Star Control creators file lawsuit against Stardock (Updated)

The legal rift between Star Control: Origins developer Stardock and original Star Control creators Fred Ford and Paul Reiche deepened today as Ford and Reiche filed a lawsuit against the publisher alleging that it has infringed on their copyright, and seeking to have Stardock's Star Control trademark canceled. The suit comes in response to a December 2017 lawsuit filed by Stardock claiming that Ford and Reiche are infringing on its trademark with its Ghosts of the Precursors game, and more interestingly, that they're not actually the "creators" of Star Control. 

Stardock's complaint (via Ars Technica) runs through a relatively detailed history of Star Control, Stardock, and the way the publisher purchased the copyright and publishing rights to the series from Atari in 2013 (Atari having acquired the original publisher, Accolade, in 1999). It also alleges that later in that year, it offered the Star Control assets and rights to Ford and Reiche for the same price it paid, which they declined. But in October 2017 they announced Ghosts of the Precursors, "a direct sequel to Star Control 2: The Ur-Quan Masters," despite not having the legal right to do so. 

Not only is the connection unauthorized, according to the suit, but it's also incorrect. "Reiche or Ford's advertising that they are the 'Creators of Star Control' is false. As Reiche and Ford know, it was Accolade, not them that created Star Control 1 and Star Control," it says. 

"Any authorship that Reiche and Ford may have contributed to the Classic Star Control Games was limited, and it was instead a team of many other authors, including numerous artists, animators, musicians, designers and writers, among others, that collaborated together to developed creatives used in Star Control 1 and 2." 

(Credits for the original Star Control, available on Mobygames, lists Reiche as lead designer, artist, and audio engineer; Ford is credited as a designer and lead programmer.)

"We had no choice but to take legal action to defend the Star Control IP," Kevin Unangst, Stardock's vice president of marketing and strategic development, said in a statement. "We remain fans of Paul and Fred, but have to defend our ownership of the Star Control intellectual property to ensure we and the fans can continue to tell great stories in the Star Control multiverse."

In a response to the suit, Reiche and Ford acknowledged that Accolade published the Star Control games but added that it did not develop them, and that a licensing agreement between Reiche and Accolade actually expired in 2001, after which all related rights reverted to him. In its countersuit, the developers ask for an injunction against Stardock's future sales of the existing Star Control games, a vacation of its trademark, and a return of the Star Control and Star Control 2 gold masters and source code. 

"Star Control is a pair of games we created at the start of the computer gaming revolution. Now, largely as a labor of love, we are returning to the universe we created to update it with new adventures, characters, and worlds," Reiche said.

"Stardock seems to think not only are we not the creators of Star Control, but they claim to have the exclusive rights to sell our games and otherwise use our alien races, ships, narrative, and other creative materials without our permission. This is why we felt compelled to file our counterclaim today to stop Stardock’s theft of our games, copyrights, and the universe we created for ourselves and our fans." 

It's a messy situation of interstellar proportions, and for now both sides appear to be digging in—although it's still very early in the process, and hopefully an equitable settlement can be reached. The good news for fans is that Star Control 1 and 2 remain available on Steam and GOG, and development of Star Control: Origins, while slower than originally expected, is still moving along: Stardock posted a blog update earlier this week showcasing the current state of the game and saying that that the Fleet Battles beta 2 is expected "within the next several weeks."

Update: Stardock has expanded on its side of the story in a Q&A posted on its forums. In very broad terms, it covers the issues behind the lawsuit, and what Stardock hopes to get out of it. The company says it was forced to take action after Reiche and Ford issued DMCA claims against the distribution of all three Star Control games.

"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," Unangst wrote. 

"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 2 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."