Stardock owns Star Control and is planning an "XCOM-like" reboot

I am pretty sure their copy of that agreement came from us.

It’s not relevant to Stardock’s complaint because it’s purely about trademark.

Now, if Star Control: Origins had the Ur-Quan and Spathi and such, then that agreement would matter because then it came down to who owns it. My personal public position has been and continues to be that Stardock does not own any of those characters or stories. So there’s really nothing to dispute.

If they had a problem with the old games being sold online, then why wasn’t that dealt with years ago? Why now? I love the classic games but you can download UQM for free online. The sales on the classic series is a handful of units a month at most.

“The sales on the classic series is a handful of units a month at most”

That sure seems worth deciding to put them up for sale under what appears to be a very shaky legal footing for possessing the distribution rights to do so.

But it didn’t seem shaky at the time they were put up for sale, right?

That decision was made before we even acquired it from Atari. So why be mad at us?

Just to drive that point home:

After Stardock acquired the rights to Star Control – where SC 1,2,3 were already being sold digitally btw and had for some time, it had this conversation with Paul and Fred:

(this is literally exhibit E from the complaint)

So if selling the classic games online was “shaky”, 2013 would have been a good time to bring it up.

Oh, not mad (that looks to be the Star Control fan upthread), just fascinated.

Star Control: The Ur-Quan masters was published on Steam by Stardock when exactly? I’m just looking over the 1988 agreement and the Stardock/Atari purchase agreement and being a bit boggled at whatever review led to the conclusion that would include distribution rights, much less distribution without a contractual agreement with the present copyright/IP holder.

Exhibit E doesn’t really mean much here. If they had previously negotiated an agreement for the digital sales on GOG in 2011, even if one assumes that they might agree that Stardock had acquired the ability to enter into a distribution agreement with them, it doesn’t mean that they have entered into an agreement with Stardock that covers, well, say putting Star Control up on Steam with Stardock as the publisher. Or to put it bluntly: they were busy running Skylanders and assumed if you wanted to put the original games up for sale you’d contact them about doing a distribution agreement like they had previously done with GOG.

I don’t see any communication between the parties about anything like that in the Stardock filing.

I might add, if Stardock only actually published the old games in 2017, around the time Star Control Origins went up for pre-order, then Stardock might open themselves up to charges that they are marketing something they don’t actually have the rights to market in order to boost visibility and desirability of their own product.

At least, if lawsuits were flying, that’s what I’d be worried about at this juncture.

I dunno, it seems pretty crystal clear to me. I’m no lawyer but I know what the IP lawyers have said.

Well, they are certainly going to get a lot of billable hours out of their advice!

Hopefully Paul and Fred win this thing.

Is this a correct layman’s interpretation?

Paul and Fred owns the IP of Star Control. Additionally they want to be able to sell SC1-3 online.

Stardock disputes that right. It claims the right to sell SC1-3 for itself.

Basically, the ownership of the software products SC1-3 and who can sell it is in dispute.

Edit: Since the sales is so small, why not gift the products to Fred and Paul? Is there some ramifications or something?

I think that 3 is not really in dispute, no one wants it but Stardock has it. :)

Note: I’m not a lawyer.

Stardock owns the trademark to Star Control. That means they own everything associated with Star Control other than what is explicitly exempted.

Paul and Fred claim to own copyrights to source code, characters, and settings that they licensed to Accolade in 1988 for the sale and distribution within Star Control.

Paul and Fred claim that this license agreement expired in 2002 and therefore the game should not have been being distributed after that point but it was.

In 2017, Paul and Fred announced Ghosts of the Precursors as a “direct sequel” to Star Control II which Stardock claims is a violation of their trademark as it creates confusion in the market place. Stardock is correct if people believe that Ghosts of the Precursors is associated with Star Control II.

Paul and Fred then objected to the continued sale of the DOS games and demanded that the titles be removed from Steam and GOG and filed a DMCA against Steam and GOG to remove them (including Star Control 3 which they weren’t involved with) but were unable to demonstrate any legal standing and the titles were reinstated.

In response, Stardock filed a complaint in federal court over the continued trademark infringement by Paul and Fred by doing PR around Ghosts and insisting that it is the “true sequel” to Star Control II.

Paul and Fred then responded by countersuing for copyright infringement because the DOS games being sold on Steam and GOG contain their copyrighted characters and story under the legal theory that the original licensing agreement has expired.

That’s my best crack at it. Bear in mind, I’m biased but I think that’s a reasonable summation of events.

Not entirely. But please bear in mind that I can be wrong here as IANAL and all that. Also, some of this is coming from the Ars article.

Ownership is disputed by both parties. This is more important for the games in development than the existing titles.

They already are, according to the Ars Article:

Stardock is the one selling them on Steam, which they started doing after the alleged purchase of the license. The purchase is disputed because of a previous agreement that allegedly already gave the rights to Ford and Reiche (or just Reiche, I’m not 100% clear on who owns what) when Accolade went belly up.

Mind you, that’s going to get determined legally. But that seems to be their claim.

The bigger stake is who is allowed to make a new game called Star Control, I think. But both sides are saying the other shouldn’t be selling any of 1-3 now.

I am not in a position to answer this question.

Thanks for the explaination. Hope you guys can settle. Seems to me like case of escalation and retailation that started with Stardock having to defend the usage of the trademark.

The points you presented, e.g. regarding sales on Gog etc, contradict the way Brad presented it. Hmmm.

That just makes me wonder even more on why Stardock bothered with a branding that isn’t going to bring many sales and doesn’t even add much to the game (no lore, no races, no ships, no characters, no visual style, no sound, no music…). That’s gotta be some strong love to make a spiritual relative. I’m not sure it will actually be one, but it looks fun, anyway.

What got it started was when they sent a DMCA notice to GOG and Steam to remove Star Control 1, 2 and 3.

The DMCA against Star Control 3 is what escalated things because Stardock literally owns the copyright on that title and if they were willing to send a DMCA take down notice for a game they had no involvement with that created an unacceptable risk for future Star Control efforts.

To my knowledge, Paul and Fred only claim to own the races (characters) and lore.

They definitely have no right to visuals, sound or music and Star Control: Origins has the same lead composer as Star Control II had.

The purpose of owning Star Control is the good will and reputation associated with Star Control. People know what type of game it is instantly.

What makes Star Control special is the unique combination of many different elements. It is one of the few franchises where you go to be captain of a starship that is going on story-driven adventures.

If Stardock had made the same game but it was called, say, Stellar Frontier, they would have had to explain that it’s basically like Star Control.

I seem to recall early Mass Effect coverage in which people were describing it as a remake of Star Control. Not sure if anyone remembers any links to some of that.

I imagine it’s just pedantry to say so, but what the hell: I think Mass Effect is more of a spiritual successor of Starflight than SC, partly since it’s the less arcadey of the two and also precedes Star Control by several years, and many felt SC kind of picked up the baton from Starflight as well. But since I love all three series of games, it’s hard for me to pick favorites.

Hey, Brad, since you’re being so forthcoming (I imagine your lawyer twitching as you type), can you tell us: If Stardock gets the outcome it wants, would Paul and Fred–after paying damages and agreeing to not make mention of Star Control any longer–be legally able to make a game about space exploration with quirky alien characters? The Ars Technica article implies not, but I don’t see that anywhere in the text of the suit–maybe I’m just illiterate in legalese.