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Nicholai
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SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« on: March 11, 2008, 04:18:30 pm »

I've been wondering about this for years -- it started when I was younger and trying to understand why Toys for Bob couldn't just magically make a new Star Control (aside from the monetary issue).

I know what makes the Ur-Quan Masters port legal, and what makes mods, spin-offs, etc. legal (or, at least, permissible to TFB) ... but how do Star Control's rights translate to other mediums?  Books?  Television?  I don't really know anything about intellectual property rights, or even if they're involved in this case...

Obviously, there WAS a Star Control novel, but it was so damn un-memorable that I can't really remember what it used, or what permissions were involved...

My guess is that you can use names (Ur-Quan, Spathi, Supox, slave shield, Sentient Milieu) but not specific characters or places (Zelnick, ZEX, Fwiffo, Spathiwa) ...  But how far would you be able to go if you were writing your own Sci-Fi novel?  Could TfB sue you if you had a benevolent empire rule the galaxy for 5,000 years, investigating the remains of a long-lost super-race, only to eventually fall to a race of evil mind-controlling toads, which was eventually overthrown by one particular slave-race with six eyes that went on to split into two sub-races, one of which went on to enslave humanity and, ultimately, was defeated by a human who was born on another planet and armed with a big super-ship?  Could they only come after you if you made that six-eyed race LOOK like a Kzer-Za?  Or could they only get you if you CALLED it that?

Basically, what would be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of somebody who wanted to adapt the SC2-plot to a television series, or a movie, or a book?  I've always been curious...

Anybody have any idea?
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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #1 on: March 11, 2008, 04:47:03 pm »

Um, plagiarism maybe. 
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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #2 on: March 11, 2008, 05:25:42 pm »

Well, YES...  But I meant in more of a "continue the legacy of Star Control" / "get around those pesky laws" kind of way..... not the much more traditional "I'm a lazy writer" way.

More specifically, I'm talking about the notion of bringing the Star Control story to a wider audience, or adapting it to a new medium, and how you would exploit the grey-areas of the laws regarding it so that you could more-or-less tell the same story and, however much you may piss off Activision in the process, not actually be violating anything.

EDIT--

Even more specifically, in this scenario, I would propose that one would get the original creators INVOLVED in whatever manner possible -- the idea being to support them / the story.

« Last Edit: March 11, 2008, 05:36:13 pm by Nicholai » Logged

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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #3 on: March 11, 2008, 11:07:14 pm »

I know what makes the Ur-Quan Masters port legal, and what makes mods, spin-offs, etc. legal (or, at least, permissible to TFB) ... but how do Star Control's rights translate to other mediums?  Books?  Television?  I don't really know anything about intellectual property rights, or even if they're involved in this case...
Trademarks are easy to avoid; rename "Star Control" to "The Ur-Quan Masters". Patents are irrelevant to this discussion, so the only real problem is copyright.

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Obviously, there WAS a Star Control novel, but it was so damn un-memorable that I can't really remember what it used, or what permissions were involved...
Presumably permission from TFB and/or Accolade. The content licence for UQM (i.e. permission from TFB) allows non-commercial derivative works, so as long as you stick to the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 licence, you can make your own UQM-based game or novel or film or whatever using bits and pieces from UQM, ideas, music, images, et.c. adapted to suit you.

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My guess is that you can use names (Ur-Quan, Spathi, Supox, slave shield, Sentient Milieu) but not specific characters or places (Zelnick, ZEX, Fwiffo, Spathiwa) ...  But how far would you be able to go if you were writing your own Sci-Fi novel? 

Could TfB sue you if you had a benevolent empire rule the galaxy for 5,000 years, investigating the remains of a long-lost super-race, only to eventually fall to a race of evil mind-controlling toads, which was eventually overthrown by one particular slave-race with six eyes that went on to split into two sub-races, one of which went on to enslave humanity and, ultimately, was defeated by a human who was born on another planet and armed with a big super-ship?  Could they only come after you if you made that six-eyed race LOOK like a Kzer-Za?  Or could they only get you if you CALLED it that?
Stick to what TFB have given you permission to do, and you can do all the above.

