The ongoing dispute between game developer Stardock and Star Control creators Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford has escalated to a takedown notice. In a post on the Steam board for Star Control: Origins, Stardock CEO Brad Wardell confirmed that Steam and GOG have received Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) notices to stop selling the game.
In a notice from firm Bartko Zankel Bunzel & Miller (BZBM), Reiche and Ford allege that they are the “original developers and own certain exclusive copyrights in, to, and for the games “Star Control” and “Star Control II,”. In addition to a copyright claim, the letter also appears to dispute Stardock’s ownership of the name Star Control, saying it “claims to be the assignee for the name “Star Control,” but is not authorized to publish, reproduce, prepare derivative works based on, or distribute the Works.”
Under the US’ DMCA, any copyright holder that encounters infringing material can issue a takedown notice to the one hosting the alleged infringement. As long as they comply, providers like Steam and GOG, as well as hosting providers or sites like Youtube face no legal liability.
In his post, Wardell disputes the claim, saying that Star Control: Origins “does not contain any copyrighted work of Reiche or Ford”, and that Stardock owns the trademark. Unless Stardock disputes the claim, it will no longer be available on the Steam and GOG stores. For existing purchases on Steam, Wardell notes that “Valve assures us that anyone who has already bought the game should be able to continue to play it.”
The DMCA stems from an ongoing case involving the original creators of Star Control. Reiche and Ford own Star Control 1 and 2, but licensed out rights for the development of Star Control 3 to Accolade, later acquired by Atari. Stardock purchased these rights and the trademark during Atari’s liquidation.
On December 27, Stardock lost a motion in the lawsuit to prevent Reiche and Ford from filing any further DMCA claims. In that decision, US District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong wrote “As Defendants correctly observe, Plaintiff’s argument is based on the “flawed premise” that the issuance of a notice of infringement under the DMCA is the equivalent of an injunction requiring the removal of allegedly infringement material. It is not.“ She also refused further examination of the injunction because Stardock had not met the standard for demonstrating such a need. "In sum, Plaintiff has not made an adequate showing on the second and third prongs of the preliminary injunction standard. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to satisfy its burden to obtain preliminary injunctive relief, and the Court need not address the remaining prongs."
BZBM’s DMCA notice requests a confirmation of removal from GOG by January 2. With the DMCA takedown and ongoing lawsuit, there will likely be further updates in this case shortly after the court's resume work on January 2.
Update: Stardock has taken to selling Star Control: Origins directly via their own site as we covered in a follow up article.