This is long but this should walk readers through why Paul and Fred are categorically mistaken in what they think they “own” as well as the repricussions of their actions.
Fundamentally, the community is split on this issue which is not a good thing.
I also want to reiterate that when PF announced Ghosts we tried to be supportive. I made many posts trying to support it and we were very open to the idea of more games in the Star Control multiverse — provided that the parties understand that Stardock owns Star Control and how it is used.
There are two issues. One involves, at most, a few thousand dollars of dispute. The other involves millions of dollars.
I’ve seen a lot of posts that don’t recognize the asymmetry of the dispute.
On the one hand, PF fans focus a lot on the copyright dispute and whether the 1988 agreement is in effect or not. Stardock’s complaint doesn’t touch on that because the IP in SC2 is messy (lots of creators).
If the 1988 agreement expired, it means the old games can’t be distributed, the total amount collected from Steam is around $10,000 of which PF were sent royalties for. If the 1988 agreement expired, they could argue that up to the remainder of the $10k would be owed to them. There are no statutory damages involved because they had no federal copyright at the time they claim infringement began (and you can’t do it retroactively). And if it expired, that would be counter to the Impression PF gave in 2013.
In any event, it seems petty to me for them to have spent months calling me, personally, a thief. Hiring a PR agency to issue a press release calling me a thief and doing a media tour attacking us was not helpful to them as it has made it much harder to find a win-win.
Simply put, if PF had shared with us the Atari GOG email chain they posted in March back at the start we wouldn’t have put the games on Steam. This is not an admission that we believe the agreement has expired but simply recognition that the issue was murky enough not to bother with given how miniscule the sales of 25 year old games are.
On the other hand, their actions have caused a great deal of confusion. The UQM forums and Reddit are rich sources of examples. They literally promoted their game as the true sequel to Star Control at the same time we were releasing the open beta of the new Star Control game. And they knew before hand our dates and plans.
We have a valid federal trademark for Star Control which means there are statutory damages. We don’t have to “prove” anything regarding its validity because it is already assumed valid. It was in active use, explicitly, by Atari and acknowledged by PF to be in use by Atari, at the time we acquired the Star Control IP in connection with the classic games (for example, GOG).
We are confident that we will be able to show that the confusion they have generated has cost us several percent losses in sales which translates to millions of dollars in revenue.
Paul and Fred have no rights to Star Control beyond what specific copyrights (common law or otherwise) they can show to hold. This might include DOS source code, alien paintings, ships (maybe, if 32x32 pixel ships can be covered). So far, we’ve seen no evidence to support any of the above. Their one copyright, filed a couple months ago, has none of this. It does include the user manual.
You cannot copyright a name. For instance, nothing would stop Elestan from making a game with Spathi in it except possibly a trademark claim if it created a false association with Star Control OR copyright if the art used to express them was substantially similar to the Spathi depicted in Star Control 2. You cannot cooyright a description (“they’re cowards”) and there is not nearly enough development to protect any of them, even Fwiffo, as a character (James Bond, Rocky, etc. have enough development to gain such protection but that is a massive gulf).
Future Star Control games will have the classic Star Control aliens in them. For years, our position was that we would not use the classic Star Control aliens. I’ve even previously said that PF had common law copyrights on them (because like most people here, I believed their claims).
We held this position because PF asked us not to and said they wanted to continue their story and we wanted that too. But it was always assumed that even if they wanted to work on it themselves, they’d do so as an authorized Star Control game. When they made it obvious that they didn’t believe we have rights to the Star Control aliens (not just what they might have copyrights to but even the names) we had no choice but to defend our rights.
Only the most unreasonable person would argue that Star acontrol games can’t have Star Control aliens simply because an independent contractor of Accolade’s claims rights to names he may or may not of randomly generated 28 years ago. Sorry, I can admire someone’s work without instilling upon him extralegal rights.
Someone might argue that PF “created” the Orz but the evidence actually doesn’t indicate they did. However, even if they had, it was as an independent contractor for Accolade and all they would have is any copyright over the expression of the Orz. It wouldn’t prevent Accolade (or us) from having Orz in our game, it would only prevent a derivative of that artistic expression of the Orz.
This is why conversations on games can’t be compared to a book. A game is made up of many many different types of IP. Art, music, source code, the manual. Those are the primary assets that can have a copyright. Ideas, concepts, names, game designs, themes, plots, descriptions, timelines, recipes, cannot be copyrighted.
I want to apologize to the community that any of this has happened. It won’t affect the development of the new Star Control games and you can still play Ur-Quan Masters for free. We will do all we can to ensure that both Star Control: Origins and the classic DOS game timeline stories are able to coexist and evolve in a way that satisfies the fans.