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Stardock and the original Star Control developers are brawling over the series rights

In space, everyone can hear your legal problems

Up until this month, it was easy to get excited about the future of Star Control. After 20 years of false starts, we were getting not one but two successors to the classic space romp. The original designers, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche, were working on a direct sequel to Star Control 2, Ghosts of the Precursors, while Stardock was working on a prequel, Star Control: Origins, set in a different universe. Now the two games are lamentably part of an increasingly public dispute between Ford, Reiche and Stardock CEO Brad Wardell. It’s getting ugly.

It all kicked off -- at least in public -- on December 1 with a blog post from Ford and Reiche. “Unfortunately there appears to be a growing legal conflict between us and Stardock,” it began. The issues largely surround the sale of the original Star Control games. In 2013, Atari sold the name, trademark and certain elements from the Star Control series at auction, which Stardock purchased. The pair contend that Stardock has no rights to the first three games, nor should it be able to sell them.

Stardock currently sells all three of them on Steam.

One of the things that sticks out is this line: “It’s our opinion that Atari’s rights to publish our earlier games terminated over a decade before the auction.” On the surface, it looks like Atari agreed, at least at one point. In 2011, Atari started selling the series through GOG without permission, prompting Ford and Reiche to get in touch. According to them, Atari conferred with its lawyers, confirmed that a mistake had been made and apologised. This led to GOG making a deal with the original creators for the game license and Atari for the trademark so they could continue to feature in the store.

The implication from this is that Atari knew that it didn’t have permission to sell the games, and Stardock could not have purchased those rights when they bought the trademark in 2013.

The next day, Stardock’s Brad Wardell hit back with a blog post of his own.

First, as many people know, the classic Star Control games have been available for sale long before Stardock acquired the rights from Atari four years ago. For the entirety of the time we have held the rights, they have been getting paid for those sales. If they had an objection to the games being sold this is something that could and should have been addressed before we were ever involved.

Wardell also noted that, when Stardock acquired Star Control from Atari, they also got publishing agreements to the franchise. “The short version is that the classic IP is messy,” he added. Wardell also responded to Ford and Reiche’s claim that Stardock was using their “aliens, ships and narrative” without permission, as Star Control: Origins is set in a different universe before the first game.

The dispute carried on yesterday, when Ford and Reiche published a second blog post regarding the unexpected decision to remove the original games from GOG. It was in this post where they relayed the story of how the Star Control games ended up on GOG and their deal with Atari. The pair seem to now want Star Control to be expunged from all stores.

In October of this year, history repeated itself when Stardock began selling our games on Steam and elsewhere (even bundled with theirs), again without getting our permission. This time we couldn't come to an agreement, so we asked that Stardock stop bundling and selling the games. They refused, so we've decided to end our 2011 distribution agreement with GOG as a first step to having the games pulled down.

Wardell then updated his original post with another response and a challenge.

Paul and Fred continue to make unsubstantiated claims regarding the DOS-based Star Control games. If they have any documentation to provide evidence to their assertions, we have yet to see them.

He went on to allege that Stardock has “perpetual, exclusive, worldwide licensing and sales agreement” that came from Atari, and before that Accolade, and includes the signature of Paul Reiche. He also criticised their tone in earlier correspondence from when they first announced Ghosts of the Precursors, claiming that they were vague and full of demands.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like anything is going to be settled amicably.

“With all due respect to Paul and Fred, they really should talk to competent legal counsel instead of making blog posts,” Wardell wrote in his blog post.

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