back to article Game authors demand missing ZX Spectrum reboot royalties

Suppliers of Retro Computers Ltd are calling for the company to pay the royalties they claim it owes for bundling their games with its ZX Spectrum Vega console. Half a dozen rights-holders, from individuals to companies, have told The Register that RCL has failed to come up with royalties due on their games it has used. RCL's …

  1. Your alien overlord - fear me

    Sounds a bit like those Android set top boxes bundled with Kodi to allow viewing subscription TV programmes/movies for free. I wonder if the local Trading Standards bod will pop his/her head through their door?

  2. Kevin Johnston

    So...

    They say they never refuse a request for a refund but that is not the same as saying they actually process them.

    1. Paul D Smyth

      Re: So...

      We never refuse a request, my might ignore them for a year or two but we never refuse...

  3. Just Enough
    Unhappy

    Innocence lost

    "Sky In-Home Service Ltd, which installs Sky TV home equipment, holds the intellectual property rights to the Spectrum computers on behalf of Rupert Murdoch's media empire."

    Until 2 mins ago I was blissfully unaware of this. How to perpetually soil a childhood memory for ever.

    1. Mike Shepherd
      Happy

      Re: Innocence lost

      Hmm...Good point. Have you noticed how you never see Rupert and Sir Clive together?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Innocence lost

        Have you noticed how you never see Rupert and Sir Clive together?

        I'm sure Jerry Hall would be game for it.

        Now there's an image that'll soil your childhood memory for you.

    2. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: Innocence lost

      The counter argument is you're sticking it to Rupert every time you run an emulator without his blessing.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Innocence lost

      Makes sense

      ZX Spectrum Sold to Alan Michael Sugar TRADings.Amstrad make BSkyB boxes, Amstrad sold to BSkyB. BSkyB becomes Sky, Sky major stakeholder is shithead...sorry Murdoch.

      Something like that anyway.

  4. Mike Shepherd
    Meh

    I'm confused

    I'm confused as to how an author (or any other business) can operate where the customer says "You invoice us and we send the money to our favourite charity".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm confused

      the games in question are very old (25+ years), the rights holders are unlikely to still be making (or expecting) any profit off of the titles - The Last Ninja was originally released for the commodore 64 (in 1987).

      1. DrXym Silver badge

        Re: I'm confused

        "the rights holders are unlikely to still be making (or expecting) any profit off of the titles"

        I expect the way they look at it is this is a commercial product using their games as a selling point and therefore they are entitled to a share of the profits. Especially if they have a contract or a letter of understanding on that point. Is that unreasonable?

        Perhaps their attitude is more laid back for emulators and such like where it's more of a hobbiest / nostalgia thing with no profit motive.

      2. MrT

        Re: I'm confused

        That's what happened with some of the software I wrote back then (Speccy and QL). Eventually they've all ended up as freeware, some earlier than others, always by agreement with the publishers.

        In one case I wrote a program out of personal interest, and could have made much more by publishing it in a series of articles. However, it caught the eye of one publisher and so I worked with a couple of people to release it for sale. The profits were never the aim, and whatever was generated, even up to as late as last year, was offered to me if I should choose, or could go to a charity (changed from time to time by the publisher - the last one was UNICEF). On the 30th anniversary of the publisher bring in business, we agreed to retire that last title to freeware.

        None of what I wrote would have been included on the Vega or Vega+, (they weren't games), but permission should always be sought where possible - I was always asked before anything happened and can understand why those affected by this would be annoyed, even if they only wanted to see evidence of their contribution to a charity.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    the ZX Spectrum sucked ... i don't know why people still talk about in in 2017..

    let it die... the trouble is, nostalgia is powerful, but ya got to know when to reel it in a bit,

    i did, or i would be sat here on my BBC Micro ...

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      re sucked

      You should do the marketing for these RCA people!

      1. wolfetone Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: re sucked

        "You should do the marketing for these RCA people!"

        Would do a better job than you, he'd get the right company for a start.

