The Third Doctrinal War -- Stardock, Reiche/Ford, and Star Control

The game is back now, but the dlc isn’t.

Glad to see the main game back. It would be a shame if the game of seeing how close they can skirt the edge of infringement resulted it getting pulled completely. If it did my reaction wouldn’t rise much higher than “play stupid games, win stupid prizes” at this point, but it would still suck.

Filled with regret that I didn’t think of this phrase first.

I really want to be optimistic and hope that the removal of the Alien Name Grab™ DLC was a gesture of good faith and an omen of settlement. Though as on the steam forums the SD rep didn’t seem to be aware of the removal it being intentional on SD’s side doesn’t seem too likely.

Though with the core game itself reappearing if there is an injunction or some type of court order behind the removal at least it’s not the huge escalation that I initially feared when I saw the disappearances from steam. An injunction again the free DLC can’t seriously be considered an escalation of any kind and hardly something to complain about (not that a way won’t be found of course).

Probably depends on how far up the food chain the SD rep is. Community managers (or PR people) are usually not privy to detailed goings on within a particular company, and I fully expect them to be ignorant of what’s being decided among the upper echelons, viz. the lawyers/Brad/P&F. So this doesn’t surprise me.

From what Frogboy said on UQM, it seems to me that this was a risk-mitigation move, presumably to keep SC:O from getting injuncted. They have apparently removed the Arilou/Chenjesu DLC, removed the use of ‘Melnorme’ and ‘Arilou’ from the game, and redesigned the Earthling Cruiser to be less like the SC2 version, renaming it “Terran Cruiser”.

That said, he was clear that they weren’t conceding anything, and that the outcome depended on the trial or a future settlement.

This line is very intersting

I do not think this passes the “Mr. Spock” test. The name is identifiable as a creation unto itself imho.

I’d say you’re right. If you trademark something unique (like “Spock” or “Arilou”), taken from someone else’s copyrighted materials, you wouldn’t stand a chance in court when the original copyright holder issues a challenge.

Otherwise, I’ll go and trademark “Drengin”, “Yor”, and a whole bunch of other GalCiv races. Don’t worry, I’m sure I can arrange a decent deal for Stardock to license those names back to them. I’m nothing if not reasonable! :-P

And from that post on the UQM forum, this caught my eye:

Someone, not necessarily Paul and Fred, may have a copyright to the way the Melnorme and Arilou were expressed in Star Control 2.

Emphasis mine. Still trying to argue this point, huh?

Just judging the tone of his posts, Brad’s stance does seem to be softening. I’m not saying his claims have changed much, but he’s now talking more about what he’s conceded (Super-Melee, etc) and about how he wishes they could meet face-to-face to negotiate. (He says that in the absence of being able to meet directly, he wants to use public forums like Qt3 and UQM to float settlement ideas… That seems a little bonkers to me, and I would think it would be Brad’s lawyers who would object most to that!)

Anyway, with the DLC being put on ice, these things seem to indicate at least a little more hope that there could be a reasonable compromise made.

I have to say, I don’t appreciate Brad saying “No one has tried to prevent Paul and Fred from making a game.” You’d have to pretend that Stardock’s leaked settlement offer from March isn’t “trying” to do exactly that when it would have forbid them from making such a game for 5 years. Negotiating tool or not, I’d say that clearly amounts to “trying to prevent Paul and Fred from making a game.”

I was confused about something Brad posted there. He showed this Arilou-like image and implied that P&F couldn’t claim it violated their copyright:


Is that the current artwork from their game? It looks different (and a lot lower quality, and frankly more like SC2 in certain ways) than the one they showed most recently.

It makes me think I’m misunderstanding Brad’s point here. Does anyone know what he’s getting at?

Finally, I totally missed the use of a Crimson Corporation logo at the end of Stardock’s last Origins trailer.

What in the world does that refer to? I know that it is among the trademarks Stardock has tried to secure recently (and they put a TM next to it). But it’s used like it’s a real-world entity–a production company or something. All I can think of is that it is either:

  • an awkward attempt to strengthen that trademark claim by using the term in marketing
  • a weird kind of easter-egg use of an in-fiction entity (like, I dunno, a Papers Please trailer ending with “Approved by the Arstotzkan Ministry of Propaganda”)
  • an attempted thumb-in-the-eye to P&F, since they’ve been implying Stardock is like the Druuge organization

Do we have any explanation for that?

