Given the recent press on the topic of the legal dispute between Stardock and Paul Reiche and Fred Ford, designers of Star Control I and II, I wanted to take time to make our position clear and address inaccuracies being promoted.
As the need arises, I’ll continue to update this post with additional questions and answers.
Q: What are the issues in dispute?
A: Decades after their work on the classic DOS game, Star Control II, Paul and Fred announced a new game, Ghosts of the Precursors as an official sequel to Star Control. Their actions create confusion in the market as to the origin of Star Control games which is why we have trademark laws.
In retaliation to Stardock's trademark complaints, Paul and Fred object to the sale of the DOS games being sold online, despite the fact that they’ve been for sale online since before we acquired Star Control from Atari. Their contention is that the licensing agreement for their characters and lore has expired thus terminating the right to sell and distribute the old DOS games.
Despite Stardock's best efforts to reach a private, mutually beneficial co-existence agreement, Paul and Fred continually responded with increasingly hostile public attacks and served Steam and GOG with DMCA take-down notices on all of the classic DOS games all while continuing to promote their new game as the "true" sequel to Star Control.
Q: Why did Stardock file the initial lawsuit against Paul and Fred?
A: We had no choice after Paul and Fred filed DMCA claims against the distribution not only of Star Control 1 and 2 but also Star Control 3 which they admit they had no involvement. The DMCA claims were reversed, but it was clear that our ability to create more experiences in the Star Control multiverse for fans would be at risk if their false claims remained unchallenged.
Q: How did these unfortunate events come to pass?
A: Here is a timeline of the order of events:
- Stardock acquires the Star Control brand, copyright to Star Control 3, the license to the Star Control classic characters, lore and the right to distribute the classic DOS games. The DOS games are already available on GOG with Atari listed as the publisher. (2013)
- Stardock meets with Paul and Fred in person to discuss plans for a new Star Control. They state that their employment by Activision prevents them from working on a new Star Control game and request that we not use the aliens from Star Control 2 but do not contest Stardock's right to do so. (2013)
- Paul and Fred ask what Stardock acquired from Atari:
- Stardock offers to transfer all rights to Star Control, including all trademarks and distribution rights, to Paul and Fred at cost in the hopes that Paul and Fred will develop a new Star Control game (even if it doesn't involve Stardock). The cost is $300,000. Paul and Fred decline. (2013)
- Stardock announces a reboot of Star Control and explicitly states that it will not include the characters from the classic series out of respect for Paul and Fred. (2013)
- Stardock spends the next 4 years and millions of dollars developing Star Control: Origins. (2013-2017)
- Stardock provides Paul and Fred regular updates on progress including video of pre-alpha footage, design notes, screenshots. Relations are amicable and supportive. (2013-2017)
- Stardock updates Paul and Fred on Star Control: Origins release schedule and begins planning its 25th anniversary which will include releasing the classic games onto more channels. The games are submitted and approved by Steam in preparation (Summer 2017).
- Stardock asks Paul and Fred if they would like to be involved in a 25th anniversary promotion of Star Control II to celebrate their accomplishments. They decline (Summer 2017)
- Paul and Fred contact Stardock to inform them that they will be announcing a new game that will utilize the characters from their universe. (Fall 2017)
- Stardock asks that they coordinate these announcements together ensure there is no confusion. Stardock asks, multiple times, to set up a phone call so that they can "brainstorm" a win-win solution. Paul and Fred decline. (Fall 2017)
- Paul and Fred, for the first time, claim to Stardock that the 1988 agreement expired "long ago". Stardock asks for any documentation, emails, or anything to back up that claim. Stardock states that it has no problem with Paul and Fred creating a new game provided that it is not associated with Star Control. (Fall 2017).
- Paul and Fred, knowing the date Stardock was planning to announce the Fleet Battles beta, preemptively announce Ghosts of the Precursors as a direct sequel to Star Control II; use the Star Control II box (which is owned by Stardock) as the only art on the page for it; promote it to the media and to social media as the "true" sequel to Star Control.
- The media follow-up by referring to it as "Star Control: Ghosts of the Precursors". (October)
- Stardock moves forward on its 25th anniversary plans, release the beta of Star Control: Origins - Fleet Battles beta and relaunches the classic DOS games for the 25th anniversary. (October)
- Paul and Fred's attorney contacts Stardock's CEO. This is the first time lawyers have been involved. Lawyers take over. (October)
- Paul and Fred reject numerous attempts to create a co-existence agreement that would permit Ghosts of the Precursors to go forward independently. (November)
- Paul and Fred begin to make public defamatory blog posts and tweets about Stardock.
