In a dramatic start to the new year, Stardock’s spacefaring RPG Star Control: Origins has been removed from Steam and GoG. This is a result of a DMCA takedown by the makers of the original MS-DOS game Star Control and its sequel, of which Star Control: Origins is a reboot.
This is the culmination of years of dispute between Fred Ford and Paul Reiche III, the original creators of Star Control and Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters, and Stardock, which acquired the Star Control license in 2013.
DMCA (or Digital Millennium Copyright Act) takedowns are used to take down works that have misused someone else’s copyrighted material. Although DMCA takedowns have received some bad press due to various indie developers fraudulently taking down reviews they don’t like, they’re generally supposed to be for protecting intellectual property from being used without permission.
The dispute between the original Star Control creators and Stardock is very complicated, and a summary on Stardock’s website can be read here. Ford and Reiche, the creators of the original Star Control games, have chronicled their side of the story on their own website.
To summarise, the main issue is related to Ford and Reiche announcing a separate “direct sequel” to Star Control II, called Ghosts of the Precursors. After launching legal action against the duo for copyright infringement, Ford and Reiche launched a counter-action against Stardock for using elements for which they contend they retain the copyright.
Fundamentally, the main dispute appears to be about who owns the Star Control license; Stardock purchased it from Atari in 2013, and afterwards began distributing the classic Star Control games. However, whether Atari actually owned the rights is contended by Ford and Reiche, who maintain that Atari’s control over the license lapsed in the early 2000s, and that Stardock are illegally using Ford and Reiche’s intellectual property.
Stardock have tried to launch an injunction against the DMCA takedown. The ruling has since been posted online, and the judge doesn’t exactly take Stardock’s side. “Plaintiff (referring to Stardock) 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. Thus, whatever monies Plaintiff invested in Origins was done with the knowledge that serious copyright disputes were like to arise or had arisen,” it states.
Basically, the legal conclusion so far is that Stardock probably shouldn’t have made Star Control: Origins without being fully certain they were legally allowed to. Copyright law, especially in the USA, can be especially arcane and hard to understand, and it is easy to sympathise with Stardock. In a Steam post, they state that if the game isn’t put back on shelves, they will have to start laying off workers. Despite this, neither side look ready to call it quits, and will continue to fight for their respective rights to make Star Control games.
Whilst this dispute is ongoing, Star Control: Origins, as well as the original MS-DOS games, have been taken down from Steam and GoG. If you have already purchased the game on either platform, you should still be able to download it. It can also still be purchased from Stardock’s website.