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Star Control creators accuse Stardock of selling games unlawfully

GOG.com pulling games from sale as publisher says devs have gone years without asserting rights, should have addressed it sooner

The creators of Star Control have accused the owner of the intellectual property of selling their old games without the right to do so. In a post on their blog Friday, Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III went public with "a growing legal conflict between us and Stardock," the publisher that acquired Atari's rights to Star Control at auction in 2013.

"It's our opinion that Atari's rights to publish our earlier games terminated over a decade before the auction and we contend that Stardock has zero rights to our games, including any code and other IP we created," the pair wrote, adding, "As far as we can currently tell, we have no relationship with Stardock that lets them sell the three earlier Star Control games without our permission, either bundled with their other products or separately. That permission has not been given."

The pair also suggested Stardock was pursuing a rights claim against them for their work on Ghosts of the Precursors, their own Star Control successor which would not use the franchise name, but would serve as a direct sequel to their previous Star Control games, using a number of alien races from the original titles. (Stardock is also working on Star Control: Origins, a reboot of sorts for the series that will not use any of the original's alien races.)

"Stardock now seems to think that not only can they use our aliens, ships and narrative without our permission, but thinks that we cannot make a sequel to The Ur-Quan Masters without their permission -- this is where we got really, really angry," the pair said. [Emphasis in original.]

Stardock president and CEO Brad Wardell responded to the post on his company's forums.

"First, as many people know, the classic Star Control games have been available for sale long before Stardock acquired the rights from Atari four years ago," Wardell said. "For the entirety of the time we have held the rights, they have been getting paid for those sales. If they had an objection to the games being sold this is something that could and should have been addressed before we were ever involved."

He went on to deny that Stardock was in any way trying to prevent Ford and Reiche from making their game or using the alien races from the previous titles, saying the IP for those races is owned by the developers.

"Lastly, when we acquired Star Control from Atari in 2013, many assets were transferred to us including the various publishing agreements to the Star Control franchise," Wardell said. "The short version is that the classic IP is messy. We understand that this makes them 'really really angry' but we weren't a party to that agreement. All we can do is try to put something together that releases them from the restrictions placed on their IP that they agreed to and transfer any and all rights and responsibilities to them. We want them to make Ghosts but we don't want any liability or association with it."

Wardell didn't deny the claims about rights to sell old Star Control games, but at least one retailer is taking the situation into account. GOG.com has announced that in light of the dispute, it will remove Star Control 1, 2, and 3 from its storefront on Tuesday, December 5. As of this writing, Stardock continues to sell all three games from its own online store.

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