The Editor's notes…
Robert C. Lock Publisher/Editor
Injunctions, Injunctions, And More Injunctions Atari, Inc., Goes To War
And I'm not talking about the popular Eastern Front WW II simulation, either. If you picked up a computer magazine recently, you couldn't help noticing the full-page software piracy ads Atari Personal Computer Systems has been running everywhere. Atari has been moving quickly and quietly against major and minor software vendors whose products step on the toes of Atari arcade games.
One vendor on the West coast, recently losing a round of injunctions and counter-injunctions, serves as a case in point. The popular game, developed by the vendor from "scratch" for the Atari computer, mirrors in part a very successful Atari arcade game. Does Atari, Inc. have the software out for the personal computers? Well no, but that's not the point. In spite of the fact that the computer version of the game is significantly expanded, quite original in coding (there was none before this version), and rumored to be a real pleasure, the current state of software law appears to side with Atari… at least it did at the end of the current round of claims. The visual image and theme of the game are decidedly Atari's, thus we end up with protection based to some extent on concept. Pure and simple.
Let The Vendor Beware
The way we hear it, Atari informed these vendors that they would have to stop the sale or distribution of this software. The vendors pointed out that they had developed the game and its program code originally, etc… To no avail, it turned out; Atari obtained an injunction to halt distribution. The vendors asked Atari to license the game to them, thus generating royalties for Atari, and permitting the vendors to pursue sale and distribution. Atari said no, but did apparently ask the vendors if they would consider developing a version of the game for Atari! Predictably enough, the vendors declined, and went to court, obtaining an injunction allowing sale and distribution. Whereupon, Atari went back and emerged victorious, for the moment, quashing that injunction (I believe that was Round 2?), and obtaining the one that's currently in force (Round 3?).
Then Linda Turned To John And…
First of all, I fully support Atari's right to protect their proprietary software. That principle has to be firmly embedded in the computer industry to allow it to grow and nurture even more exciting future growth. But there does seem to be a grey area here which needs to be more fully explored. I suspect, with this recent flurry of legal activity, that the screen is becoming cloudy, as it were. I assume no one is arguing whether this game is original, unique program code. I assume no one argues that it took months to develop, perfect, refine, and yes, enhance.
So, we're back to concept, visual image, style of presentation… Would it have made any difference if the imagery had been uniquely different? Can it be? I mean there are only so many ways to program an arcade style game on a 10 or 12 inch screen. One begins with chasers and chasees, and proceeds from there. The general form is that chasers have sophisticated weaponry, and grow more sophisticated as the game progresses (we call these "skill levels"). Chasees have various means of fighting back. And that, with allowance for creative variation, is the backbone of computer-based gaming, arcade style.
At this point in the analysis, we're several stages removed from actual program code. Its uniqueness has become moot for the moment. In this case there is no computer software to check against the twice-released game. Atari hasn't developed it yet. If the existing game is a direct "copy" of the Atari arcade game, I would guess they'll end up the winners, and software vendors will be a bit wiser for it.
Let The Good Times Scroll
Here's the danger of it…depending on the tightness of court interpretations of this portion of the fight, we're leery of ending up in a situation so broadly defined it defeats "competitive" gaming. Given that we're arguing concepts and imagery, rather than written program code and precisely comparable listings, a broad interpretation of the rights to "player-missile graphics" would cripple the software industry, leaving access to a few. Those few, at this point, would be the companies currently holding the reins on the arcade market. Two biggies, by the way, are Atari and Commodore. Commodore, you see, has the right to produce all Bally arcade games for the new VIC-20.
We're confident the courts would not allow a TV producer to claim proprietary rights to "soap operas," police shows, or westerns. Let's hope the situation that's just now shaping up in the computer gaming industry will avoid the same undue constraints, while protecting the rights of all.
An Apology, And A New Year
Our 1982 production schedule is finalized and, as you should discover with this issue, we're back on schedule. You should be receiving your magazine around the first of the cover date month (or perhaps a bit earlier). That's the way we want it. Never quite wishing to bow to the needs of newsstand distribution overseas, we don't see much point in sending you the February issue in December. We'll stay on this schedule now, our production department is rolling along, and COMPUTE! grows on. And, oh yes, the next time we schedule publication of a book, we'll know whereof we speak when we calculate our production time! Thanks for your patience.
Best wishes for a happy and productive New Year from all of us at COMPUTE!