Even without permission, you could probably use quite a few ideas. Leaving appearances aside, much of that plot is taken from Larry Niven's Known Space series, anyway, so TFB is going to have a hard time proving you nabbed their ideas unless your critters look like their UQM counterparts and use the same names.

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Basically, what would be the biggest obstacle standing in the way of somebody who wanted to adapt the SC2-plot to a television series, or a movie, or a book?  I've always been curious...
It all comes down to money really, or time, but time is money, isn't it? TV series and films have huge budgets, but a book would be possible (except the "non-commercial" clause means you don't get paid).
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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #4 on: March 12, 2008, 01:25:55 am »

A little explanation from Fred Ford himself, from years ago. I've only copied the relevant parts; many more interesting documents can be found on the Pages of Now and Forever.
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While creating SCI and SCII for Accolade we were outside developers -- getting paid for milestones and receiving royalties. As part of our contract we were careful to keep ownership of the ideas; however, Accolade owned the trademark.
[...]
Because, we owned the characters and settings, however, if Accolade ever wanted  to commission a sequel with these elements they needed our permission (which we couldn't  legally withhold given adequate consideration). Thus, SCIII. They had enough rabid fans of SCI&II to convince them that they had to do SCIII. But because they had to deal with us they wanted slowly to change the storyline enough so that they could eventually claim to be using none of the original material and thereby cut Paul and me completely out of the picture.
Furtheron:
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We always had the option of refusing to let Accolade use any of the characters or settings. But they claimed they were willing to use the name Star Control and start from scratch with the other pieces.
[...]
We were pretty much given the option to sell Accolade our half of the rights or to have StarCon and any future related products be Star Control products in name only.
So, as I understand it, they sold the rights. But then later:
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> Do you know what Accolade is doing in relation to StarControl?  If anything?
They owe us another payment for our portion of the property.  They have told us they are going to default on this payment which means we are back to owning the characters and settings. They still own the trademark/name and continue to look for someone to buy it from them.
This is still the situation today, though Accolade has since been bought by Infogrames, which is now known as Atari. And since Atari has not done anything with the Star Control trademark for a long time, TFB may be able to challenge Atari's trademark claim (but IANAL). But the trademark is only essential if you want to use the name "Star Control" itself.

To do anything with the characters or settings, you need the permission of the copyright holders, which means TFB.
Ideas themselves, however, are not copyrightable (at least in the United States). (Again, IANAL, and I may be wrong).
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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #5 on: March 12, 2008, 04:17:00 am »

        This does indeed answer several important questions. Thanks meep-eep for that information. The possible repercussions of outright plagiarism were of concern to me since I’m in the process of doing quite a bit of recreation/reinterpretation of Star Control material. This concern is perhaps unfounded considering the fact that I will never accept any monetary gains from the project, nor do I expect any. So there is nothing to sue about anyway.
        I assume that if Star Control material were used in a commercial product, TFB should (and likely would) require consent and some sort of royalty contract. As far as not for profit fan work, anything goes I would say. It never hurts to ask for permission though. Wink
 
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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #6 on: March 12, 2008, 11:46:52 pm »

I don't know, but copyright laws need a MAJOR overhaul.  There's a problem when people have a copyright on an ancient song (the Happy Birthday song) and when a company screws something up because they want to do things their own stupid way (Star Control III) Of course, if there were an overhaul, then it's possible that things could end up being even worse....  Undecided
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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #7 on: March 13, 2008, 01:11:07 am »

it started when I was younger and trying to understand why Toys for Bob couldn't just magically make a new Star Control (aside from the monetary issue).

Their reason for the lack of a new Star Control sequel has nothing to do with money.  They just need the approval from Activision to work on it so that they have enough time and support to work on it.  They can make any game they want.  It's just that they need a publisher to help get the game out there.

To use the name "Star Control", they need Atari's permission.  To use any elements from the game itself, they need approval from TFB.

If you have any free time, please write a letter to the Great Alex Ness (alexness@toysforbob.com) about a new Star Control game.
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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #8 on: March 13, 2008, 03:16:25 am »

it started when I was younger and trying to understand why Toys for Bob couldn't just magically make a new Star Control (aside from the monetary issue).

Their reason for the lack of a new Star Control sequel has nothing to do with money.  They just need the approval from Activision to work on it so that they have enough time and support to work on it.  They can make any game they want.  It's just that they need a publisher to help get the game out there.

