Okay, so to be fair to the hard-working game developers at Stardock, they should be able to show off Origins on that other thread without getting swamped by the legal drama that’s playing out between Stardock and Paul Reiche III & Fred Ford, the creators (indisputably, if you ask me) of the classic Star Control games.
I have become a little obsessed with the ins and outs of the case, just because it’s both interesting and tragic. That resulted in the extensive timeline below. I welcome any additions, corrections, or clarifications anyone has to the timeline.
Even though both sides should probably shut up, I have a feeling we’ll have more blog posts and news items in the future. So those can go here.
Accolade Inc. and Paul Reiche III enter into a license agreement to develop the Star Control series. The agreement was to run as long as the licensed work generated royalties of at least $1,000 per year. In the agreement, Paul Reiche owned “the copyright and all other proprietary rights in the Work” and Accolade owned the copyright to all derived works created by Accolade and the title and trademark for Star Control. Also, if Accolade were to become bankrupt, the rights to “all Work or Derived Work” would revert to Paul Reiche. (2)
Star Control I is released by Accolade.
Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters is released by Accolade.
Accolade and Paul Reiche agree to an addendum to the license agreement allowing Crystal Dynamics to publish a version of Star Control II for the 3DO, which was released in 1994. The agreement also states that the product development term between Accolade and Reiche was over. (2)
Accolade and Paul Reiche agree to another addendum to the license agreement allowing Accolade to create Star Control III, licensing some characters and content from Star Control & Star Control II, owned by Reiche in exchange for an advance and royalties. (2)
Accolade releases Star Control III, developed by Legend Entertainment.
Accolade meets with Paul & Fred and requests to purchase all the rights to Star Control & Star Control II from Paul & Fred. No agreement was arrived at. Accolade attempted again to purchase or license the content of the Star Control universe from Paul & Fred in November and December of this year, but Paul & Fred did not agree. (2)
Accolade and Paul & Fred negotiate a third addendum to the license agreement, with Accolade receiving the rights to make “new versions and sequels” to Star Control & Star Control II in exchange for an advance and royalties paid to Paul. The term of the agreement was three years, which could be extended by another three years if Accolade published a new Star Control game in that time. They never did so. (2)
Infogrames Entertainment S.A. announces it has acquired Accolade Inc., thereby acquiring the publishing rights to the Star Control series and trademarks for the name. Infogrames later acquires Hasbro Interactive, which included the Atari name and properties. Between 1999 and 2008, parts of Infogrames would operate under the Atari name.
On this date, according to the 2018 counter-claim by Paul & Fred, by the terms of the license agreement with Accolade, all “proprietary rights in and to any source code, names (of starships and alien races), characters, plot lines, setting, terminology unique to the Star Control products, and music” reverted to Paul Reiche III due to the failure of Accolade to pay royalties for the sale of Star Control & Star Control II since sometime in 2000. (2)
Paul & Fred release the code and assets for Star Control II (3DO version) to the Star Control community, making them open source, and kicking off the “The Ur-Quan Masters” project to fix and update Star Control II and maintain it as a free download on the web.
Infogrames files a declaration of use and incontestability for the trademark to the name “Star Control,” having been assigned the trademark by Accolade in 2002. Because Accolade had not paid royalties since 2000, Paul & Fred claim this filing was fraudulent. A similar filing was made by Atari in September of 2007. (2)
Paul & Fred attempt to negotiate with Atari (Infogrames) to publish Star Control and Star Control II on the online game service Gametap, but an agreement was not reached. (2)
Atari releases a Flash game called “Star Control.” It is developed by Iocaine Studios in four days. A day later, Atari applied to the US Patent and Trademark Office for renewal of their trademark.
Infogrames buys out the publicly held Atari Inc., eventually rebranding itself as Atari, S.A.
