After Years Of Near Obscurity, Atari Turns To Copyright Trolling

from the when-you-hit-rock-bottom dept

A long, long time ago, Atari was king of the gaming world. It was the manufacturer of the first mainstream home video game console and was making a ton of money. That was until the video game crash of the 80s. Even though Atari was king of the world, it was not able to manage the prospect of home gaming very well and the market became saturated with terrible games that were extremely overpriced. The inability for Atari to rectify the problem ended up with gaming lying on its death bed. While the rest of the gaming world moved on after the video game renaissance, Atari was not able to keep pace with the new generation of consoles and games. After several failed consoles, it fell into obscurity.

Since then, Atari has never been itself. It has been sold and resold many times over the last 3 decades. Eventually, it became nothing more than a name and a legacy portfolio. It has never been able to regain that household name status of its wonder years and like all obsolete companies it has fallen to the only thing left to do, trolling. Not just any trolling, but copyright trolling. Atari’s latest owners recognize the value of its legacy portfolio. It knows that a number of developers today grew up playing the Atari 2600 and have fond memories of those games. Like many people who love the culture of their childhood, they want to pay homage to that memory.

Enter Black Powder Media, the makers of the iOS game Vector Tanks. These guys wanted to pay homage to the classic arcade game Battlezone and made Vector Tanks in its image. Black Powder tried to make it unique and were fairly successful at it. However, even Black Powder’s best efforts to avoid copyright infringement were not enough for Atari.

Anything that has even a passing resemblance to an Atari classic has been issued a copyright infringement claim. So – thanks to their special relationship with Apple – Atari has successfully scrubbed the app store of their perceived competition. It looks as though Apple complied without so much as a rebuttal or independent evaluation.

Atari decided that because it was no longer able to compete in a fair market, it would clear the market of any perceived competition. The fact that Apple was complacent and cooperative in all of this is also troubling. This is the type of world we live in today, where the claims of a copyright holder are taken at face value and no chance for a rebuttal is given to the victims. This is the current world of the DMCA, where in order for a platform to avoid liability, it resorts to a shoot first, ask questions later philosophy.

What makes this even worse is Atari’s attitude about the take downs. In response to a query by Develop, Atari brushed off any concerns by stating little more than, “We need to protect our IP“.

While we have great respect for the indie developer community and greatly appreciate the enthusiasm that they have for our renowned properties, we need to vigorously protect our intellectual property and ensure that it is represented in highly innovative games.

Is that how you show respect? You think that indie developers enjoy having their work killed off with no questions asked and no chance to respond? In what can be seen as an even bigger slap in the face to indie developers, Atari still wants to work with them.

We look forward to further developing strong relationships with the indie app development community through additional games that we will be releasing in the future.

How can you build a strong relationship with indie developers when you are killing off their games? Why would any game developer want to work with you if this is the attitude you will take? If Atari was really interested in working with indie developers, it would probably be better to actually respond to their inquiries for licensing deals. As Black Powder told Venture Beat:

The cruel irony here is that I tried for years to get ahold of Atari to license their IP but they seemed to have fallen off the planet. Now this. It’s very depressing.

So instead of working with the game developer to license your IP, you wait for that developer to waste its time and money making the game it wants anyway and then killing it once it hits the app store. While the games themselves may have a strong resemblance to the games in Atari’s portfolio, Atari cannot hold a copyright on ideas. These games would have to have more than a passing resemblance to Atari’s games for this to fly in any court. Which is probably why these takedowns were done privately through Apple. Of course, this behavior of lashing out and then coming in saying they want to work with the companies attacked is nothing new for Atari.

So are these the final death throes of a dying game company or is Atari poised for a retro game come back? Considering that Atari has been trying for many, many years to revive its legacy portfolio, I don’t think this is any indication of new life within this shell of a company.

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Comments on “After Years Of Near Obscurity, Atari Turns To Copyright Trolling”

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49 Comments
Geed (profile) says:

Not really the same Atari ats it was in the 80's

It’s gone through quite a few owners. After Warner Bros bought it from Nolan Bushnell, they sold it to Commodore founder Jack Tramiel (on $240 million in promissory notes and many loans from Warner to keep Atari afloat and$50 cash (yes, FIFTY BUCKS) from Tramiel. They basically paid HIM to take the company!). After he couldn’t beat Nintendo, he then traded it to a disk drive company (JTG, I believe but I may be off a letter) in exchange for stock and a seat on their board). They in turn sold it to Hasbro for 5 million and then Hasbro got taken over by Infogrames who then took the Atari name for the company.

Martin Goldberg (profile) says:

Re: Not really the same Atari ats it was in the 80's

Geed, close but still a little off. Only rhw IP has gone through quite a few owners. The original company is long gone, it ceased to exist in 1984. Jack bought a division of it, not the entire company (Atari Inc.) and used that to form a new company called Atari Corporation. Atari Corporation was not traded, it reverse merged with JTS with Jack then on the board of JTS and Atari Corporation only being a division at JTS (which in actuality was a single guy at a single desk). From there the IP (there wasn’t a physical Atari company anymore) was sold to Hasbro, and then to Infogrames (the current owner who renamed themselves to Atari SA recently and is the company mentioned above that is doing the suing).

