The creators of Star Control have issued a counterclaim against Stardock, in an effort to regain control of the rights to the classic strategy series.
Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III, who developed Star Control and Star Control II for Accolade between 1988 and 1992, publicly called out Stardock in December last year for unlawfully selling both games. Stardock maintained that it had purchased the rights to the games from Atari in a bankruptcy auction in 2013, though Ford and Reiche contend that Atari's rights "terminated" long before the auction took place.
At that time, it was suggested that Stardock was using legal means to prevent Ford and Reiche from working on a new game in the series, Ghosts of the Precursors. A statement issued by the pair's legal team yesterday reinforces that idea, as there is now a "counterclaim" against Stardock that aims to reclaim legal ownership of the rights to the Star Control games and allow them to continue with the new title.
"Star Control is a pair of games we created at the start of the computer gaming revolution," Reiche said. "Now, largely as a labor of love, we are returning to the universe we created to update it with new adventures, characters, and worlds.
"Stardock seems to think not only are we not the creators of Star Control, but they claim to have the exclusive rights to sell our games and otherwise use our alien races, ships, narrative, and other creative materials without our permission. 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 and Ford have also claimed that both Atari and Stardock CEO Brad Wardell have "repeatedly admitted in private" that they are in fact the copyright owners of Star Control and Star Control II. Wardell is also alleged to have offered to license "the Star Control characters, ships, and other materials [Reiche and Ford] created to Stardock for use in a new Star Control game Stardock wanted to develop" after the Atari auction took place.
Reiche and Ford are seeking an injunction to prevent Stardock from selling the Star Control games, and to return all profits and revenues earned from their sale so far.
Stardock and Brad Wardell have both responded to the counterclaim to Ars Technica. Kevin Unangst, Stardock's VP of marketing and strategic partnerships, said the company "had no choice but to take legal action to defend the Star Control IP. We remain fans of Paul and Fred, but have to defend our ownership of the Star Control intellectual property to ensure we and the fans can continue to tell great stories in the Star Control multiverse."
Wardell described Stardock's ownership of Star Control as "incontestable", as demonstrated by the list of exhibits in the company's original legal complaint. Indeed, Wardell stated that while he and "most people" believed Reiche and Ford were the personal creators of Star Control, they never had control of the IP.
"I certainly believed it," he said. "We figured Fred did the coding and Paul did the art and story. But as it turns out, that's not really the case... I remain a big fan of theirs. But in reality, Accolade paid them to make Star Control for them. And while our respect for them is undiminished, that doesn't translate into owning our IP."