  6. wolfetone Silver badge
    Holmes

    I see a pattern

    Anything that has gone wrong with the project is solely the blame of the previous MD. He made the deals, decisions etc, so it's his fault that money hasn't gone to where it should've gone.

    Except, he's left the company and agreements have been made. If I left my company and I made a deal with a service provider that deal would still be in place regardless where I am. And he's been gone for over a year, with those agreements in place. So why hasn't the replacement(s) made good on those agreements or sought to re-negotiate?

    It strikes me that Levy is a politician in training.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

      Re: I see a pattern

      Let me translate:

      "The previous MD made those deals , whereas we were just going to steal the IP , so now he's gone we thought we would"

  7. muckypaws

    "I've not listened to a single complaint all week!"

    RCL Must be reading the Dilbert Management Principles and use of weasel words. Never refusing a refund, is not the same of actually returning the money. I think they live by my favourite management quote.... "I've not listened to a single complaint all week!"

    Disappointed being one of the earliest backers, this was going to be a gift to who is now my late wife...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Duh...it's the new world darling....

    ..if you can get it for free and make money from it, it's yours. Rights are just an inconvenience and are best being ignored, or better still removed by politicians you bribe...sorry lobby.

    Ask Google for further details.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Pint

    I'm a little in between with this...

    Personally I can't help wonder if we're not talking about a bunch of people who saw their long aged software being used and then smelled easy money in the making. And I'm not too sure they have any legal grounds either, it's the same with music: after 30 years the copyrights basically drop and it becomes public domain; open for everyone to use. Even if you're using it to make money for yourself.

    Now, I do agree that the company in question seems a bit weird, blaming stuff on someone who has long left, but I also think it's fair to note that we're probably not talking about a multi billion company either. So I can imagine that mistakes can be made, or that they make stupid remarks because they're not sure how to handle the situation.

    And that's the other side of the medal: if you get into these kinds of things you should be prepared. Study this, do your homework and if you do get called out have your statements ready so that you at least leave a solid impression instead of that of a bunch of goofballs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm a little in between with this...

      I thought in the UK the copyright term is usually the life of the author plus 70 years nowadays?

      If you're legally entitled to make money out of something you own, why wouldn't you?

      1. Meerkatjie

        Re: I'm a little in between with this...

        Sort of. In the fine tradition of UK law there are a lot of caveats. The code for the game can be treated as a literary work, the on screen representation as an artistic work, any animation can be considered film, and the soundtrack as music. In general a released game will be in copyright for 70 years from the date it was first published.

        http://www.copyrightservice.co.uk/copyright/uk_law_summary has a list of the baseline durations for each type of work.

    2. Mike Shepherd
      Meh

      Re: I'm a little in between with this...

      "I'm not too sure they have any legal grounds either...after 30 years the copyrights basically drop".

      There's no need to remain unsure. Take a look at the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988) and the Intellectual Property Act (2014):

      "Copyright expires at the end of the period of 70 years from the end of the calendar year in which the author dies..."

      "If the work is computer-generated...copyright expires at the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the work was made".

      For sound recordings: "at the end of the period of 50 years from the end of the calendar year in which the recording is made...".

      You say "...do your homework and if you do get called out have your statements ready so that you at least leave a solid impression instead of that of a bunch of goofballs". Are you one of those "goofballs"?

      It's especially important not to be a "goofball" if you're planning to steal others' work. From the CDP Act: "A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1)(a), (b), (d)(iv) or (e) is liable (a) on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine, or both; (b) on conviction on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or both".

      1. Lotaresco

        Re: I'm a little in between with this...

        "It's especially important not to be a "goofball" if you're planning to steal others' work. From the CDP Act: "A person guilty of an offence under subsection (1)(a), (b), (d)(iv) or (e) is liable (a) on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine, or both; (b) on conviction on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or both"."

        Hmm, you're rather guilty of quoting out of context there since Criminal Liability only applies if the infringing works are "otherwise than for his private and domestic use". Hence someone who "steals" other's work ["steal" is the wrong term to use, copyright infringement is not "stealing"] has not committed a criminal offence if the work was copied for personal use.

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          Re: I'm a little in between with this...

