Printed Minis and the Power of the Copyright Claims Board

Back in September 2023, we looked at the dispute between Games Workshop, the company behind the popular Warhammer universe, and 3D model maker Eamann M Ghasemy, who is better known as EmanG. 

At the time, Games Workshop had filed 12 separate claims with the Copyright Claims Board (CCB), the relatively new copyright small claims court, alleging that Ghasemy had infringed some 14 separate works. 

All the claims and all the works involved dealt with 3D models that Ghasemy allegedly offered for users online. Games Workshop, in addition to licensing its intellectual property, primarily makes and sells miniatures of the various characters in the universe.  

Progress on the cases at the CCB has been slow (at least for the CCB). Ghasemy was served with the paperwork in November and December, but he has not responded to any of the cases, other than appointing an attorney to represent him in the matter. 

That said, it appears that a great deal has been going on behind the scenes. Yesterday, on his Patreon, Ghasemy published a farewell post, announcing that, as of today, he would be ceasing operations and taking all his models and works offline. This announcement was met with shock and sadness by his fans, who took to /r/PrintedWarhammer to say their goodbyes.  

According to Ghasemy, he has been “under a lot of pressure these last five months” and “will likely have to file for bankruptcy with the damages of these legal charges being levied against” him.  

He further claimed that, by December, he had made multiple attempts to negotiate with Games Workshop, but those efforts were refused.  

While this brings an end to his operation, it does not bring an end to the case. All the cases before the CCB are still active as of this writing, with the latest filings happening just one week ago. 

Still, the story is an interesting one to look at to understand how the CCB works, how it can help rightsholders and why, in many cases, it is better for both parties in a claim. 

Note: In his farewell post, Ghasemy errantly states that the claims were filed with “the US patent office in Washington, D.C.” The claims were actually filed with the Copyright Claims Board, which is part of the United States Copyright Office.

Background on the Case  

The twelve claims were all filed back-to-back in September 2023 and represent claims 23-CCB-0285 through 23-CCB-0296.  

Though the claims dealt with different works, the allegations were largely the same. They alleged that Ghasemy extracted model files from Warhammer video games and converted them to a format that is usable by 3D printers and uploaded them for free use on the website Cult3D. 

The company then alleged Ghasemy operated a Patreon where, for $8 per month, users can download improved versions of the models with extra support elements. According to Games Workshop, the free Cult3D versions are not suitable for 3D printing, meaning that the Patreon versions enable users to create “replicas of the copyrighted works of the Claimant.” 

In addition to that, they allege that Ghasemy operates an Etsy account where he sold the printed models, often for a steep discount over Games Workshop’s official products. 

Games Workshop claims they attempted to resolve the dispute by filing a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notice with Patreon, but Ghasemy filed a counternotice, alleging that the works were already available freely on Cult3D and, thus, his Patreon was non-infringing. 

Shortly after all the claims were filed, the CCB found that they were in compliance and directed Games Workshop to provide service. The cases were not served all at once, with the first one being served on November 14, 2023, and others taking until December.  

In each claim, the sixty-day clock to opt out began once service was provided. On at least five of those cases, the clock has run out and the board has begun the “active phase” of proceedings. Though Ghasemy may still opt out in some of the cases, he has responded to all twelve by appointing the same attorney to represent him. 

As such, barring a settlement, it’s likely that the board will be hearing all the claims and rendering decisions on them. 

What This Case Means 

To put it mildly, Ghasemy’s position in these cases does not look good. This is something that he himself seems to recognize. 

There’s not much doubt that the 3D models at issue are protected by copyright and are properly registered with the US Copyright Office.  There’s not much doubt that his copying the models and distributing them online, even for free, is an infringement. 

That said, many companies may and do tolerate free distribution. It’s unclear if Games Workshop is one of those companies, but that is a moot point. As Games Workshop noted, Ghasemy has a prominent Patreon that, as of this writing, has 1,214 paid members. That represents $9,712 per month $116,544 per year before Patreon fees. That doesn’t count any revenue from his Etsy store, nor does it count donations from other sources, such as PayPal. 

Though Ghasemy says money is not his “first concern” it’s also clear that he’s made a decent amount of money from this operation. As such, this isn’t a case of Games Workshop targeting a random individual who was creating fan works for free distribution. According to Games Workshop, he was directly copying models from video games and, though his initial distribution was free, was making at least some revenue from them.  

To make matters worse, when he was hit with a DMCA notice, he filed a misguided counternotice, which basically required Games Workshop to take some legal action against him to get or keep the Patreon taken down.  

When you look at these facts, this case would not have been out of place in a federal court. The decision to file it with the CCB was an interesting one. This was something I looked at in the previous post, and noted that the CCB cannot issue injunctions, meaning that the board can’t force Ghasemy to stop the alleged infringement. 

At the time, I speculated that it may be because Games Workshop wanted to save legal costs on a case that had uncertain returns. Despite the revenue earned, there’s little chance that Ghasemy could afford to pay the kind of damages likely to be awarded in such a case, especially given there are 14 works involved. 

That seems to be the case, given that Ghasemy is considering bankruptcy when facing the CCB claims. However, the concern over the lack of an injunction appears to be unfounded as Ghasemy is ceasing operations before the cases have truly begun. 

That said, the ball is very much in Games Workshop’s court at this time. While Ghasemy is yet to file his response to the claims, Games Workshop is getting what they initially wanted in this, namely Ghasemy ceasing operations. It will be interesting to see if and how they respond to this development. 

Though Games Workshop will almost certainly seek some financial damages to deter future infringement, both by Ghasemy and others, Games Workshop’s behavior in this case, both by filing the DMCA notice and filing with the CCB, shows that they aren’t trying to maximize damages.  

In short, there’s still at least some possibility for a settlement, despite Ghasemy’s previous actions and the lack of one so far.

Bottom Line 

To me, this case highlights the power of the CCB as a tool of arbitration and settlement, even if this case hasn’t been settled yet.  

Though the CCB has only ruled on a handful of cases at this moment, it has seen dozens of settlements. The CCB system, by being both streamlined and approachable by laypeople, provides a great tool and framework for encouraging and helping parties work out their disagreements. 

Though the CCB is there to make final determinations, that is, or at least should be, a last resort. 

To be clear, that is also true for the federal court system. Most cases there end in settlement as well. But the cost and complexity of filing a federal case discourages filings there. This is true even among entities that can afford it, especially if they don’t think they can recover enough damages to justify the cost. 

In short, the system provides a path to amicably resolve cases that aren’t practical to file with a federal court. And, though the powers of the CCB are highly limited, as we’ve seen here, it can motivate changes in behavior that may help push a case closer to an amicable settlement. 

Though Ghasemy’s actions prior and after the filing of these claims makes a settlement more difficult, it’s still not impossible. However, if this case were before a federal court, the legal costs alone would likely outstrip any likely settlement amount and any judgement would likely outstrip any amount Ghasemy could reasonably pay. 

In short, Ghasemy was likely right to not opt out and limit the damages that he could be hit with. However, the smart move for both sides would likely be to reach some kind of settlement, especially now that Ghasemy has finally ceased operating.  

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