The picture is of a Psilon from the rebooted Master of Orion.

Aaaaah, thank you. So the point is that there are enough Arilou-adjacent visualizations out there to keep P&F from being able to claim the SC:O one is violating their copyright.

As long as it is not presented as Arlilou perhaps.

EDIT: Though it is rather odd to make a point by asserting your artwork is closer to other copyrighted material you do not own.

I’d be worried about this too. Still, Brad seems happy enough with this argument!

No, I think the argument is simply that the Arilou, the Psilons, and the Stardock aliens (whatever they end up calling them) are all based on the concept of “Greys”, so that P&F cannot claim that the Stardock aliens were ripped off from the Arilou. Quite frankly, it’s obvious that Brad has no idea about how copyright and IP in general works, so I only hope that he has a lawyer that can explain it to him. Which, considering the DLC has been removed, might be the case?

When it comes to copyright infringement, there are multiple boxes you need to tick before you can be taken to court. A direct copy is the most obvious form of infringement (e.g. plagiarism), but there’s loads of grey area in between something truly original (let’s assume there’s something that can qualify as truly original) and a blatant clone. Brad’s argument is that they’re free to use something that looks like the Arilou, as long as they don’t call them the Arilou and don’t incorporate any unique traits associated with the SC2 aliens (hence his emphasis of the word “expression”, etc.).

Which is fair, by the way. You can create something that’s similar in spirit but not an outright copy. That’s how culture works, basically. Adopt, adapt, improve, and so forth. So Stardock’s obviously free to use a “Grey”-inspired alien in their game. Along similar lines, you can create a scifi game or TV show with a Proud Warrior Race that’s similar to the Klingons but not actually Klingons (insert Star Trek: Discovery joke here) without infringing on any Star Trek IP, etc.

This reminds me of one of the laugh out loud moments from earlier in the thread.

“Next time you watch TV, start picking out all the things they do where the only thing they did was change the name but otherwise it is identical.”

“you forgot to change the name.”

It is good to see the recent moves, but as people have pointed out it appears that the stance hasn’t really changed.

One of the things I find annoying is how the strawman argument is still being made that P&F or anyone on their side is claiming that you can copyrights names or that you can copyright ideas. The concept of substantial similarity has been explained to him clearly multiple times in this and other forums and he still chooses to completely ignore the concept in order to throw out bullshit about how people are claiming you can copyright ideas or how P&F’s list of similarities means they think they own the concept of space exploration. So while their public actions have taken a step back from the precipice, it seems the self-delusion is still in full swing. The reality distortion bubble has warped a bit but it appears to remain intact.

This is one of the things that is just unconscionable for me. He’s flat out lying when he repeats this line. There are a lot of statements where one can be generous and assume some misunderstanding rather than an outright lie but this is not one of them. There is no wiggle room. No weasel words or special definition that can make this even remotely true. When you’ve said that something will be made under your control or not at all saying you aren’t trying to prevent it’s making is simply an outright lie.

It’s like someone pointing a gun at their partner and saying “If I can’t have you nobody else can” and then claiming “but I’m not trying to prevent you from seeing other people”.

I’m not sure that’s entirely fair.

Some of Brad’s posts here have gone some way to explaining his perspective - which appears to be that by acquiring the trademark they acquired the rights to the goodwill in the Star Control brand and that actions by P+F that damage or exploit that goodwill are tortious. The lawsuit then becomes a matter of Stardock seeking to enforce their rights rather than trying to prevent P+F making an independent game using the SC IP. I think he’s said in the past that he believed that if P+F wanted to make a Star-Controlish game they would have to negotiate with Stardock for pretty much this reason.

All of this is of course based on a serious misapprehension regarding the way trademark rights work (It’s a shame that Brad hasn’t offered his take on the Guitar Hero / Harmonix / Rock Band example, although I appreciate why he might have wanted to stop posting in the thread), but it does at least offer an explanation for Stardock’s actions which while I wouldn’t describe it as “innocent” nor would I compare it with someone pointing a gun at their partner.