          You're saying that infringing for the purposes of making a product and selling it is "personal use"?

          Is that in the same way that copying videos and selling them at car boot sales is personal use?

          1. Lotaresco

            Re: I'm a little in between with this...

            "You're saying that infringing for the purposes of making a product and selling it is "personal use"?"

            No, are you saying that you're unable to read a post?

          2. Lotaresco

            Re: I'm a little in between with this...

            "You're saying that infringing for the purposes of making a product and selling it is "personal use"?"

            You're saying that you're a fully paid up member of DAESH?

            Oh look, I can do straw men too!

    3. lglethal Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: I'm a little in between with this...

      Hi Sheluser,

      I suggest you go back and read the article which is linked within this one. That article explains that there was a deal done with all of the games owners/publishers that the section of royalties that would have gone to them would instead go to charity. After an initial instalment of 20k going to the charity, nothing more has been paid out, even though conservative estimates state it should be at least another 30k going based on sales of the consoles (probably much higher).

      What this article also points out is that there are a whole bunch of games and stuff included in the Vega which were not approved by the owners of those games. I.e. they added them without permission. Very dodgy behaviour.

      When you read some of the background to this firm, it all begins to sound super dodgy... Anyway, I hope that helps clear things up for you.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. CaptainBlack

    My first comment on their Facebook page resulted in my account being blocked from commenting on anything they post. I've tried to contact them through Indienogo to request a refund only to be ignored, heaven knows what crime I've committed in their eyes. RCL seem to have utter contempt for their backers at this point.

    1. Michael Strorm

      "I've tried to contact them through Indienogo to request a refund only to be ignored, heaven knows what crime I've committed in their eyes."

      I'd guess that was either the "crime" of asking for a refund and/or not adhering to their line that everything is peachy in RCL land.

  12. This post has been deleted by its author

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'd like to see the court case

    I'd like to see the court case where Mr Cale claims to own all rights pertaining to 'DEATH STAR Interceptor'...

  14. MorganL

    Blocked but apparently a sheep

    So using the only medium RCL are active on, I again vented my frustration at the legal wrangling and advising I had gone through the bank for a refund. Blocked by the official RCL FB page now, but they have left a comment from someone indicating that anyone unhappy is a sheep. Great company!

  15. Paul Shirley

    Don't remember being asked to donate my Spindizzy or Confuzion royalties... sadly the games industry has a disgraceful history of only honouring contracts and IP ownership at the sharp end of a judges gavel.

    If you can catch the bastards stealing :(

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      > at the sharp end of a judges gavel.

      So only in America¹ then.

      ¹ And possibly Liberia, though it's hard to notice over the noise of the AK47s.

    2. ThomH Silver badge

      Maybe you just didn't hear the phone go because you had the music track from Side B of Confuzion turned up too loud?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Paul Shirley

      I did not realise I was posting on here in such esteemed company.

      Please allow me to doff my hat in your direction.

    4. Lee D Silver badge

      Why is Spindizzy so fecking hard?

      I can barely keep the thing in a straight line.

      Expecting a patch any day now.

  16. Ilsa Loving

    Technically correct

    > RCL insists it never refuses a request for a refund.

    They can't refuse if they don't respond!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What?

    So just because Sky owns the rights to Sinclair IP, this company assumes that this includes the IP of all the independant game producers who ever produced anything for the machine? What an absurd point of view.

    As far as I am aware, most game producers from the Spectrum era (apart from Ultimate Play the Game/Rare) are not that bothered about people using their stuff on emulators where no money changes hands. However, I can see why they might get upset when somebody elss is profiting from their work and not paying them.

    1. Numpty

      Re: What?

      Most, perhaps, but certainly not all... just need to look at how many games are "redistribution denied" in the World of Spectrum archive. Codemasters, Mastertronic and Elite spring to mind -- the former still very much in business, likewise the latter who also market retro Spectrum hardware and software of their own. (I presume Sega now own the rights to all the Mastertronic games, and I can't imagine they're especially keen to let randomers play them for free either.)

