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This past week, Activision executives, Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford sent DMCA notices to Steam and GOG demanding the removal of Star Control: Origins on the grounds that Star Control: Origins violates unspecified copyrights of theirs.

Finally, after many months of requesting from them what, specifically, in our game that they they believe they own they finally posted a table outlining their justification for taking down our game.

For those not familiar with copyright, here is a really simple outline of what copyright covers and doesn't cover.

The table is right from their website.  Our comments are next to it.

Next time you play a game, any game, consider how many ideas in it appeared in other games.  For the record, Star Control: Origins is not a clone of Star Control II.  For obviously reasons, it's a 25 year old game and as we have stated countless times, it wasn't commercially viable to continue that story.  We were interested in licensing the ships from Star Control II to include in Fleet Battles but they declined to so we didn't include them.   But even if it were a "Clone" of the gameplay of Star Control II, that doesn't fall under copyright protection. See here for more information on that.

So at long last, the meat of their complaint.  They think they own the ideas listed.  

 

UPDATE: No, we did not make up this chart.  You can find their chart here.  These are their claims and words. We have not edited their claims.

 

As a reminder, this table was made by Reiche and Ford.  Not us.  We aren't putting words in their mouths here.  This is what they actually believe.  This is their justification for filing a DMCA to take down a shipping game.

As for their argument that game ideas count as expressions and can be copyrighted, the copyright office already admonished them for this erroneous misinterpretation.

 

 


Comments (Page 3)
on Jan 04, 2019

This isn't just a game thing. In a previous job, a client licensed our software, copied the design and functionality over the next year, (including asking us how things operated at a low level in the program ans using it to make design/coding decisions).  Then dropped us and announced their product after scraping their data in the middle of the night.

Anyway, we had NO copyright claim.   

 

on Jan 04, 2019

This whole thing is utterly ridiculous. Anyone with even a basic understanding of copy write law should know better.

 

 

Well I hope everything turns out well for you Brad. I’m looking forward to buying Star Control: Origins on GOG when it comes back, hopefully in a short time.

 

 

It is nice to see the internet / forums are still producing absurd comments though. I was worried that humanity might actually get its act together for a second.

 

on Jan 04, 2019

Darkodinplus

It is nice to see the internet / forums are still producing absurd comments though. I was worried that humanity might actually get its act together for a second.

 

No fear of that....not until the Darwin Awards cull the morons...

on Jan 05, 2019

 

What seems to be overlooked in a number of posts is that the judge has upheld the DMCA claim. The court seemed to be fairly clear in its opinion that Stardock’s arguments were flimsy at best and irrelevant at worst.

 

This property has been in the courts for over two years, with no resolution. Why Stardock would ever develop a game without a clear, contractual, understanding of who owns what seems the height of ridiculousness to me, but that ship has sailed.

 

It seems to me that Stardock should have accepted a settlement when they had the chance. At this point, Reiche and Ford now hold all the aces. They can pretty much demand any settlement terms they want, if they choose to settle at all. They may just choose to let SCO be banned from sale and call it a day.

on Jan 05, 2019

ninetailkitsune

What seems to be overlooked in a number of posts is that the judge has upheld the DMCA claim. The court seemed to be fairly clear in its opinion that Stardock’s arguments were flimsy at best and irrelevant at worst.
 

No, that is not what the judge ruled at all.

And barely 1 year has passed in the case.

on Jan 05, 2019

Perhaps I misunderstood the judge's opinion in the case, but rather than argue the point I will simply link the court's ruling.

I will call your attention to page 10, reference 21-28.

Reiche and Ford first initiated legal action in December, 2017, so I stand corrected on that point.  Given that they have consistently refused to license SC2, or its related materials, for 25 years, I don't see them having a change of heart now.  With the DMCA in place, all they have to do at this point is wait. 

The case has entered the rather murky area of "look-and-feel" at this point, and that is an area of law where companies have been suing one another since 1986.

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see Stardock, Reiche, and Ford all decide to come to a compromise that let's both parties make their separate games, and feel their IP is protected, with no further threats of legal action.  After all, that would be the best possible outcome for the gaming community.  Sadly, at this point, that seems like the least likely outcome of all.

on Jan 05, 2019

All the judge did during the injunction hearing is deny stardock the ability to prevent DMCA takedowns. They said stardock broke the status quo by releasing the game with ongoing proceedings yet to be resolved.

