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Star Control II developers crowdfund legal fight for IP control

Paul Reiche III, Fredrick Ford estimate $2m in legal costs in escalating disagreement with Stardock

The complicated saga of who owns the Star Control IP continues. Over the weekend, the developers of the first two Star Control games launched a GoFundMe to help cover the growing legal fees incurred as the two attempt to regain the rights to the IP from publisher Stardock.

The campaign's goal is $2 million, which the pair have cited as the estimate of what it will take to cover their legal defense fees and which will otherwise be paid by the two directly.

To recap, back in December of last year, Paul Reiche III and Fred Ford publicly revealed a growing legal disagreement with publisher Stardock over who had what rights to the Star Control franchise. Reiche and Ford, the original developers of the games, claim that they maintain the rights to the series and can continue developing their sequel, Ghosts of the Precursors.

Stardock, meanwhile, has been working on its own new game in the series, Star Control: Origins, after purchasing the rights during Atari's backruptcy auction in 2013. Since then, the publisher has been selling the first two Star Control games on platforms such as Steam and GOG, though it removed them recently after the legal fight with Reiche and Ford escalated.

The conflict grew when it became clear the two games would be released in a similar time frame to one another and Stardock pushed back, concerned that Star Control fans would confuse the two games based on conflicting marketing. In February of this year, Reiche and Ford filed a counterclaim against Stardock to regain control of the Star Control rights, claiming that Atari's ownership of them "terminated" prior to the auction where Stardock purchased them.

The following month, Reiche and Ford published settlement demands allegedly sent to them by Stardock that included "unfathomable" terms such as a promise not to make games similar to Star Control for the next five years, surrender of all IP rights to Star Control, and a promise not to refer to themselves as the games' creators (Stardock maintains the two are developers and designers, but not creators). Stardock refused to confirm or deny the settlement terms, but did offer up its own version of events in Q&A format, complete with email threads going back to 2013.

As a part of the GoFundMe's description, Reiche and Ford provide a distinctly different version of Stardock's Q&A recount.

"In 2013 the corporation purportedly bought a few Star Control assets at a bankruptcy auction, but importantly not our games or creative work," it reads. "Shortly after the auction, Brad Wardell [CEO of Stardock] contacted us to see if we would help him make a new Star Control game, or at least license our creative work to Stardock. We gave a clear 'no' to both offers, because we wanted to preserve our creative work for our own projects. For the next 4 years Brad Wardell repeatedly asked to license the original material, and each time we rejected him, Brad assured us Stardock would never ever use any of our material without permission. These assurances turned out to be false.

"Shortly after we announced Ghosts of the Precursors, Stardock claimed they had always had rights to our original, creative material and began to bundle and sell our game without permission. When we tried to stop these illegal sales, Stardock filed their lawsuit.

"We (Fred and Paul) have worked together for 30 years and have seen almost everything the game industry has to offer, but have never seen or experienced a predatory legal attack like this -- an established, corporate publisher attempting to bully two lone developers into surrendering their most treasured game, characters and unique universe."

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