Star Control & Star Control II become available for sale on GOG.com. Soon after, Paul & Fred alert GOG and Atari that the products cannot be sold without the agreement of Paul & Fred, as copyright holders. (3)
Atari, having had their lawyers examine the license agreements, confirm Paul & Fred’s claim and apologize. They ask GOG to remove the games from GOG.com and to transmit all revenues for their sales up to that point to Paul & Fred. Paul & Fred continue to talk with Atari about the possibility of an agreement to distribute the games on GOG. (3)
Eventually, Atari, GOG, and Paul & Fred come to an agreement and sign separate digital distribution agreements to sell the games on GOG, with 25% of net revenue going to Atari and 25% of net revenue going to Paul & Fred. (3)
Star Control III is released on GOG.com.
Atari US files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Atari fails to find a buyer for its full catalog and begins auctioning its assets separately.
Atari auctions its Star Control assets to Stardock for a reported $300-400k. (1)
Paul & Fred acknowledge in an email that Stardock owns the trademark for the Star Control name. (1)
On his online forum, as part of an early announcement to fans, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell states, “Atari doesn’t actually own the copyright on Star Control 1/2 so it’s not like one could make a Star Control 2 HD or what have you without a license from Paul Reiche. And even if we did have rights to SC 1/2 I wouldn’t touch them without his blessing.” (4)
-Stardock announces that it has acquired the rights to Star Control and intends to make a reboot inspired by Star Control II.
-Brad Wardell introduces himself to Paul in an email, announces his intent to make a new Star Control game, and asks to use Paul & Fred’s universe in exchange for royalties. He also asks if they would like to help make the new game. The next day, Paul & Fred respond saying they are willing to consider the possibility of a deal, and inform Brad of the status of their copyrights on the Star Control games as well as their distribution agreements with GOG. Brad responds “that is my reading of the agreement too.” (2)
Brad asks again that Paul & Fred be involved in the new Star Control game and that they license their characters, etc. for it. (2)
Brad asks again if Paul & Fred would collaborate on the new game, and they respond that they “probably would not.” Brad asks again about licensing the universe from Paul & Fred. After not getting a response, Brad asks again on August 14. (2)
-Paul & Fred respond to Brad saying they would not participate or license their work for the Stardock Star Control game, stating that they plan to return to the universe themselves one day. (2)
-A later Q&A by Stardock gives a different version of the above discussions, saying the three met “in person” and that it was specifically Paul & Fred’s employment with Activision that was preventing them from taking part in Stardock’s reboot. It also states that Paul & Fred didn’t want Stardock to use their Star Control aliens and lore, but that Paul & Fred never contested Stardock’s right to do so. (In fact, Paul & Fred had contested exactly that, and Brad Wardell had himself confirmed that a license would be needed.) (5)
Stardock offers to transfer all rights and assets they purchased from Atari to Paul & Fred for the price Stardock paid (between $300-400k). Paul & Fred ask for clarification about the exact assets that were acquired from Atari (answer: the trademark and publishing rights to the three classic games). Paul & Fred refuse. Stardock later states this offer was “in the hopes that Paul and Fred will develop a new Star Control game (even if it doesn’t involve Stardock).” (1) (5)
Stardock again offers to sell the Atari assets to Paul & Fred as they are starting to ramp up development on what will be Origins. Again Paul & Fred refuse. (1)
-Brad gives an interview in which he states that he’s been talking “quite a bit” with Paul & Fred, that their work at Toys for Bob and deals with Activision are the main obstacle to them working on Star Control: Origins, and that he will be “talking to Paul and Fred as we go forward.” He references “Super Melee” mode, the stand-alone combat mode from Star Control II, as also being a feature in Origins. (6)
-Brad emails Paul & Fred multiple times and states that Stardock wouldn’t use any of the lore or races from Star Control & Star Control II without their permission, but asked about the possibility of licensing some characters. (2)
-Paul & Fred meet Brad at the Game Developers Conference. Brad again asked them to help on the new game and they refused. (2)
-At a Star Control II postmortem on-stage at GDC, Paul & Fred are asked about the Stardock Star Control game. Their answer is that Stardock is making a game using the Stardock trademark, but “all the material, all the aliens, all the story belong to us.” They confirm they are not involved in Stardock’s product.
