Star Control creators sue Stardock and its CEO for stealing copyright for classic PC games

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A famous Electronic Arts alum isn’t playing games in a counterclaim filed in the U.S. District Court in Oakland on Thursday against Stardock Systems over the iconic video game Star Control.

Paul Reiche, veteran computer game developer who designed games for EA during the company’s beginnings in San Mateo, is fighting an effort by Stardock to steal his classic PC games, the Star Control series he co-created with Fred Ford. Reiche and Ford say software development company Stardock Systems has made bogus legal claims over ownership rights to Star Control I and Star Control II and is illegally using their Ur-Quan Masters trademark.

The galactic dispute launched in 2013, when Stardock claims it purchased items during Atari’s bankruptcy sale that included the Star Control trademark registration and partial copyrights to Star Control 3, a game Reiche and Ford did not develop.

Reiche and Ford counter that they maintain the copyrights and that Atari could not have sold them. They say that Stardock and its CEO Brad Wardell are trying to muddy the waters over something that is crystal clear.

“Our rights are genuinely not messy or hard to understand,” said Paul Reiche and Fred Ford in a statement to the media. “We created Star Control and Star Control II and have always owned their copyrights. We licensed our Star Control games for sale exactly three times: once by Accolade in 1988, once for the 3DO by Crystal Dynamics in 1993, and once by Good Old Games in 2011. Accolade’s license ended in 2001.”

In December last year, Stardock and Wardell initiated legal action in an attempt to block the developers from working on the next sequel Ghosts of the Precursors, a follow-up to The Ur-Quan Masters.

Ford and Reiche have responded with the counter claim which recounts events in 2002 and beyond that prove that Stardock doesn’t own the rights. The pair says Accolade, which later became Atari, stopped selling Star Control I and II after their agreement with the company expired. After that, Reiche and Ford claim they released an open-source version of the source code and creative material for Star Control II and encouraged other developers to rework and enhance the game. That led to the release of The Ur-Quan Masters, which has “been available to fans ever since,” according to Reiche and Ford.

Star Control II is certainly worth fighting over. It has received many accolades over the years, having been ranked in 1996 as 17th best game of all time by Computer Gaming World, and earning 17th best game of all time by IGN in 2005. As recent as 2013, the game continued to be a fan favorite.

Star Control creators Ford and Reiche believe their data and ownership of the classic PC Games will prevail when the case is heard in court.