I do get what you are saying. I do not believe it is the core intent, or was the original intent, to prevent GotP from being made. That’s not the primary goal. But it is what they are trying to do and saying one thing while doing another remains dishonest in my book.

The settlement demand speak for itself. As does the “free to do what they want as long as it’s under my control” definition of freedom.

Still recent events are hopeful. A week ago I would have bet in a second on this going to trial. Even if the removal of the Alien Name Grab™ DLC was not really an olive branch and just a move to protect the release it is still a demonstration that the heels aren’t dug in to hard.

I think there’s a definite glimmer of hope in a proper settlement along the lines of; Stardock makes games under the brand “Star Control” that don’t follow the original story, setting, etc. P&F make games that do follow the story that are not branded under Star Control. The potential infringing fan content is handled by DMCA like it is done near everywhere else. P&F still get to mention they were behind the original games (exact terminology can worked out). Everyone releases a nice “yeah that sucked, we’re cool now” statement. Perhaps with some quips about how they first decided to settle their differences over a game of Frungy but after several months of trying to figure out the rules they called the whole thing off and settled.

Brad’s pretty clear in that UQM post about why he bought the trademark:

The value of the trademark was completely about the awareness it would generate. Its association with the classic Star Control games is valuable. That is the whole point of acquiring an existing trademark like Star Control.

The problem is that he doesn’t seem to understand that what he bought was the trademark, and that he didn’t have any rights to any of the actual copyrighted material from SC2 outside of whatever might have been covered in an agreement spilling forth from the publication of SC3.

This I found illuminating:

While no doubt some fans would have been upset if Glen A. Larson didn’t approve of the new BSG, most fans wouldn’t have cared.

He’s made the BSG comparison before, in the sense that Origins is to SC2 as the rebooted Battlestar Galactica was to the original one. But the key difference is that Stardock doesn’t own the original SC2 IP in the way that the studio/producers/whoever owned the rights to BSG (as a property, both the trademark and the copyright). Even still, when the rebooted show kicked off with the mini-series, Larson complained and was awarded a credit as the writer (creator!) of the original show

Larson was later credited as “consulting producer”, in the same way that Roddenberry was on Star Trek: The Next Generation after the first season or two, when he basically had zero control. The position is mostly ceremonial; just an acknowledgement of the person’s contributions to the IP in question in the past. (One could imagine a settlement agreement in which P&F are credited as “consulting producers” to Star Control: Origins, for example.)

Of course, one of the arguments that Brad’s trying to make is that P&F didn’t actually create Star Control, which is patent nonsense. Unlike Larson (and Roddenberry), they didn’t do their work “for hire”, and all the agreements make clear that they own the copyright, though the court case will no doubt clarify further what they do and don’t own exactly. But as with Larson and Roddenberry, there really shouldn’t be any doubt as regards their contributions, or those of their collaborators. I mean, people acknowledge the contributions of other writers to these works in question (e.g. Ron Moore for BSG, people like Dorothy Fontana and Gene Coon for Star Trek, and so on; Greg Johnson for SC2) without that diluting the copyright issues or who should be properly credited as the original “creators” of said works.

As to whether or not fans of BSG cared about whether or not Glen A. Larson approved: Dirk Benedict wrote a screed in which he decried the fact that Starbuck was going to be played by a woman, and there were plenty of old-school fans who didn’t like the show (especially before it aired). So it’s not so much that fans care whether or not the original creator approved (Roddenberry hated Star Trek II, for example), but rather whether or not the fans think the new thing is actually good.

Edit: or to put it simply – you can do a BSG-style reboot of a thing only if you own more than the trademark. Otherwise, it’ll just be a “spiritual successor” (but otherwise original IP) that just happens to have the same name. P&F’s Ghosts is actually intended to be the mirror image of Origins: a true successor to (the story of) Star Control 2, without an entirely different name. It seems to me that Brad thinks that having the trademark automatically gives him certain rights to the IP as a whole.