Brad again emails Paul & Fred, stating that Paul & Fred own the lore from the Star Control classic universe and that Stardock would not be using that IP without their permission. He asked again if he could license some elements of that lore. (2)
Paul & Fred reiterate that they will not license anything to the new Stardock game. (2)
Brad asks Paul & Fred in an email if he can license races from Star Control for his game Galactic Civilizations III. (2)
Brad contacts Paul & Fred to ask if they could work in the future on something in the “Ur-Quan universe” (Paul & Fred’s Star Control & Star Control II universe) and inquires about a special update to the digitally sold classic games for the upcoming 25th anniversary of Star Control II. (2)
Stardock officially announces Star Control: Origins.
In honor of the impending 25th anniversary of Star Control II, Stardock sends Paul & Fred a status update on the game and asks them to participate in an interview about the game. They decline. (1)
Brad asks Paul & Fred if he can license ships from Star Control II for the Super Melee mode in Origins. (2)
Brad tells Paul & Fred they will be releasing the Super Melee beta soon and asks if they would object to the inclusion of ships from Star Control & Star Control II. (2)
-Paul & Fred respond to Brad and inform him that they will be working on a “sequel to Star Control II as a passion project” and will be retaining all their Star Control IP for that project. According to Paul & Fred’s 2018 counterclaim, Brad responds later and claims (contra numerous other emails written in the past) that Stardock has the license to use Paul & Fred’s universe under the 1988 Accolade license agreement without needing their permission. (2)
-According to a 2018 Q&A on Stardock’s website, after learning about Paul & Fred’s plans, Brad asked repeatedly for a call with Paul & Fred to coordinate their announcement with Stardock’s project plan for Origins to ensure there is no confusion in the market about either product. Paul & Fred decline. (5)
-Paul & Fred write to Brad, saying, “Despite your suggestion below, you do not have a license to use our IP. All rights to our work reverted to us long ago. You (and Atari) previously acknowledged same. Further, time and again you have asked for a new license, notwithstanding our consistent rejections. Kindly do not use our IP in your game. If already added, please remove it before release.” (2)
-Brad responds and says “there is no disagreement that you own the IP,” but claims that Stardock has the publishing rights and licenses to the IP under the 1988 agreement. He says he is not putting anything from Paul & Fred’s universe in Origins. Later he sends another email claiming the 1988 license agreement was still in effect. (2)
-Paul & Fred write to Brad insisting the 1988 license agreement with Accolade was expired. They also note that using Super Melee in Star Control: Origins was not authorized by them, and asked that it not be used. Brad responded later threatening litigation. (Stardock claims they agreed to not use the name “Super Melee” as a show of good faith. It is replaced with the name “Fleet Battles.”) (2) (5)
-Sometime around this date, according to the February 2018 Stardock Q&A, Brad asked Paul & Fred for a written agreement stating that Stardock would not use any intellectual property from Star Control or Star Control II as long as Paul & Fred did not infringe on Stardock’s trademark of Star Control, that they allow Stardock to review their new product announcement, and that they two parties coordinate to keep their respective announcements 90 days apart. Paul & Fred refuse. (5)
Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford announce Ghosts of the Precursors on their new blog at dogarandkazon.squarespace.com. On the page, they refer to themselves as “Creators of Star Control II” and refer to the game as a “direct sequel to Star Control II.” The website includes an image of the original, Accolade-published box art for Star Control II. They also release tweets stating “Star Control II is getting a sequel,” using the Accolade box art, and using the hashtag “#starcontrol”. (7)
-Stardock releases Star Control & Star Control II (under the name “Star Control: The Ur-Quan Masters”) along with Star Control III for sale on Steam. Unlike with the GOG releases, there was no negotiation or agreement made with Paul & Fred. (2)
-Ars Technica publishes an interview with Brad about Star Control Origins. It includes a chart intended to show how the various Star Control games relate to each other in Stardock’s “multiverse.” The chart shows a space for Paul & Fred’s recently announced sequel. Brad has stated that it was meant to give room for the development of their game without disrupting the development of Origins. (8)
-Stardock claims to have first become aware at this time of the sale of the classic Star Control games on GOG.com. (1)
