Star Control: Origins is back on Steam

Update: More than two weeks after it was removed, Star Control: Origins is back on Steam. It's not known what changed to enable the game's return, and Stardock CEO Brad Wardell said on Twitter that he's not able to discuss the matter publicly.

Star Control: Origins currently remains unavailable on GOG, however. I've reached out to Star Control creators Fred Ford and Paul Reiche for comment, and will update if I receive a reply.

Original story:

The designers of 1990 MS-DOS game Star Control have issued a DMCA takedown notice against Star Control: Origins, Stardock's RPG reboot of the series. The game has been removed from Steam and Stardock expects it will be removed from GOG, too.

The Stardock team said anyone who has bought the game will be able to keep playing it, and that they hope it will return to Steam "soon". In the meantime, they may have to lay off staff to help cut costs, the team said in a Steam post.

It's the latest development in a long-running dispute over copyrights and trademarks between Stardock and the creators of Star Control and Star Control 2, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III. Stardock acquired rights to the franchise in 2013, and on the eve of the launch of Star Control: Origins beta in 2017, Ford and Reiche announced a "direct sequel" to the original game called Ghosts of the Precursors. Stardock filed a complaint over trademark infringement, which was followed by a countersuit by Reiche and Ford.

You can read Stardock's side of the story here, while Ford and Reich have chronicled the dispute on their website. Both sides have proposed various settlements, none of which have been agreed on.

Stardock has uploaded a copy of the DMCA notice, sent to both GOG and Valve, here. In its Steam post, it said that "rather than relying on the legal system to resolve this, [Ford and Reiche] have chosen to bypass it by issuing vague DMCA takedown notices to Steam and GOG".

Ford and Reiche have not yet put out a statement, but I've contacted them and will update this post when I hear back.

Update: The ruling rejecting Stardock's request for an injunction against further DMCA takedown filings from Reiche and Ford has been posted online, and it contains some pretty harsh language for Stardock. The ruling describes Stardock's objection to Reiche's claim to be the "creator" of Star Control as "frivolous," for instance, but says that Reiche's objection to Wardell's "expertise" on copyright has "obvious" merit. 

"Indeed, not only has [Stardock CEO Brad] Wardell failed to establish any such expertise, but his opinion as to whether the work in question is 'copyrightable' constitutes an improper legal conclusion," the ruling notes. "Such legal conclusions are without evidentiary value." 

The conclusion seem especially damning. "Plaintiff was aware of Defendants' copyright claim to Star Control 1 and 2 since the development of Origins commenced, however, and was aware of the contours of the present copyright dispute since at least December 2017. Thus, whatever monies Plaintiff invested in Origins was done with the knowledge that serious copyright disputes were like to arise or had arisen," it states. 

"In view of the foregoing, the harm Plaintiff complains of is indeed of its own making. Plaintiff had knowledge of Defendants’ copyright claims from the outset. Despite that knowledge, it developed potentially infringing material without resolution of the IP ownership issues, and then publicized the release of that material during the pendency of this action. It now claims that its investment in Origins and reputation are on the line. Given that Plaintiff largely created the foregoing predicament, the Court is disinclined to extricate Plaintiff from a peril of its own making." 

To be clear, the ruling is solely on Stardock's request for an injunction against further DMCA filings, and not the copyright dispute itself, which is ongoing. As a result of that dispute, Star Control: Origins is no longer available for purchase on Steam and GOG, but can still be had through Stardock's own website and is currently on sale for half-price. I've reached out to Stardock for comment and will update further if I receive a reply.