However, now that the DMCA has been used, Stardock are fully entitled to publish a DMCA takedown if Reiche and Ford release their precursors game. 

DMCA notices are issued under the penalty of perjury, which is why dodgy and poor DMCA notices never go to court as the issuer would be in trouble. They have to issue the notice in the knowledge that they own the copyrighted material. 

Next step

Most likely Stardock will issue a counter notice claiming that the DMCA notice was done in error. This then puts the next step back on to R&F as they traditionally have 10 days to decide if they will contest the DMCA notice in court. If the DMCA notice is not contested at huge expense, we are probably talking a $100,000 or more, then the item can be returned to the store. If it goes to court then a judge will have to view the complaint in detail. However, as you have to make the DMCA claim and counter claim under the belief that you own the copyright, whoever loses will be subject to damages, potentially all court fees for the other side and a right royal mess ensues.

This is why most copyright cases are dealt with via settlement before court begins because losing is expensive and could lead to bankruptcy, job losses etc and can be crippling. 

 

There is currently too much emotion between both sides for a mediated settlement to work as the case is driven by a desire to be right. Same way divorce proceedings get messy because one party feels wronged or felt invested in the marriage more than the other. Hopefully something can be settled out of court, though it is very disappointing to know that people are losing jobs over this, just after Xmas when we all know life is tough for a couple of months. 

My thoughts are with those who lose employment as they are the ones who have suffered the most and have to find their feet again, no matter what you think of either party. 

on Jan 05, 2019

I hope that the DMCA counter notice scares P&F enough that the DMCA is reversed within those 10 days.  10 days off of Steam might be short enough that damages are negligible and those Stardock employees can be rehired.

 

If that doesn't happen I hope there is NO out of court settlement, the trademark to SC is found to NOT have reverted from Atari to P&F because Atari made that cheap flash game to extend their hold on the IP, and P&F have to pay damages to Stardock.

on Jan 05, 2019

The trademark never could have reverted to P&F in the first place. This is one of the nonsensical pieces of FUD that their initial PR campaign threw out there that continues to cause confusion and the like and that their supporters continue to latch onto in search of something that can be used to justify P&F's legal position. Every single piece of legal documentation that describes the agreement between Accolade and P&F make damn clear that P&F never had claim to the trademark. Indeed the licensing agreements explicitly note the trademark itself is excluded from any IP rights that P&F might possess from the games. And frankly every time anyone on either side makes the suggestion that the trademark ownership might be in question, were I Brad, I'd be tempted to tack on another zero onto the settlement I'd want extracted from P&F for trying to do an end-run around IP law. At this point I'm starting to feel that P&F need to be made statuary examples of how not to attempt to handle an IP dispute, much as the SCO Group (the irony abounds) was made an example of by Novell and IBM over the stupid Linux copyright suit.

on Jan 05, 2019

So their main complaint is that stardock made a Star Control game (which they own the trademark to) look very similar to a previously made Star Control game? Im shocked. How dare they look similar!

on Jan 05, 2019

How many of you enjoy Stardew Valley?  I certainly do!  It reminds me of (gasp!) Harvest Moon.  It has dating, it has farming, it has ranching, and it has magic.  In fact, the gameplay is more or less the same as Back to Nature or any of the more recent Harvest Moon games (except with better introduction and treatment of adult themes such as where children come from and substance abuse).  But the mechanics are definitely identical at certain levels in terms of tool use and how crops work.  That is a unique idea, but alone, I do not think that should be copyrighted on its own.

 

I would have a problem with SC:O if Stardock literally went into the source code of UQ:M or SC2, downloaded it, and pasted it into SC:O.  That direct form of source code copying is blatantly IP problematic and there are actually a fair amount of issues from the other SCO (the Unix-Linux controversy).  I also would have had a problem if the game was a literal retouching of the SC2 game (basically bringing the SC2 into modern graphics and hardware standards) without some idea of how the copyright worked.

 

But if that's what PR III and FF are claiming as exclusive, I really don't want them to win, not just because of the particular case, but I like variations on a theme.  If mechanics and graphics were that tightly coupled, we would have never seen DOTA (as they are literal ripoffs of Warcraft III offending all the categories above) or its descendants.  