-Around this time, Stardock updates its Star Control website, with new renditions of classic Star Control II races (Spathi, Orz, and Yehat) on the website header. (9)
Stardock files for a trademark for the term “Super Melee.” (10)
Stardock requests that Paul & Fred’s deal with GOG to sell Star Control I & II on GOG.com ends, as it is a violation of Stardock’s trademark. (1)
-Stardock releases the first closed beta version of Star Control: Origins. Art in the beta version includes images of Ur-Quan and Spathi ships from Star Control & Star Control II. (https://store.stardock.com/images/product_gfx/SCO-2.png)
-Stardock also posts to their blog about the 25th Anniversary of Star Control II, specifically highlighting the people other than Paul & Fred who contributed to Star Control II, such as Greg Johnson, Iain McCaig, Erol Otis, and many others. (11)
-Paul & Fred’s blog is updated to refer to Ghost of the Precursors as a “direct sequel to The Ur-Quan Masters,” removing reference to it as a sequel to Star Control II. A footer reading “Star Control is a registered trademark of Stardock Corporation” is added to the website. (via Internet Archive Wayback Machine)
-A new blog post on Paul & Fred’s blog insists that Accolade/Atari/Stardock’s rights to publish the Star Control games ended when the license agreement ended, sometime in 2000. They also state their anger at Brad for presuming to designate some place in Stardock’s Star Control multiverse for their upcoming game and for using their names without permission. (12)
-The Stardock Star Control website is updated around this time to remove new renditions of Star Control II races from the website banner. (via Internet Archive Wayback Machine)
-Paul & Fred send a notice of infringement to Steam and request the removal of the classic games from the storefront. Stardock sends a counter-notice. The games remain on the Steam store. (2)
Brad Wardell posts an official response to Paul & Fred’s claims on the Stardock forums. It claims:
- Paul & Fred have been getting paid for the sale of the games since before Stardock acquired the publishing rights, so if they had objections to that, they could have dealt with them years before.
- Stardock is not using any of the aliens from the classic series in Origins.
- Stardock doesn’t think it is commercially viable to build on the 25-year-old Star Control II story.
- The IP ownership is messy and Stardock would prefer to create a new agreement with Paul & Fred that clarifies things.
- They have “nothing but respect and admiration for Paul and Fred and wish them well in their new project.” (13)
-Paul & Fred ask GOG.com to remove Star Control & Star Control II from the GOG store. On their blog, they explain that the games sold on GOG were under license and thereby valid, but now they are requesting them to be removed because of the conflict with Stardock regarding sales through other sites (Steam). Later, Stardock convince GOG to return the games to the store. (14)
-The official Stardock forum post on the subject is updated to address the new claims from Paul & Fred: Stardock claims to have a “perpetual” licensing and sales agreement for the Star Control games from Atari. Another update describes changes to the distribution agreements with GOG, but the exact changes are unclear. Brad states he’d like to craft a new agreement instead of arguing publicly. (13)
Stardock Systems, Inc. file suit against Paul Reiche III & Fred Ford in US District Court for the Northern District of California for trademark infringement, unfair competition, false designation of origin and trademark dilution. This suit claims, among other things, that Paul and Fred’s claim to be the “Creators of Star Control” is false, on the grounds that Accolade was the publisher and other people assisted in making the game. (1)
Paul and Fred’s lawyer files a claim for registration of copyright of Star Control II with the U.S. Copyright Office. Into January, an email and telephone conversation ensues with the result that Paul and Fred are able to register only the game code for copyright. Copyrights on art and text in the game are unable to be secured due to the lack of work-for-hire contracts or written agreements with outside contributors. (21, Exhibit T)
Stardock files for a trademark on the name “The Ur-Quan Masters” (the subtitle for Star Control II and also the name of the free open source version). They later describe this as an attempt at “protecting Star Control and our ability to create and share more Star Control assets to the community in the future…without fear that Paul and Fred would claim that we are creating ‘confusion’ by doing so.” They claim to have always had a “common law trademark” on the phrase. (15)
Stardock posts a new Q&A about the dispute to their website. Some of its claims:
- The original announcement of Ghost of the Precursors as a sequel to Star Control II created confusion in the market about the two games. (Despite Brad promoting GotP as a part of his “multiverse” in October.)
