Given the ongoing discussion of the legal dispute between Stardock and Paul Reiche and Fred Ford, designers of Star Control I and II, I wanted to take time to make Stardock's position clear and address inaccuracies that have been promoted.
As the need arises, I’ll continue to update this post with additional questions and answers.
Q: What are the issues in dispute?
A: On the eve of launch of the beta of Star Control: Origins in October 2017, a game Stardock has spent the past four years working on, Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford, the designers of Star Control II for Accolade 25 years ago announced a new game, Ghosts of the Precursors as a “direct” sequel to Star Control even going so far as to promote it as Star Control: Ghosts of the Precursors.
They did this despite knowing Stardock had acquired the Star Control IP in 2013 and knowing before hand our announcement schedule. Their actions created confusion in the market as to the origin of Star Control games which is why we have trademark laws.
When Stardock asked that they cease and desist marketing their game as a sequel to Star Control they refused and began demanding that the sale of the DOS games, which had been on sale continuously since before Stardock acquired the IP and for which they had been receiving royalties for during the entire time cease and began to disparage Stardock publicly in the press.
Despite Stardock's best efforts to reach a private, mutually beneficial co-existence agreement, Paul and Fred responded with increasingly hostile, misleading public attacks and served Steam and GOG with DMCA take-down notices on all of the classic DOS games, including Star Control 3 which they had no involvement with all while continuing to promote their new game as the "true" sequel to Star Control.
In addition, Paul Reiche and Fred Ford also began to claim that various features of Star Control: Origins violated their copyrights such as the ship designer, user interface similarities and other elements that are not subject to copyright protection (you can’t copyright an idea and Star Control itself was inspired by many other games). They also began to demand special access to Star Control: Origins to inspect it and demanded the removal of the ship designer,
As a result of their broad interpretation of what they believe they have rights to combined with their willingness to instruct their lawyers to issue a DMCA take down notices, even on titles in which they had no involvement in, combined with their refusal to cease promoting their game as the sequel to Star Control, Stardock was forced to file a complaint over their continuing trademark infringement.
In retaliation, Reiche and Ford filed a countersuit seeking to cancel the Star Control trademark and for copyright infringement due to the sale of the classic Star Control games on GOG and Steam and are even suing GOG despite the fact that Reiche and Ford were the ones who claim to have helped get the classic Star Control games onto GOG.
Q: Why did Stardock file the initial lawsuit against Paul and Fred?
A: We had no choice after Paul and Fred filed DMCA claims against the distribution not only of Star Control 1 and 2 but also Star Control 3 which they admit they had no involvement. The DMCA claims were reversed, but it was clear that our ability to create more experiences in the Star Control multiverse for fans would be at risk if they are allowed to continue to misrepresent their new game as being associated with Star Control without a license while simultaneously making broad, unsupportable claims of ownership on ideas and concepts that are present not just in Star Control games but games in general.
Q: How did these unfortunate events come to pass?
A: Here is a timeline of the order of events:
Q: Don't Paul and Fred contend that the 1988 licensing agreement with Accolade has expired?
A: That is their position. However, since the dispute began, Stardock has chosen to err on the side of caution and operate as if that is the case. Stardock requested that GOG and Steam remove the games for sale pending a resolution. The 1988 agreement, however, does not have anything to do with the Star Control trademarks were were always owned by Accolade and were assigned to Stardock.
Stardock's ownership of the Star Control trademark is incontestable. You can review the federal registration that dates back to the 1990s here.
Q: But isn't it true that Star Control: Origins has very similar gameplay to Star Control II? That you explore planets, travel through hyperspace to different star systems, meet with aliens? Couldn't their copyright of Star Control II mean that Star Control: Origins is too similar?
A: You cannot copyright an idea. Putting aside that Star Control itself borrowed many ideas from many other games, copyright protects creative expression. Not game play.
There are articles you can read that discuss this:
Obviously, anyone who has ever played Angry Birds or Candy Crunch already knows this.
That said, Star Control: Origins is not a clone of Star Control II. The 25-year gap in game technology allows Star Control: Origins to deliver a much richer experience. So while the core concepts remain true: You are the captain of a starship traveling through this part of the galaxy, meeting aliens, engaging in battles, exploring planets, the implementation is very different.
In short: Gameplay clones aren't illegal and even if it were illegal, Star Control: Origins is not a clone.