  18. The Nazz Silver badge

    I'm more confused than normal.

    Easily done i know but ...

    The article reads as though no physical product yet exists.

    The article reads as though the Indiegogo people are "backers".

    So, at which point does a "sale" of a product and the incidence of royalties being due take place?

    Notwithstanding that the entirety of the operation to date appears to be an appalling way to operate.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I'm more confused than normal.

      The 'VEGA' product has been manufactured and sold, but there are questions over whether the third-party distibutor handed over the revenue from those sales, and whether then the appropriate royalty (or proxy donations to GOSH) could or have been made.

      The 'VEGA+' product is still an Indigogo project in development, which some people seem to be dead-set on sabotaging. As well as 'backers' in the sense of contributors to the Indiegogo fund, there are 'backers' in the sense of those who've given permission for their games to be used. Persuading people to withdraw those permissions such that the number of games drops below the stated 1000 titles is just one such delaying tactic.

      1. Lotaresco
        Trollface

        Re: I'm more confused than normal.

        "The 'VEGA+' product is still an Indigogo project in development, which some people seem to be dead-set on sabotaging. "

        <sniffs Anon Troll>

        Hmmm, would you care to confirm or deny your association with RCL, Mr Trolly McTrollface?

  19. Darren Sandford

    From the Facebook page...

    "We are aware that a number of known associates of the former Managing Director Paul Andrews and his business partner Darren Melbourne have been in touch with another fake "news story". Yet again, The Register is simply being used by Mr Andrews and Mr Melbourne in another attempt to damage a great project. Former Managing Director Mr Andrews was responsible for contracting all of the rights owners in relation to the Vega on - page 53 of "Creating the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega" - Published by Andrews UK and Co-Authored by RCL's former MD, Paul Andrews states "I negotiated the necessary IP agreements with the various patent holders and licensors that would allow us to create and market the product" . The current management has spent a huge amount of time dealing with nearly 300 rights owners to establish legal ownership of a number of games and we have removed a number of games accordingly. These include the titles claimed by Mr Greengrass and Mr Cale, both known associates of the former MD Paul Andrews and his business partner Darren Melbourne.

    Furthermore, Mr Andrews is providing ongoing support to Cornerstone Media International Limited (now in liquidation )and owner/sole director Nicholas Cooper who diverted and received funds belonging to Retro Computers Limited. This money was unlawfully diverted by Cooper outside of the scope of Cornerstone Media Internationals contract and in the process depriving Rights Owners and our chosen charity of income that would have been payable by RCL on receipt of those funds. Mr Andrews has tried to stop the current management from recovering this money from Mr Cooper. Due to ongoing legal action, we cannot comment further at this time. “

    Dr David Levy 18.4.17

    LikeShow More ReactionsComment

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: From the Facebook page...

      "The current management has spent a huge amount of time dealing with nearly 300 rights owners to establish legal ownership of a number of games and we have removed a number of games accordingly. These include the titles claimed by..."

      I translate that as "we did in fact sell these people's intellectual property to other people illegally, but we stopped doing that once we bothered to check".

      Not a good sign. "We can" by default, because you never bothered to actually check, is not a good position to take in the law.

      That said, if there is anything factually inaccurate in The Reg article, please do initiate your complaints and maybe even lawsuit for libel. I'm sure The Reg would add on an editor's update at the bottom if they bothered to ask. Even if it was a sarcastic one.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: From the Facebook page...

        "I translate that as "we did in fact sell these people's intellectual property to other people illegally, but we stopped doing that once we bothered to check"."

        I'm going to play devil's advocate here; it's just as possible that these (non-)agreements were negotiated- or *should* have been negotiated- under Andrews' tenure, and that the current management are the ones looking into things properly.

        This is just speculation- I can't say whether it actually *is* the case, and it would still be the company's ultimate responsibility either way. I just don't think we can automatically assume it's the fault of the current management.

        1. Lee D Silver badge

          Re: From the Facebook page...

          Corporate law doesn't distinguish between one MD and the next. It's up to the company as an entity to sort it out.

          Lying by saying "we had rights" or not is just misdirection.