It has everything to do with money. Families to feed, mortgages to pay. You need someone to pay you while you work on that game. Making games costs a lot of money. And making games is not a two person job anymore. It really wasn't anymore in the days of SC2, and it's even less the case now. Expectations are higher; just having good gameplay isn't enough. You need fancy graphics, high quality music, and professional voice acting.

They need Activision for the money, nothing else. If you have a finished game, finding a publisher isn't a problem. What you need is someone with money who will pay your salaries while you work on that game. And that person/company will want to have some assurance that they will get their money back. That's where the petition comes in, to show that SC2 made a lasting impression with a lot of people, suggesting that a new SC game would sell.

It doesn't even have to be Activision (though TFB may be under contract with them at the moment), but TFB already have a good relationship with them and Activision knows that TFB produce quality, and stick to their deadlines, and they might have built up some goodwill there.

But if some multimillionaire SC2 fan steps up and puts down a wad of cash, then I'm pretty confident that there will be a new Star Control.

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To use the name "Star Control", they need Atari's permission.  To use any elements from the game itself, they need approval from TFB.
I take it that you meant that they would need approval from Activision (since "they" are TFB).
But that's not true. TFB have all the rights they need to make a new Star Control game, as I wrote above. They can do this even without the name "Star Control".

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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #9 on: March 13, 2008, 04:01:52 am »

Thanks for the information!

I just recall having heard different things ten years ago, five years ago, etc. etc. -- and wasn't really sure what was going on NOW.  These explanations make sense though, heh.

The multi-millionaire thing was an angle I was wondering about -- so, if money was NOT an issue, TFB could make a genuine sequel to Star Control II and just have to call it something stupid like "Space Control" or what have you.  And I guess if there was ENOUGH money floating around, they could just out-right BUY back the name "Star Control" and use it.

My primary question was that if somebody wrote a novel, or a script, based on Star Control (or even just a straight adaptation of the existing Star Control plot) and got a publisher or studio interested in it, if a royalty contract was drawn up or permission was granted by TFB, could it be done as long as it wasn't called "Star Control"?   It sounds like the answer is "Yes"...

Interesting.  It almost sounds like (assuming TFB has a somewhat exclusive contract with Activision) something OTHER than a game would be EASIER for TFB to get involved with.  I wonder what sort of interest TFB would have in such an endeavor (obviously, I'm reaching pretty damn far here) -- but an intelligently-written Sci-Fi series based on SC2 would CERTAINLY generate a widespread interest in a potential SC3 game (or conversely, an existing SC3 by TFB would generate interest in a Sci-Fi series)

I'm a scriptwriter (when I'm not playing with the SC2 source code!)  so I just found myself kind of curious about this....  I have a friend who works for the Sci-Fi channel; maybe I should ask him to play Star Control.......... Heh-heh.
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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #10 on: March 13, 2008, 05:00:14 am »

My primary question was that if somebody wrote a novel, or a script, based on Star Control (or even just a straight adaptation of the existing Star Control plot) and got a publisher or studio interested in it, if a royalty contract was drawn up or permission was granted by TFB, could it be done as long as it wasn't called "Star Control"?   It sounds like the answer is "Yes"...
The trademark is registered for "computer game software, and manuals supplied as a unit therewith.". It looks like for books or movies or TV series there would not be a trademark issue at all.

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Interesting.  It almost sounds like (assuming TFB has a somewhat exclusive contract with Activision) something OTHER than a game would be EASIER for TFB to get involved with.
About the exclusive contract, from PR3, in May 2005, after TFB got acquired by Activision:
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As they mention in their press release, we are (happily) under exclusive contract for a some years -- after that Fred and I will need to determine what we want to do next, but at least we will have several good options to choose from!
I don't know anything about the details of their contract, but you may be right, it may indeed be easier contractually for TFB to get involved in something other than a game. There's still the matter of whether they would actually want to do that though...