- Stardock sued Paul & Fred because of their copyright claims against distribution of the classic games on GOG and Steam. In particular, Stardock claims that Paul & Fred definitely can’t make such a claim in regard to Star Control III, but they did. (Note: SC3 licensed some content from P&F from the earlier games.)
- Paul & Fred are “attempting to exploit the renewed interest in the Star Control brand with the announcement of their own game and claiming it is a sequel to Star Control.”
- Paul & Fred are simply the “designers” of Star Control II, which is not the same as being the creators. (Note, this ignores the fact that Fred was the sole programmer on Star Control II.)
Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford issue a counter-claim against Stardock Systems, Inc. They are suing for copyright infringement, declaratory judgment regarding ownership of copyrights, unfair competition, and the cancellation of Stardock’s trademark of the Star Control name. It claims, among other things, Stardock’s legal actions at the end of 2017 to be “a transparent effort to steal [the rights to Star Control and Star Control II] from Paul & Fred,” rights that Paul & Fred claim Stardock had acknowledged in the past.
Stardock starts filing for trademarks to numerous names from Star Control & Star Control II, including: Ilwrath, Pkunk, Arilou, VUX, Melnorme, Orz, Ur-Quan, Syreen, Spathi, Sndrosynth, Chenjesu, and Yehat (the last filed on March 8).
Stardock offers to Paul & Fred a settlement proposal, which they publicly described on March 19 on their blog and then published directly on March 24. The settlement demanded among other things that Paul & Fred surrender all their IP claims, not make a game similar to Star Control for the next 5 years, issue a public statement supporting Star Control: Origins, and pay Stardock $225,000. Stardock called Paul & Fred’s summary of the settlement offer “inaccurate,” at least partly because the public statement was not an “apology,” as Paul & Fred referred to it. (16) (17) (5)
Along with copies of the actual Stardock settlement offer, Paul & Fred also publish their own settlement offer. Theirs includes making all three classic Star Control games open source–a la The Ur-Quan Masters; leaving Stardock with the Star Control trademark and name, while Paul & Fred control the aliens and lore from the classic games; and both attempt to avoid confusion between the titles and to avoid disparaging each other in the future. Stardock respond by calling the posting “misleading” and imply it is part of a PR attack on Stardock to “misrepresent their efforts to protect the Star Control IP.” (17) (5)
Sometime in April (according to Stardock in a joint discovery letter in June (20)) P&F requested and received the rights to some of Star Control I&II’s content from the authors who worked on it. This indicates that the rights to some content could be considered to have reverted not to P&F, but to the original writers/artists/composers, in the case of a failure to pay by Accolade and later trademark owners.
