There's been a long-running dispute over the Star Control series of games and things have taken a significant turn. The original designers of the game, Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford, have issued a DMCA takedown of Star Control: Origins, which is a reboot of the franchise developed by Stardock. This has resulted in the game being removed from Steam and GOG.
PC Gamer reported the takedown, noting at the time that removal from the GOG marketplace was expected. Currently, the base game has been removed while the original soundtrack, season pass, and DLC are all still available. Those who already own the game on both platforms should be able to play with no problems.
Here's an excerpt from the Steam post published by the Stardock team, which also included a link to the full story of this dispute:
As some of you may know, there is a legal dispute between Stardock and Reiche and Ford regarding the trademarks and copyrights pertaining to Star Control.
Unfortunately, rather than relying on the legal system to resolve this, they have chosen to bypass it by issuing vague DMCA take-down notices to Steam and GOG (who, btw, Reiche and Ford are suing using GoFundMe money).
Steam and GOG both have a policy of taking down content that receive DMCA notices regardless of the merits of the claims.
We attempted to get a preliminary art injunction to prevent them from issuing more false DMCA take down notices. Unfortunately, the court ruled that it wasn’t the courts place to intervene in the area of DMCAs. Thus, here we are.
To my knowledge, never in the history of our industry has anyone attempted to use the DMCA system to take down a shipping game before. For example, when PubG sued Fortnite for copyright infringement, they didn't try to take Fortnite down with a DMCA notice.
For those not familiar with copyright law, you CANNOT copyright ideas, individual or short phrases, concepts, mechanics, game designs, etc.
Star Control: Origins is our own creation without relying on the work of Reiche or Ford. We spent 5 years working on it making it our own game. It very much plays like you would expect a Star Control game. But that has nothing to do with copyright. It has its own story, setting, plot, and all new characters. It exists in an entirely new universe.
Reiche and Ford chronicle their perspective on their own website, including the rejected proposal from them that included these bullet points:
- Both sides agree not to interfere with each other’s new game development moving forward.
- Both sides agree to contribute SCI, SCII and SC3 to the Ur-Quan Masters open source project for non-commercial use and to stop selling the games through any channels.
- Both side agree not to “pass off” or “free ride” on the other’s good will or reputation.
- Fred and Paul won’t infringe on the Star Dock’s trademark and Stardock won’t infringe on Fred and Paul’s copyrights.
- Fred and Paul won’t challenge Stardock’s trademark registrations for “Star Control” and Stardock will withdraw their recent trademark applications for the “Ur-Quan Masters”, “Super Melee” and other various alien races from the classic games.
- Both sides do their best to avoid confusion as to the origins of their respective new games.
- Both sides will publish an agreeable statement explaining the settlement.
- Neither side will disparage the other.
- Each side will pay their own expenses and attorney’s fees.
- Either side may disclose the final settlement agreement to anyone.
There's no statement from Reiche and Ford on the most recent developments in this Star Control dispute with Stardock. Stay tuned to Shacknews for additional updates.
Charles Singletary Jr posted a new article, Star Control: Origins pulled from Steam after DMCA takedown
That really sucks. Its still available on Humble bundle.
Gotta say I side with Reiche and Ford on this one.
I'm leaning towards Star Dock. Both Sides do not have 100% ownership but Star Dock has a paper trail and securing the rights that were legally available for purchase. Reiche and Ford have been more concern with stopping Stardock out of some sense of pride. They tried to get activision to by the rights. They passed Star Dock bought them.
Eh, how legally they were available is questionable.
There is no contest that Stardock owns the trademark for the name "Star Control" in at least the context of video games, as well as all the copyrighted materials not based on content from Star Control 1 & 2 contained in Star Control 3.
There's some fuzzy stuff beyond that which Stardock does have fair claim to, related to marketing materials and terms used by Accolade/Atari to promote the games, but I don't think any of the trademarks are active, and the contracts are pretty webby and I'm not 100% sure if art based on the art in the game would return to the defendants or if, because it was used for marketing, stayed with Accolade.
Stardock's ownership of the IP beyond that it is, at best, murky and thus is the contest of the current litigation.
I am not a lawyer, but I gotta say based on what I've skimmed, it doesn't look hot for Stardock.
I watched a YouTube video a while back on the topic. Basically a lawyer that goes over explaining interesting cases.
Based on the contents of that video, short of Reiche and Ford actively fabricating email chains and contracts and submitting them as evidence, I'd say Stardock is fucked. Ford and Reiche have the original contracts showing ownership of the Star Control 1 and 2 copyrights reverted to them due to, essentially, inactivity. Accolade owned the trademarks and sold those to Stardock, but couldn't have sold the copyrights because they didn't own them at that point. If I remember right, the contract between Accolade and Stardock didn't explicitly include those copyrights, either.
That's bad enough, but email chains between Reiche/Ford and Stardock indicate that Stardock knew they didn't own the copyrights. They were trying to get Reiche and Ford to sell them. Reiche and Ford refused, so Stardock just said "fine, we'll do it anyway." That would make it willful infringement, not simply a mistake due to misunderstanding the contract(s).
Yeah, assuming that the evidence submitted by the defense (as described in the public documents) is real, it sure seems like Stardock/Wardell are unlikely to win either lawsuit.
And thus far, based on my reading, the judge hasn't found much of the plaintiff's evidence nor arguments to be very persuasive.
Near the end of the most recent motion filed, the judge quotes a line from another case:
"[T]he court is ill-inclined, at this late hour, to pull [the
plaintiff’s] chestnuts out of a fire sparked by its own ill-fated tactical decision.”
Yup, that's them. A coworker occasionally puts them on while a bunch of us are eating lunch. I've only watched the first of the relevant videos, though.
Yeah so I thought Stardock looked bad before... they're pretty fucked from the looks of it.
it says something that the game Stardock made doesn't have any aliens or plot from the original two games. not sure what, outside of that they knew there was some uncertainty with the rights and limited the scope of the games content around it.
It is such a stupid situation that could have been avoided so many ways.
Like, for instance, the plaintiffs (Stardock) could have not started a lawsuit that puts the ownership of the IP at the heart of the litigation.
The plaintiffs could have refrained from announcing a release date, but instead they announced one well after said litigation had started. Which put the release channels and many of the customers in a knowingly precarious state, one that the plaintiffs are entirely at fault of.
Also the plaintiffs could have not pushed their luck and integrated copyrighted materials they don't own into Galactic Civilizations 3, Star Control: Origins, and the SCO DLC. That seems to me like it probably would have prevented the counter-suit or at least the DMCA use.
And sure, maybe the defendants (Reiche & Ford) would have eventually sued the plaintiffs on their own without the instigating lawsuit in their direction, but it seems like all the plaintiffs had to do to get away with probable copyright infringement was to allow the defendants their pretty clearly fair use of the trademark that the plaintiffs own.