- Paul and Fred file DMCA notices against Steam and GOG not just for Star Control 1 and 2 but also Star Control 3 which Stardock holds the copyright for and that Paul and Fred had no involvement in. (December)
- Stardock's attorneys file a suit against Paul and Fred for trademark infringement and other causes of action. (December)
- Paul and Fred's attorney files a lawsuit against Stardock alleging copyright infringement and other causes of action. (February).
- Paul and Fred's PR firm releases a press release to the wire services accusing Stardock of "copyright theft" do press interviews attacking Stardock.
- This post is made.
Q: Why does Stardock claim that Paul and Fred were not the creators of Star Control?
A: Paul and Fred were the designers of Star Control I and II. In the credits, on the box and elsewhere they had previously officially listed themselves as either developers or designers.
It is Stardock's opinion that they have begun to focus on referring to themselves as "creators" in their marketing in order to give the impression that Ghosts of the Precursors would have the the same creative core as Star Control II. This is not the case.
What most people do not realize is Star Control II had, in essence, the dream Sci-Fi team as mentioned in this 25th anniversary tribute. The lead animator went on to lead the animation at Pixar and is the director of the Minions movies. Many of the alien designs were created by the artist who went on to design Darth Maul and other Star Wars and Marvel movie characters. Many of the most quoted lines came from seasoned Sci-Fi writers. The engaging music was created by others.
We respect Paul and Fred’s crucial contributions as well as the rest of the talented team who worked on Star Control.
Q: Who owns the Star Control trademark?
A: Stardock is the legal owner of the federally registered trademark for Star Control.
Q: What does Stardock want out of this lawsuit? Is your goal to put Paul and Fred out of business?
A: Our ONLY goal is to protect our ability to tell more stories in the Star Control multiverse. We remain fans of Paul and Fred and their contributions to Star Control. However, given the confusion they’ve created in the market by promoting their new game as a “true sequel” to Star Control II combined with their abuse of the DMCA system to take down even Star Control games they had no involvement with, we are forced to act to prevent them from continuing to create confusion.
Consider some of your favorite games or movies. Now imagine if someone instrumental to the development of that game or movie went on to claim to be making a sequel to that game or movie without the consent of the owners of that trademark? What would be the result?
Q: But doesn't Paul and Fred own all the in-game IP?
A: Our complaint has not involved any of the copyrights of Star Control 1 and 2. We have operated on the assumption that those copyrights are held by their respective authors. Our complaint is that Paul and Fred have, after a quarter-century and right as the marketing of Star Control: Origins is ramping up, decided to announce a game and claim it is related to Star Control creating market confusion and putting us in the position of having to compete for the good will and reputation that is exclusively held by the trademark holder.
Just two examples where our own box art is used to promote a competing title:
Q: Do these legal issues have any impact on the development of Star Control: Origins?
A: Not at all. The team is focused on making the best Star Control game yet and we’re making fantastic progress every week. You can read the latest update on the game’s development here.
Q: Why did Stardock trademark Ur-Quan Masters?
A: Our actions continue to be in the interest of protecting Star Control and our ability to create and share more Star Control assets to the community in the future (including releasing the source code of Star Control III, which we own, as well as future Star Control Origins and content) without fear that Paul and Fred would claim that we are creating "confusion" by doing so. As background: Stardock always had the common law trademark to Ur-Quan Masters. It's the sub-title to Star Control II after all and was, by Paul and Fred's admission, available in commerce on GOG even before Stardock was involved.
Q: Paul and Fred have released an email chain between themselves, Atari, and GOG in which Atari admits they do not have the rights to distribute the classic DOS games. How does this affect things? [UPDATE]
A: It doesn't affect our case at all. Our complaint isn't about the distribution of the classic DOS games. It is about their trademark infringements. The questions to ask: Have Paul and Fred tried to associate their new game with Star Control? Have they represented it as being associated with Star Control II? The answers are yes, and this creates confusion in the marketplace and unfair competition.
Paul and Fred had the opportunity to acquire the Star Control IP. They declined. Now, after many years, they 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.
And reading the exchange they published, we're glad that they have provided documentation confirming they were aware of Atari's (and now Stardock's) trademark rights, which we hope will lead to a speedy resolution.
Our dedication to bringing you a new Star Control game remains unchanged. BETA 2 of Star Control: Origins is due in a few weeks.
For those interested in reading the details, our complete initial filing available online:
Stardock 25th anniversary post documenting the creation of Star Control:
Thank you for being fans of Star Control, and supporting our effort to make a great new game in the Star Control franchise.
And if you have questions that you’d like to see added to this post, feel free to reach out to me directly via Twitter at @kevinunangst
Vice President, Marketing and Strategic Partnerships