Star Control creators Paul Reiche and Fred Ford have launched a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for their defense in a legal battle against Star Control: Origins developer Stardock. Stardock filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against the pair in December 2017 over Ghosts of the Precursors, a game they describe as "a direct sequel to Star Control 2: The Ur-Quan Masters"—a claim Stardock says they're not legally entitled to make.
Stardock's lawsuit gained particular attention for stating that Reiche and Ford are not in fact "the creators of Star Control," as they describe themselves promotionallly. (Original Star Control credits list Reiche as lead designer, artist, and audio engineer, while Ford is credited as designer and lead programmer.) More to the point, it asserted full control over Star Control rights, which Stardock says it acquired in 2013 during Atari's bankruptcy fire sale.
Reiche and Ford see the matter very differently: They said in a response that Accolade published the game but that the license to the property it held expired in 2001, at which point the rights reverted to them. Stardock's purchase and claim, therefore, is invalid. "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," Reiche said in February.
But effective legal defenses don't come cheaply, and so Reiche and Ford have launched a Gofundme campaign with a $2 million goal, which is what they estimate their legal costs will be. How exactly they arrived at that figure isn't clear, as the pitch is mostly a rundown of what's happened previously and a repeat of their central claim: That Stardock "purportedly bought a few Star Control assets at a bankruptcy auction" in 2013, "but importantly not our games or creative work."
"Shortly after the auction, Brad Wardell contacted us to see if we would help him make a new Star Control game, or at least license our creative work to Stardock. We gave a clear ‘no’ to both offers, because we wanted to preserve our creative work for our own projects. For the next 4 years Brad Wardell repeatedly asked to license the original material, and each time we rejected him, Brad assured us Stardock would never ever use any of our material without permission," the campaign states. "These assurances turned out to be false."
"Shortly after we announced Ghosts of the Precursors, Stardock claimed they had always had rights to our original, creative material and began to bundle and sell our game without permission. When we tried to stop these illegal sales, Stardock filed their lawsuit."
The campaign isn't exactly on fire at this point (although it is "trending" at the moment), having pulled in $8,800 over the weekend. But unlike Kickstarters, Gofundme campaigns can run indefinitely and the funds are received regardless of whether or not the goal is hit.
Stardock, unsurprisingly, reasserted its ownership of Star Control in a statement, in which it also stated that it is not trying to prevent the release of Ghosts of the Precursors. “Stardock has consistently been clear on their ownership of the Star Control trademark," it said. "Stardock legally owns the trademark to Star Control and the company not acquiescing to Fred and Paul being able to call their game 'a sequel to Star Control' is not equivalent to us preventing them from making their game.”
I've reached out to Reiche and Ford for more information, including (hopefully) how they arrived at the $2 million amount, and will update if I receive a reply. As for the games themselves, Stardock announced at the PC Gaming Show at E3 that Star Control: Origins will be out on September 20. Ghosts of the Precursors does not yet have a public release target.