 

I don't understand the IP law involved, but if this is it, I really hope that:

1.  The claim is not that specious, there has to be more to it and if not, that's real barratry on their part.

2.  I don't want method or resemblance to be copyrightable as it would shut down variations on a main theme (4X, Farming Simulator, Rail Shooter) that I don't want to contemplate.  

 

By the way, that is not to say that I don't have issues with SC:O as a founder, I do, and it's posted on the Boards with the bug posts and frustration about certain directions not being possible without prior knowledge and of exploration not being rewarding enough in the near sectors (the bugs especially the rushed beta issues of the 1.0 release which the 1.2 release should have been the shipping version which hopefully will be a development studio after action lesson for next time).  

 

But really at the end of the day, I want to see more in the SC universe.  We have waited too long for a game since SC3, and I would like to follow this universe to a narrative end, especially, what does happen to the Alliance given SC3's ending?

on Jan 06, 2019

A few things.

This isn't specifically a list of things that Fred and Paul think that they can individually claim any sort of ownership to, but, rather, a claim that the mechanic that is used by SC:O is essentially identical to the mechanic used by SC2.  And it is.  This, combined with a slew of other similarities, is where the objection lies - not in the individual nature of each mechanic.

And you honestly cannot say the game did not directly copy the hyperspace mechanic from its predecessor.  It is the statement of direct copying that is the body of this *example.*  There is a reason, however, that we did not see any discussion of solar system travel, or lander missions.  Both of these mechanics have already been adopted by Mass Effect, and were never particularly unique to Star Control in the first place.  I'd be extremely surprised if nobody at Stardock was aware of Mass Effect's take on lander missions.

There are still tremendous things that were taken directly from Star Control 2 and added to SC:O without much editing, if any.  That includes the Zoq-Fot-Pik and Zebranky, as well as the Orz.  The concepts of *above* and *below*.  We've even seen the series use Quasi-space already.

Star Control: Origins goes out of its way to remind us that it is set in the same universe as Star Control 2, and insofar as that universe is properly composed of the IP that F&P lay claim to, it's not going to be solved by ridicule.

on Jan 06, 2019

Except mechanics are not copyrightable, or else Star Control 1 and 2 could be held liable for stealing its look and feel from Spacewar! So if mechanics/look/feel is the basis for Fred and Paul's claim, they're being very hypocritical.

No one is claiming that Stardock hasn't made a game is that is very much like Star Control. But many of are saying this isn't an actionable offense. 

on Jan 06, 2019

lord999

How many of you enjoy Stardew Valley?

Hollow Man

Star Control 1 and 2 could be held liable for stealing its look and feel from Spacewar!

Hollow Man

No one is claiming that Stardock hasn't made a game is that is very much like Star Control. But many of are saying this isn't an actionable offense.

etc

It's one thing to make a game that belongs to a specific genre, a game that is inspired by other games, and/or a game that copies a gameplay mechanic or two from elsewhere. That's very common and acceptable.

It's another thing to make a game that directly copies a major amount of its elements from another single game, down to proper names and whatnot, so that it's essentially sharing the same IP (even if it technically isn't). That can also be perfectly okay if there's a mutual understanding between the creators. If there's a legal war instead, it's not okay.

As for individual copied elements, it's of course difficult to draw lines, and there's lots and lots of grey area. That's why if it goes to court, it isn't examined only at the level of individual tiny details.

It's weird to pretend like there isn't any difference between these two approaches. To pretend like SC:O just happens to be in the same "space exploration genre" as SC2, and that's all there is to it. Of course that's not the case at all. If you try to pretend it is, you come across as dishonest or just simple-minded.

Some people seem to have concluded that arguments in the direction of "it's just the same genre", "gameplay mechanics can't be copyrighted", "red hyperspace lol" etc. makes this a clear and easy case in court. I'm not at all convinced about that.

on Jan 06, 2019

You're not convinced?  Did you read the judgement of the copyright office in the first post in this thread?  They said only source code and audiovisual material (art assets) are copyrightable not game design.

 

Stardock did not steal SC source code and Stardock did not steal or exactly copy audiovisual material from SC.  I agree that red hyperspace looks very similar on the surface, but it is different.  Same game design but DIFFERENT art assets.  The biggest difference is that SCO hyperspace is isometric not top-down like SC and the second biggest difference is SCO hyperspace shows entire star systems and 3D spaceship models instead of the primitive black dots used in SC.  The HUD is also different.