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I wonder what sort of interest TFB would have in such an endeavor (obviously, I'm reaching pretty damn far here) -- but an intelligently-written Sci-Fi series based on SC2 would CERTAINLY generate a widespread interest in a potential SC3 game (or conversely, an existing SC3 by TFB would generate interest in a Sci-Fi series)
I've always felt that the SC2 story was good enough for a movie. It would also be hard to turn it into a movie while staying true to the game -- you can't introduce and maintain too many characters in two hours. A TV serial would be much better in that respect. And then there are all the non-humanoid aliens. It would be an expensive show to make as live action. Animation would be a more realistic avenue.
But "more realistic" is only relative, because you don't just go to a studio and propose a tv series, as an outsider.
I could see it working after a new SC is a huge success, but not in the current situation. Unless you produce it yourself, which again means having (access to) lots of money.

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I'm a scriptwriter (when I'm not playing with the SC2 source code!)  so I just found myself kind of curious about this....  I have a friend who works for the Sci-Fi channel; maybe I should ask him to play Star Control.......... Heh-heh.
Are you a scriptwriter profesionally? As in, do you get paid to write? And what do you write for? Tv, film, theater?

I guess if you know the right people there may be possibilities. But I doubt "a friend who works for the Sci-Fi channel" will be good enough.
But you should ask him to play SC anyhow.
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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #11 on: March 13, 2008, 08:22:29 pm »

The trademark is registered for "computer game software, and manuals supplied as a unit therewith.". It looks like for books or movies or TV series there would not be a trademark issue at all.

Well, that just makes things a little easier!  Heh.

Quote
I don't know anything about the details of their contract, but you may be right, it may indeed be easier contractually for TFB to get involved in something other than a game. There's still the matter of whether they would actually want to do that though...

Yeah, I know.  I'm just speculating on all of this; thinking about the most distant, unlikely of possibilities.

Quote
I've always felt that the SC2 story was good enough for a movie. It would also be hard to turn it into a movie while staying true to the game -- you can't introduce and maintain too many characters in two hours. A TV serial would be much better in that respect. And then there are all the non-humanoid aliens. It would be an expensive show to make as live action. Animation would be a more realistic avenue.

A movie would basically be out of the question, as far as I can tell.  The story would have to stay focused entirely on the Humans and the Ur-Quan, and that'd be about all you'd have time for.  SC2 and its mostly-non-linear progression read a lot like a television serial; lots of isolated, yet significant, events and individual stories that build up a universe.  Despite the complete overabundance (or is that under-abundance?  I can't really tell...) of Sci-Fi serials already, you'd think a story like SC2's would have already surfaced in that genre....... but it hasn't.

And yeah, the aliens make a live-action endeavor pretty insane.... but then again, decent animation is often even MORE expensive....  about the only way to get it more pricey from there is stopmotion!  (Hey, there's an idea!!  Heh-heh)

Crappy animation, on the other hand, isn't so tough to get...... but that's about the last thing I'd ever want to see happen to Star Control.

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But "more realistic" is only relative, because you don't just go to a studio and propose a tv series, as an outsider.
I could see it working after a new SC is a huge success, but not in the current situation. Unless you produce it yourself, which again means having (access to) lots of money.

Studios and producers are very strange people.  As long as something has already existed and has SOME form of fan base, they listen to you about 6,000% more than they do if you just walk in off the street.  Of course, 6,000% of 0 is still 0.

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Are you a scriptwriter profesionally? As in, do you get paid to write? And what do you write for? Tv, film, theater?
I guess if you know the right people there may be possibilities. But I doubt "a friend who works for the Sci-Fi channel" will be good enough.
But you should ask him to play SC anyhow.

I write for television, but I'm about as low on the totem pole as you can be while still being on it...  so my connections are virtually nil.  I do hear some pretty inspiring stories about the Sci-Fi channel from people sometimes, but not to the extent that we'd need, heh.  Anyway, my friend at Sci-Fi is an animation director (for spots and IDs) -- so my comment was really in jest anyway.

In any case, this all gives me some things to think about.....  It's good to know that Star Control isn't quite as paralyzed as it used to be.  (I guess those petition emails I sent to Alex Ness really weren't in vain!)
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Re: SC2 laws, copyrights, etc...
« Reply #12 on: March 14, 2008, 12:20:47 am »

You could leave UQM CDs around the tv studio. Not stacks of them (at least at first), but just single ones that look as if they were forgotten by someone.
The CDs should be autorun-able, and playable without installation, to make it as easy as possible to get started.
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