          Either you say "We had problems, we are now working to fix them", or you deny that there ever was a problem.

          Pointing and saying "his fault" is - in the eyes of the law - essentially the same as saying: It's OUR fault. That company over here. WE did that. It's all OUR fault.

          As I like to distinguish, the REASON may be the previous MD. But that is not an excuse - it does not EXCUSE you from having done it. And, in law, "you" refers to the company, not any singular person.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: From the Facebook page...

            "Corporate law doesn't distinguish between one MD and the next. It's up to the company as an entity to sort it out."

            Hence why I made clear that "it would still be the company's ultimate responsibility either way" and- by implication- this wasn't the level on which I was disputing it.

            The problem with this case is that there *is* a dispute between the former and current management, which is as much the selling point of the story. And that if one wishes to assign blame- either explicitly or implicitly- at a personal level, there's not enough clear evidence to say for sure whose fault this particular issue is.

            At this stage, I still wouldn't touch anything by the company with a bargepole, though

    2. Lotaresco

      Re: From the Facebook page...

      "on - page 53 of "Creating the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega" - Published by Andrews UK and Co-Authored by RCL's former MD, Paul Andrews states "I negotiated the necessary IP agreements with the various patent holders and licensors that would allow us to create and market the product" . "

      Hold on a freaking minute, RCL is claiming that the authoritative source for copyright agreements with the IPR holders is a one line throw away comment in a book written by a former MD? This gives the impression that RCL don't have any evidence to support their claim that they have agreements in place and that their "crack legal team" needs to s/ck/p/g

  20. Wolfclaw Silver badge
    Holmes

    Time for the Serious Fraud Office to start investigating, freeze all assets of the company and it's owners and immediately refund those who have not received the Vega, pay the due royalties and wind up the company and maybe a brief to the CPS !

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Where's my Ferrari, that's what I want to know...

      How much money does anyone think these royalties come to anyway? For a sub-£100 machine with 1000 games on it, exactly how much is anyone expecting? Is anyone really still holding out for that Ferrari they were promised?

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: Where's my Ferrari, that's what I want to know...

        They come to whatever the authors demand.

        Even at a penny each, that's one pound per console and they haven't paid that.

        But if the authors still say it's 10p or a pound for their game, they either have to pay THAT or cannot distribute.

        Theft is not a case of value of the item.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Where's my Ferrari, that's what I want to know...

          'Theft' is not a case at all in civil contracts. And I know there's a new pound coin on the streets but I still don't think it's worth 1000 pennies as you seem to imply...

          If it is a penny per game, then it's one penny per console per game that any one person is owed, which comes to £100 off the sale of 10,000 units. As the post pointed out, that is not a lot, which is why most contributors are happy to see it go to charity. But until that revenue is realised from the distributor then it can't be paid, can it?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Sky-Amstrad-Sinclair chain

    No-one is trying to claim that the Sky-Amstrad-Sinclair chain pertains to rights to all games; only the rights to the Sinclair branding, machine design, ROM, and games published by Sinclair itself. Third-party games are an entirely seperate matter. (Though Amstrad did try that with the eMailer and there wasn't this fuss back then).

    But let's also not forget that games authors who worked for companies that paid them at the time may not have ever been entitled to royalties, nor do they necessarily own any rights pertaining to those games if the companies they worked for have similarly been amalgamated into still existent companies.

    This article quotes Mark Cale of System 3 saying "there is no contract in place", so for a start, he can't be claiming royalties without a contract. That's an entirely different matter of permissions. It then goes on to list several System 3 games where someone else entirely is the current publisher, and who did give permission for their free use (so long as the charitable donations were made). So once again, the titular complaint, specifically of unpaid royalties, is undermined.

    1. Lotaresco

      Re: The Sky-Amstrad-Sinclair chain

      "So once again, the titular complaint, specifically of unpaid royalties, is undermined."

      Still has a strong whiff of an RCL shill about this post.

  22. Anonymous C0ward

    It's probably got something to do with some of the directors leaving and deliberately trying to scupper what's left.

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