Q: Why does Stardock claim that Paul and Fred were not the creators of Star Control?
A: Paul and Fred were the designers of Star Control I and II. In the credits, on the box and elsewhere they had previously officially listed themselves as either developers or designers.
While Stardock has no objection to “creators” in the casual sense, legally, and when trying to promote a product in commerce, they are not. Most of the Copyrighted material people think of as being important to Star Control was created and owned by others.
For 25 years, Designer was their official designation.
It is Stardock's opinion that they have begun to focus on referring to themselves as "creators" in their marketing in order to give the impression that Ghosts of the Precursors would have the the same creative core as Star Control II. This is not the case.
What most people do not realize is Star Control II had, in essence, the dream Sci-Fi team as mentioned in this 25th anniversary tribute. The lead animator went on to lead the animation at Pixar and is the director of the Minions movies. Many of the alien designs were created by the artist who went on to design Darth Maul and other Star Wars and Marvel movie characters. Many of the most quoted lines came from seasoned Sci-Fi writers. The engaging music was created by others.
We respect Paul and Fred’s crucial contributions as well as the rest of the talented team who worked on Star Control.
Q: Who owns the Star Control trademark?
A: Stardock is the legal owner of the federally registered trademark for Star Control. You can view it here. https://www.trademarkia.com/star-control-75095591.html
Q: What does Stardock want out of this lawsuit?
A: Our ONLY goal is to protect our ability to tell more stories in the Star Control multiverse. We remain fans of Paul and Fred and their contributions to Star Control. However, given the confusion they’ve created in the market by promoting their new game as a “true sequel” to Star Control II combined with their abuse of the DMCA system to take down even Star Control games they had no involvement with, we are forced to act to prevent them from continuing to create confusion.
Consider some of your favorite games or movies. Now imagine if someone instrumental to the development of that game or movie went on to claim to be making a sequel to that game or movie without the consent of the owners of that trademark? What would be the result?
Q: But doesn't Paul and Fred own all the in-game IP?
A: Paul and Fred own whatever IP they created. What that is remains to be seen. Stardock does not claim to own any copyrighted material within Star Control II which is why the new Star Control: Origins is set in its own universe with its own characters and story.
However, as of April 2018, neither Paul or Fred had any rights to any of the art and much of the writing in Star Control II. However, even if they did, it would be irrelevant as Stardock isn't using any copyrighted material from Star Control 1, 2, or 3 in the new Star Control games.
On the trademark side, simply because you were contracted to work on a game does not grant you the right to make a new game and claim it is related regardless of what copyrights you think you may own (otherwise, you could argue that Unity and Epic could start to make sequels to other people's games).
For example, Paul Reiche is the President of an Activision studio. Blizzard is another Activision studio. Stardock was once contracted to develop a StarCraft expansion (StarCraft: Retribution). One can imagine the response Stardock would receive it it were to announce a new game as a "direct sequel" to StarCraft: Retribution.
By contrast, not only did Paul and Fred announce their new game as a "direct" and later "true" sequel to Star Control, they even used the Star Control II box, that was acquired by Stardock, to promote it.
As much as we respect Paul and Fred, the fact is, Paul Reiche was contracted as an independent contractor (not as a company) by Accolade to develop Star Control for Accolade. This is a fairly routine method that developers get products made (Stardock's own Fences, WindowBlinds, Groupy, IconPackager, etc. were developed using the same method).
Q: Do these legal issues have any impact on Star Control: Origins?
Apparently yes. Despite Star Control: Origins having nothing to do with Reiche and Ford's games, they have filed DMCA take down notices to Steam and GOG to take down Star Control: Origins. They claim (with not specificity) that they own copyrights in Star Control: Origins
Game sites don't make legal judgments on the merits. They simply remove the content. No one, to our knowledge, has ever tried to do this on a shipping game before.
You can read our response here.
Q: Why did Stardock trademark Ur-Quan Masters, Super Melee, and other names from the original games?
A: Once Paul and Fred began to challenge the validity of our intellectual property we were forced to take steps to solidify our common law rights. Specifically, Paul and Fred have worked to try to separate Stardock's Star Control mark from its association with the classic games.
The reason companies were bidding to acquire the Star Control trademarks and willing to pay $300,000 for it was for the association with the classic series. The trademarks, being in active use in connection with the beloved classic series, made it valuable.