Stardock removes all the classic Star Control games from Steam and GOG as a “gesture of goodwill to make clear that our goal in this dispute is only to protect our Star Control rights and not any claims on the original DOS games.” (19)
A joint discovery brief is filed with the court in which P&F argue for the quashing of a subpeona of Singer Associates, the PR firm hired early on in the dispute. P&F claim the documents being subpeonaed are covered by attorney-client privilege, which Stardock denies. More pertinently, the two sides clash again in footnotes over the claims of P&F to be “creators” of the series. Stardock backs up its case with the claim that many individual content creators only recently assigned their rights to P&F, after the dispute began. (20)
Paul & Fred make a new post to their blog announcing a GoFundMe page to help them pay their legal fees. They estimate their fees will be around $2 million. (18)
Both parties file amended claims. Stardock’s amended claim takes aim more directly at the question of whether Paul Reiche owned the copyright to the work done by other contributors to the game, and again questions Paul and Fred’s status as “creators” of the franchise. It formally incorporates trademark claims on many race and feature names (the ones filed for officially in February), including “Ur-Quan Masters”. (21)
Paul and Fred’s amended counterclaim outlines the purported uses of Star Control II aliens in Star Control: Origins, recreations of the Star Control II starmap and ships using the content creation systems, and Stardock’s recent trademark filings for alien and feature names, using these as evidence to support the claim that Stardock always intended to take the characters and storylines of SC2 for Star Control: Origins. (22)
Both parties file reply briefs, outlining point-by-point their objections to the others’ suits. (23, 24)
(1) Stardock Complaint for Trademark Infringement, etc., Filed: 12/08/17
(2) Paul Reiche III & Robert Frederick Ford Counterclaim, Filed: 2/22/18
(3) Blog post “…REPORT FROM SURFACE…” on Paul & Fred’s website, dogarandkazon.squarespace.com. 2/27/18
(4) Forum post on Little Tiny Frogs (Wardell’s personal website). 8/21/13
(5) Forum post on Stardock’s Star Control website, “Q&A Regarding Star Control and Paul and Fred”. 2/22/18
(6) Ars Technica interview, “Stardock CEO reveals details about new Star Control title in development”. 1/3/14
(7) Blog at dogarandkazon.squarespace.com, 10/10/17 (via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine)
(8) Ars Technica article, “Stardock CEO talks Star Control: Origins’ player crafting and upcoming beta”. 10/19/17
(9) Stardock’s Star Control website at starcontrol.com. 10/30/17 (via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine)
(10) United States Patent and Trademark Office, Trademark Status & Document Retrieval
(11) Stardock blog post, “Star Control II: 25th anniversary - On the shoulders of giants”. 11/16/17
(12) Blog post “THERE WERE MANY GREAT BATTLES… AND SOME OF THEM INVOLVED LAWYERS.” on Paul & Fred’s website, dogarandkazon.squarespace.com. 12/1/17
(13) Forum post on Stardock’s Star Control website, “Stardock response to Paul and Fred”. 12/2/17
(14) Blog post “Star Control® I, II and III aren’t for sale on GOG.com anymore – How come?” on Paul & Fred’s website, dogarandkazon.squarespace.com. 12/4/17
(15) United States Patent and Trademark Office, Trademark Status & Document Retrieval
(16) Blog post “Strange Settlement on an Alien Planet” on Paul & Fred’s website, dogarandkazon.squarespace.com. 3/19/18
(17) Blog post “Nope and Nope” on Paul & Fred’s website, dogarandkazon.squarespace.com. 3/23/18
(18) Blog post “Now is the Time for the Frungy Defense Fund!” on Paul & Fred’s website, dogarandkazon.squarespace.com. 6/22/18
(19) Blog post “Q+A regarding Star Control and Paul and Fred” on Stardock website, stardock.com. 2/22/18, updated 3/30/18.
(20) Joint Discovery Letter Brief. Filed 6/21/18
(21) Stardock Second Amended Complaint for Trademark Infringement, etc. Filed 7/16/18.
(22) Paul Reiche III & Robert Frederick Ford Amended Counterclaim, Filed: 7/16/18.
(23) Paul Reiche III and Robert Frederick Ford’s Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Stardock Systems, Inc’s Second Amended Complaint, Filed: 7/31/18
(24) Plaintiff and Counterdefendant’s Answer and Affirmative Defenses to Defendants’ and Counterclaimants’ Amended Counterclaim, Filed; 7/31/18