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Re: Not really the same Atari ats it was in the 80's

Yeah, the idea of this article is that Atari went from being the king of gaming and an actual creative company to nothing more than a name and a portfolio of legacy copyrights. The fact that the portfolio is the only thing of value that the current “Atari” can leverage is the problem. The actual creativity has long since died.

This is a very similar death spiral to companies that spend all their time amassing patents that eventually the only thing they can do to stay in business is to sue over those patents.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Interesting. I have an Android phone and haven’t encountered that. There are a few apps that don’t run on all models of Android-based phones, and the stores try to prevent you from downloading an app that won’t work, but that’s due to technical issues, not capriciousness.

Also, I can use any of several different app stores (as well as install apps myself) with my phone right out of the box. No rooting necessary. Only two of those stores (Google’s & Amazon’s) are anywhere near as tightly controlled as Apple.

stompsfrogs (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Verizon blocks PDANet, not just from Marketplace but also from junefabrics.com. You have to download it to your computer and push it to your phone, you can’t download it to your phone (or if you can I couldn’t figure out how).
This is the carrier being a butthole, of course. Not the manufacturer. Same result tho 🙁

DCX2 says:

Re: Taxes?

This is a great idea. Folks love to draw similarities between physical property and intellectual property. Well okay then, it’s about time you paid property tax on that intellectual property.

As a bonus, this would create an incentive for the owner of an IP to release it into the public domain once they make less in revenue than they pay in taxes for the property.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Taxes?

I too would love to see these people paying taxes on their IP. I mean, they treat it like it’s physical property, they get laws to treat it like physical property, why shouldn’t they pay taxes on it like physical property?

Heck, if nothing else good came of it, you can bet a law like that would quickly put those ‘companies’, and I use that term very loosely, who do nothing but acquire IP just to sue people over, out of business very quick, which sounds like a great side-effect to me.

ced1106 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

> More like, if you can’t make money producing an original idea, steal the idea from another company, then cry when you get sued.

Same ditto. I mean, since Atari, there have been *many* innovative and creative games made. Why rehash the same-old same-old by a company that’s *known* for litigation?

Of course, that being said, I *did* read the Zynga article today…

crade (profile) says:

“While we have great respect for the indie developer community and greatly appreciate the enthusiasm that they have for our renowned properties, we need to vigorously protect our intellectual property and ensure that it is represented in highly innovative games. “

I like you, I really do, but I can get your money if I put the thumbscrews on you so… you understand.

DCX2 says:

Buy Indie

I go out of my way to avoid buying games from major publishers anymore (Valve excluded since they don’t pull these shenanigans). There are tons of good, inexpensive indie games, you just need to find your niche.

No more EA. No more Bethesda. No more Ubisoft. No more Atari. No more Blizzard. No more Activision.

hrwaller (profile) says:

Atari and Apple

What’s the surprise that Apple jumped to scrub the applications at Atari’s request? Since the days of the Apple II, Apple has spent more on litigation than innovation. They are one of the computer world’s main companies that operate on the premise that if you can’t beat’em, sue’em. I doubt that Job’s croaking will make much difference in their business model.

Anonymous Coward says:

Question

What do they have license to exactly that could possibly used in court after all this time? I didn’t know you could copyright a game.

http://www.copyright.gov/fls/fl108.html

Copyright does not protect the idea for a game, its name or title, or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game. Once a game has been made public, nothing in the copyright law prevents others from developing another game based on similar principles. Copyright protects only the particular manner of an author?s expression in literary, artistic, or musical form.

Since Atari games are renowned for having almost no literal or musical form to them. That just means some kind of artistic merit must be shared, and looking at screenshots of these games, there is no way that they share any kind of artistic similarity.

So that just leaves… patents, right? But there’s no way any sort of patents could still be in force from 40 years ago.

So what gives? Did Apple just let another company boss them around with no legal or business grounding whatsoever? Especially a company that essentially has nothing in terms of IP except some vague ideas that would never hold up in court?

I’m confused.

Tec_Guy says:

Re: Re:

So what gives? Did Apple just let another company boss them around with no legal or business grounding whatsoever?

Yes, this is exactly what happened.
The only thing you can copyright in a game is the code and the art assets. Atari has the rights to neither of these in Vector Tanks and (most likely) any of the other games they got taken down.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What gives:

a) Apple and Atari are part of a club, the well and known big companies, so they trade favors of course, anybody else will be screwed.

b) Even if their were not friends the current legal environment does make it easy to shoot first and ask questions later, there is no due process and this greatly benefits big players that have the money to weather out such things or the muscle to respond in a rapid and decisive way which small production houses cannot, remember monopolies kill the little guys, they don’t help them, they are better off without such kind of “protection” that is only protection in the name, that is why every country seeing real growth today and not just organic growth doesn’t fallow IP law.

Eric J Ovelgone says:

Atari copyright claim

I just experienced this on Redbubble. I am an artist and I posted a drawing titled ‘Gamer guy’ with generic images of space ships, a guy in a karate outfit and a game controller. I was extremely careful to not include any copyright images. It was intended to be a non-specific reference to gaming. Redbubble just took my image down after being up for years with a copyright claim. I am a poor disabled artist…how can I fight a mega millions dollar company for false copyright claims?

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