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


So how could this big, stupid mess have been avoided or stopped in it’s infancy?


So many points at which things could have turned. The likelihood of any of them happening in different timelines is debatable.

If Stardock hadn’t picked up the trademark as a consolation prize after not getting MOO, which was more in the ballpark and had no existing IP conflict.

If P&F had decided to license the material or come work for Stardock.

If Stardock has stuck to it’s original stated plans and not used anything from SC2.

If Stardock hadn’t filed a lawsuit under the apparent assumption the other side wouldn’t fight back.

If during that lawsuit Stardock had not started not only publicly asserting rights as if the suit was already decided in their favor, but actually created content on the basis that they already had those rights.

It’s amazing when you back over the landscape of the debacle from this distance. A reality bubble was created founded on the absolute unshaking believe in Stardock’s interpertation of copyright and trademark law. Based on that reality bubble since there was no possible way Stardock could lose the case, since you can’t copyright names after all, they took actions. Except those actions happened here in the real world, not the Stardock reality bubble. Now, watching the results of those actions through the wall of the reality bubble there’s disbelief and rage since this violates the fundamental law of the reality bubble. The scripture, the absolute law, is recited over and over while pointing at the events happening outside the bubble. You can’t copy right names you can’t copyright ideas, you can’t copyright a color. People in the bubble chant back the mantras and post rage filled memes. Yet reality remains unaffected.


This coupled with a real material effort to support Paul and Fred instead of trying to supplant them would have made a light year of difference.


IMHO? One email.

Brad could have sent an email to Paul back in 2012/2013, to make sure that Paul was actually interested in working with him, before blowing $300k of his company’s money on the Star Control trademark. I think that everything else has snowballed from that oversight.


Another one is if Stardock had actually accepted P&F original settlement offer, or had at least tried to flesh it out to protect it’s interests and then settled. Instead they gave into the reality bubble and made hardball the game of the day.

Another hilarious way in which Stardock has completely screwed themselves is with the handling of the settlement offers. Their crying about the offers being made public led to a ban on public discussion of offers. The cut the mic right after presenting their worst possible face, and P&F presenting their best. Now that the upper hand had clearly shifted I’m sure P&F’s settlement offer isn’t quite as friendly as their first one. I’d be really surprised they weren’t demanding at least a cut of sales. If it could Stardock would certainly be using these less kind offers in their PR campaign. They gave P&F completely cover to offer hardball offers without any public backlash.


2007 when he was trying to involve himself in the brand. Listen to the notes not being played in this song:


All these Stardock reasons and no P&F ones?

How about as soon as P&F stop receiving royalties they investigated and dealt with the dangling threads of their most beloved games in the 12 years they had before it was auctioned off.


P&F tried to negotiate to buy the TM directly from Accolade, but were unable to come to terms.

Other than that, there were certainly things they could have done that would have made their current situation stronger, like registering their copyrights and getting proper work-for-hire statements up front from the other contributors, but I don’t know if any of them would have materially changed the outcome.

Actually, there’s one: If they hadn’t used the box art in their GotP announcement, and had remembered to add a “‘Star Control’ is a registered trademark of…” notice at the bottom, Brad might not have felt that he had enough leverage to sue them in response. I’m not sure what would happened in that timeline; P&F would still have probably DMCAed the old games, but Stardock wouldn’t have quite as much leverage against them, so maybe it would have been less rigid in negotiations.


Yeah, and it helps that the original creators of DK/DK2 didn’t retain their copyright, but that it’s in the hands of a corporate entity instead (which probably considers Dungeon Keeper a dead franchise until such time that they can revive it again for some kind of abysmal mobile project or whatever). And that EA wasn’t doing anything with Dungeon Keeper, and that Overworld (and even more so Dungeons) have added their own twists on things, etc.


I think so, too. I mean, for example, those blog posts by Brad about how they just happened to have designed these grey aliens that looked exactly like the Arilou (what a coincidence!), and they figured, “Ah well, why not just name the Arilou? We love SC2 and who would mind, really?”

Brad also sent out loads of emails while Origins was in development. I barely read any of them, but I’d be surprised if those aren’t a gold mine of information, too.

I’m happy they didn’t, though! The new MOO turned out pretty good, in my opinion (my review here). I would have hate for it to have been “Stardocked”! :-P


That was discussed some posts back. Though while getting into an expensive IP lawsuit to invalidate the trademark earlier would have avoided this expensive IP lawsuit, the end result is still a big expensive IP lawsuit.


It doesn’t seem like the lack of royalties would be unexpected. During a large chunk of time after the release and before the dispute there wasn’t really a distribution channel for old games. Once GOG came around and the game was sold on there P&F asserted their rights and Activision agreed and they worked out a percentage split. So it’s not like they hadn’t been defending their rights or that they were in any real dispute until basically Stardock sued them.


In the midst of all this acrimony, can we take a moment to praise the wisdom and foresight of Soren Johnson in getting out of the Stardock building right before all this went down?



I’m amazed at your ability to not only decide exactly what happens in a hypothetical past, but also it’s monetary value to one party and it’s outcome.

I guess you are right. This lawsuit has been unavoidable since Star Control was created and P&F just had to be passive long enough to trigger it.


Speaking of the building another thing I saw somewhere recently is that Stardock’s office building was mortgaged and their offices put up for lease back in October. There’s a real estate listing with pictures of the offices and you can see a gal civ 3 poster still up.

It looks like Stardock was already ramping down months ago. It also may be an indication they badly overextended themselves developing SC:O.


The precedent is that it has become widely known that major online retailers will enforce DMCA orders regardless of legal merits, to avoid any legal danger. You just need to create enough noise. Cutting off a producer from major distribution channels is not a small thing.

“Aggravating” a party can be done in many ways, sometimes unconsciously or by being a “good citizen” calling out bad practices.


That’s not remotely what I said. Please try address what I actually wrote.


How exactly does it do that? You’ll need to demonstrate that the decisions of Steam and GoG were done without regard to legal merit.

We don’t know if Stardock even filed a counter notice yet. It’s early to make predictions of doom and precedent.


The “precedent” here is about a product that’s being litigated, has ended up with Valve being dragged into the case, and has probably eaten up hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyer time before even getting to discovery. That’s a pretty high bar.

What do you mean by this? This case had a tiny publicity footprint until after the takedowns made it blow up, so I don’t understand how “creating noise” would have affected whatever decisions Valve made.


This DMCA situation with Steam and GOG is so so far from a generic case or anything that will set some sort of precedent.

The only precedent it sets is, if you are making a game using disputed IP, and you start a lawsuit over that IP, and you make part of that lawsuit about prior games sold on Steam and GOG making it possible that those two parties can be brought into the lawsuit, and then you release your game while all this is going on, you can get DMCA’d.

There’s a really really important difference between the situation surrounding this DMCA than any other. Because Stardock made an issue of the sales of SC1&2 on GOG and Steam, P&F were able to bring them into the suit. They are now a party to the dispute that the DMCA pertains to.


If I’m Steam and I got sucked into a lawsuit between two parties pissing on each other, what’s the incentive for me to continue to list the title in question, even baring a DMCA notice?