When Paul and Fred began to seek to cancel the Star Control mark and make public statements that Star Control: Origins isn't related to the classic series Stardock felt obligated to respond by reinforcing its intellectual property rights to the classic series.
As background: Stardock always had the common law trademark to Ur-Quan Masters. It's the sub-title to Star Control II after all and was, by Paul and Fred's admission, available in commerce on GOG even before Stardock was involved. Super-Melee is literally a promoted feature from Star Control. The alien names are so strongly associated with Star Control that if you Google Star Control aliens they come up as the first entry.
They have made it very clear that they believe that they have the right to associate their new game with Star Control on the basis that they have previously licensed content to Star Control games. They have no such right.
Q: Why did Stardock really need to trademark the Star Control 2 alien names?
A: Star Control fans expect new Star Control games to have the Spathi, Ur-Quan, Orz, etc. We originally chose not to include them in Star Control: Origins in deference to Paul and Fred who asked us not to.
However, in December 2017, Paul and Fred posted:
This creates confusion because Stardock alone owns the Star Control universe. That doesn’t mean it owns any lore or stories created by others. It just means that Stardock has the right to determine what is canon in the Star Control universe.
The Star Control aliens are associated with Star Control. That doesn’t mean Stardock can use expressions and stories of those aliens without permission. But it does mean Stardock has the right to create its own stories and expressions for the Ur-Quan, Spathi, etc.
When Paul and Fred were contracted to develop Star Control I and Star Control II for Accolade, they were allowed to keep certain copyrights to the works they created. But all trademarks were explicitly defined as being owned by Accolade.
Incidentally, their name was put into a diagram because they literally announced their game as a sequel to Star Control II. They associated their new game with Star Control, not the other way around.
Q: Is Stardock trying to prevent Paul and Fred from making new games in their universe?
A: No. Stardock wants them to create new games in the universe they created. However, this needs to be handled in such a way that there is no confusion as to the relationship between Star Control and the works they licensed for Star Control II.
Q: If Stardock wants a new game from Paul and Fred, why did the settlement offer that Paul and Fred publicly posted that they claim came from Stardock demand that they "surrender" their IP?
A: It is regrettable that Paul and Fred chose to violate confidentiality and post, without context, a settlement offer. Paul and Fred have been offered many settlement proposals with many different terms and are intended for negotiation by both parties to try to reach an amicable settlement.
Stardock paid over $300,000 for the Star acontrol IP which included the trademark and copyright to Star a Control 3. The Star Control brand is, in our view, far more valuable than any copyrighted material within a 25 year old DOS game. Source code and alien art. Nothing else, as far as we can discern, falls under copyright protection. You can’t copyright “lore” or timelines, or alien names, or game designs or UI.
Thus, all we would gain would be the ability to have Ur-Quan that look just like the old Ur-Quan and space ships that look like the classic space ships. The greater value would be to make sure this kind of dispute didn’t happen again. But that value would still not overcome the damage they’ve caused in the market place due to the confusion on who owns Star Control and the ill will due to their PR company issuing false and misleading press releases and publicizing the dispute in a way to maximize ill will. Not to mention the considerable and rising legal costs.
None of this would prevent Paul and Fred from making a new game if that really is their desire. Stardock, in turn, would have been happy to license, free of charge, any IP they needed to make their new game.
Our respect for the work Paul and Fred did 25 years ago remains undiminished. However, that respect does not give them the right to disrupt our product development at the 11th hour or misrepresent their new endeavors as the "true" sequel to our products.
Our dedication to bringing you a new Star Control game remains unchanged. BETA 2 of Star Control: Origins is due in a few weeks.
For those interested in reading the details, our complete initial filing available online:
Stardock 25th anniversary post documenting the creation of Star Control:
Thank you for being fans of Star Control, and supporting our effort to make a great new game in the Star Control franchise.
And if you have questions that you’d like to see added to this post, feel free to reach out to me directly via Twitter at @kevinunangst
Vice President, Marketing and Strategic Partnerships
There's also a component you can get for your lander to add jumping. I find with jumping, and boost, it makes it fairly easy to get around. Except for those damned trees. Stop me in my tracks all the time.
With the game out and this thread having little resemblance to any Q and A we are going to lock it.
There are many great features available to you once you register, including:
Sign in or Create Account
Thank you! Please check your email for a confirmation link. Once confirmed, you can look forward to receiving exclusive specials and announcements direct from Stardock.
Need to unsubscribe?