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Star Control Rights Follow-up

The conflict between Stardock and Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III recently reported here was a little hard to sort through, as Ford and Reiche suggested Stardock has no rights to sell the older Star Control games or use certain Star Control assets, and Stardock indicated they have every right to sell the games and that they have no intention of using the assets in question. Each side has followed up on this to clarify (or possibly further confuse) the situation (thanks Rollory). Fred and Paul have a new blog post making the case for their ownership of rights to sell the older game, saying this was something confirmed by GOG.com. They also say they are working on getting these games removed from Steam, since they are being sold there by Stardock. They also say they have terminated their agreement with GOG.com and are removing the games from that service as well, though it's not clear how this relates to the Steam situation (our vast team of lawyers is on vacation, and not available to help us understand this). Stardock responds with further thoughts on the right to use game assets, and relevant to the more recent post from Ford and Reiche, says the pair have produced no legal documents to support their claim that they have the rights to sell the older games, while Stardock has signed contracts to that effect. In a more recent post, Stardock's Brad Wardell further discusses the rights to sell the DOS versions of these games. Here are both sides of the story, starting with Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III, aka Toys for Bob, from the Dogar And Kazon blog:

We've decided to stop selling our old games, because:

  1. We think it's necessary to 'clear the decks' to help resolve our definitely-not-harmonious, until-recently-private, months-long conflict with Brad Wardell and his lawyers at Stardock.
  2. The Ur-Quan Masters HD Project is a free, vastly superior experience. Did we mention it's free? Fans have been dedicated to improving UQM for 15 years and it is awesome! Hopefully Star Control I and III will also become available for free in the near future.

Why was it okay to sell the games on GoG, but not on Steam or elsewhere?

The simple answer is because we have had our own direct distribution agreement with GOG since 2011 and no agreement with Stardock or Steam or anyone else. If you're into details, here goes:

  • In April 2011, we learned that Star Control I, II and III had been re-published on Good Old Games (GOG) ó a big surprise since the games hadnít been sold for years and no one had contacted us for permission to do so.
  • We reached out to GOG who said our games had been offered to them by Atari as part of a large batch of older Atari products. We then contacted Atari to let them know that we were the original authors and owners of the copyright to the games and that we had not given permission for them to republish our work. Atari checked with its lawyers and wrote back confirming our claims, apologizing to everyone for the mistake and informing GOG to remove the games from sale and pay any royalties earned to us.
  • Instead we suggested a way that GOG could continue to sell our games. GOG signed separate, independent contracts with: Atari to license the Star Control trademark, and us to license the rights to the games themselves. GOG has been selling the games and paying us directly ever since.
  • 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.

Here's the more recent post from Stardock's Brad Wardell from the Star Control Discussion Board:

Nothing has changed in the sense that the Accolade Star Control games have been digitally distributed for sale since at least 2011 -- years before Stardock was involved.

Paul apparently made similar claims to us as they did in the post and we asked them to show us any documentation to back up that claim, even an email from Atari would have sufficed and they refused.

It's not like the games sell a lot of units. We have a lot of titles available through many channels and the DOS games, admittedly, are not at the top of our priority list. But our publishing team isn't going to just drop products when we have a written and signed agreement. When they brought this up we said that this was a perfect example of why we need some sort of agreement to clear this up.

They seriously need to stop making these kinds of blogs and speak to an IP attorney. This drama is really unhelpful.

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