for the future success of the business and the hobby."

Jones added Games Workshop's "admiration" for the project, and stressed the company was not acting "malevolently". He said: "This is perhaps to be regretted, nonetheless in the final analysis we simply have no choice but to say 'no'."

Mr Vu admitted the Damnatus team was "shocked" at the ban, but still thought an "amicable solution" could be reached when it heard of the blow. He said: "I imagined that in the end I would be forced to sign some more or less 'fair' contract in which I'd have to give them all rights bar the unalienable ones, but to get this film out I'd underwritten everything."

He lamented to the Beeb: "It's really horrible for an artist not being able to show off their own work."

Quite how the matter might pan out if it ever came to court is unclear. Dr Guido Westkamp, a lecturer on intellectual property law at the University of London, called the Damnatus versus Games Workshop scrap "unprecedented" and told the BBC that "copyright cases were always tricky to resolve". He offered: "It's very much a question of looking in total at the work in question and then perhaps to look at the technical features in that work."

He added: "It's not come before German courts before at all. But, it's one that really affects new technology."

The Damnatus team, meanwhile, has "also explored releasing the film in a different format or changing it to see if this would escape the copyright problems".

Vu concluded, however: "We do not really want to get away from the 40k universe - the film is meant as a dedication to it after all." ®

Bootnote

For those of you not au fait with Warhammer 40,000, Games Workshop describes it thus:

In the nightmare future of the 41st millennium, Mankind teeters upon the brink of extinction. The galaxy-spanning Imperium of Man is beset on all sides by ravening aliens, and threatened from within by malevolent creatures and heretic rebels. Only the strength of the Immortal Emperor of Terra stands between Humanity and its annihilation.

Crikey. Warhammer 40,000 is, of course, played with figurines, although we cannot confirm reports that the Immortal Emperor of Terra's hordes contain miniature German copyright lawyers.

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