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Star Control: Origins removed from Steam, GOG with DMCA claim, returns to Steam

Legal battle between Stardock and series creators Fred Ford and Paul Reiche escalates further

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Star Control 2 box art Accolade
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Star Control: Origins is no longer for sale on Steam or GOG. According to an official statement by Stardock CEO Brad Wardell, it was removed from sale following a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) claim made against his company by the franchise’s creators, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche. The maneuver came one day after a United States District court denied Stardock an injunction intended to prevent just such a claim.

According to Wardell, those who have already purchased Origins can continue playing it. He added that the DMCA claim will cause his company “to lay off some of the men and women who are assigned to the game.”

The legal battle over the future of the Star Control franchise dates back to 2013 when Stardock purchased rights to Star Control intellectual property from Atari during a bankruptcy auction. Three years later, in 2016, Stardock revealed that it was developing Star Control: Origins.

At the time, Stardock said it was working under the assumption that it had “acquired the rights to Star Control 1/2/3.” Court documents reveal that may not be the case, and that Ford and Reiche may instead have conflicting rights to the IP.

Ford and Reiche forced the issue in October 2017 when they announced they were making a game called Ghosts of the Precursors, a direct sequel to Star Control 2: The Ur-Quan Masters. Several months after that announcement, Stardock filed suit against them. Ford and Reiche quickly filed their own countersuit.

From our February 2018 story:

In their own document, [Ford and Reiche] say that when Stardock purchased rights to the Star Control franchise they received very little. Stardock’s purchase was, if anything, only of the limited rights granted through a previous agreement between Accolade, Reiche and Ford for certain parts of Star Control 3. Meanwhile, the two men retain full rights to Star Control 1 and Star Control 2.

In other words, Reiche and Ford allege that Wardell’s Stardock may have paid as much as $300,000 to $400,000 for nearly nothing of value.

The case has been ongoing since that time, with claims and counterclaims being issued back and forth by both parties.

During the lawsuit, Stardock set a release date for and eventually released Star Control: Origins. Stardock then asked U.S. district court judge Saundra Brown Armstrong for an injunction to prevent Ford and Reiche from taking action against Origins’ release.

On Dec. 27, the judge dismissed that request. The dramatic filing, which includes multiple colorful footnotes from Judge Armstrong, reads as a stinging indictment of Stardock’s business practices.

“The harm Plaintiff [Stardock] complains of is indeed of its own making,” writes Armstrong. “Plaintiff had knowledge of Defendants’ [Ford and Reiche’s] 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.”

In their denial of the injunction, Judge Armstrong even affirms that at one point Wardell himself had requested “a license for some or all of” the IP that Ford and Reiche held. When the pair refused to work with him, Stardock’s game project went ahead anyway.

“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,” Armstrong writes. “Thus, whatever monies Plaintiff invested in Origins was done with the knowledge that serious copyright disputes were likely to arise or had arisen.”

Undeterred, Wardell issued a series of statements on Twitter this morning, vowing that Star Control: Origins will be up for sale again at Stardock’s own website “as soon as possible.” Despite the judge’s decision, Wardell has now publicly characterized the DMCA claims as harassment. He has also referred the public to Stardock’s own version of events.

Polygon has reached out to Ford and Reiche for comment.

Update (Jan. 18): Star Control: Origins has returned to Steam, just over two weeks after it was delisted from the store. Asked for comment, representatives from Stardock refused to provide details on how or why it was reinstated.

Polygon has reached out to Valve, as well as Fred Ford and Paul Reiche, for comment.

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