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Who Owns the Imagic Brand These Days?

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I know that Activision own the rights to many of Imagic's games but do they actually own the brand name too?

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The recently released Activision Anthology app for ios devices shows the Imagic name and logo on the virtual carts and boxes.

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Interesting question. I've often heard it said that Activision "acquired" Imagic after the latter closed its doors in 1985, but I'm not sure that's entirely true. I posted this in an earlier thread:

 

Regarding the Imagic titles: despite popular belief, I don't think Activision owns or has ever owned any of the Imagic properties. If you listen to the November/December 2005 episodes of Retro Gaming Radio, you'll hear an extensive interview with Bruce Davis (the president of Imagic at the time it went under and later the CEO of Activision). According to him, Imagic went into bankruptcy in 1985 after selling off its fixed assets, and still exists as a California corporation "in bad standing" because it hasn't paid its debts to the state in 20+ years. If those were to be cleared, Imagic could be revived and would continue to hold all the rights it previously had. Because there was no buyer, and because Bruce Davis had no successor as president of Imagic, he technically still owns the properties but hasn't been approached with a serious offer for them yet.


To the best of my recollection, that's almost an exact quote from Davis. Take it for whatever it's worth. I've also heard that Bill Grubb (the former president of Imagic, whom Davis replaced) has confirmed that Activision did not acquire Imagic.
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Hmm, interesting that Activision seem to think that they can legally use the brand and imagery... I don't suppose you've got a link to the radio interview, do you? I looked on the RGR site but the older shows seem to be only available by buying the DVDs - a bit overkill just to listen to one interview!

 

What kind of debts are we talking here? Big scary tax stuff or is more commercial debtors?

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What kind of debts are we talking here? Big scary tax stuff or is more commercial debtors?

 

If Inmagic has generated no revenue since the 1980s, there would be no state income tax owing. Presumably most commercial debtors would have long ago written off their claims as uncollectable.

 

I'm not familiar with California law, but in most jurisdictions, a corporation has to file annual returns (and pay a fee) to remain in good standing. Normally, after several years of inactivity, the company would be automatically struck from the registry and so it ceases to exist. Without reviewing the specific legislation, I do not know why an inactive corporation would remain on the registry for almost 30 years.

 

ETA: "Orphan works" are a really big issue among those who wish to preserve materials, such as librarians. Copyright (and trademarks) is still owned by a defunct corporation (or a deceased person's estate), but there is no way to contact the rights holder. http://www.cb-cda.gc.ca/unlocatable-introuvables/brochure2-e.html

Edited by jhd

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I meant the debt that was accumulated before becoming a company in bad standing... :)

 

Anyway, so presumably, if that quote on the RGR show is to be taken seriously, Bruce Davis still owns the brand and maybe the games too? He should get a lawyer onto Activision - you know if the shoe was on the other foot Activision wouldn't hesitate!

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I'll try to clip out the relevant portion of the RGR interview when I have time; I'm pretty sure that would fall under "fair use".

 

I just found the AtariAge post I mentioned earlier, about Bill Grubb's statement that Activision never acquired the Imagic properties. Apparently John Hardie got in touch with him to confirm this.

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There's a document from the late '90s registered with the US Copyright Office listing over 600 titles Activision owned at the time. Atlantis, Demon Attack, and Moonsweeper are on there. At a quick glance, those appear to be the only Imagic titles to turn up on Activision collections for years, but I see Dragonfire has shown up on Android and iOS.

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The intellivision rocks pc collection has a number of imagic titles on it. And that was released in the 2000's.

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The intellivision rocks pc collection has a number of imagic titles on it. And that was released in the 2000's.

 

From here: "Activision and Imagic games are property of Activision Inc., used by exclusive license."

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I wish Activision Blizzard would say something about the ancient games on its website. There's a longstanding [citation needed] on the Imagic Wikipedia page where it's asserted that Activision bought them up in liquidation.

 

It just came up in another discussion here. It's alarming how quickly "commonly known facts" slide out of consciousness if not repeated by a reputable source.

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I think that Activision might prefer that status quo. Imagis is nothing more than a name in a registry. They do'nt even have a "legal representant" from what it looks like.

So Activision can use the Imagic titles and logos at their will : no one can come to them and claim those games as their own.

And of course, they won't do the move to officiall buy the Imagic asets, logos and titles officially, as Imagic would be too glad to milk money out of those. So it's a juridical limbo that Activision is certainly not caring to make clear, as long as they make profit out of it.

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It could well be a case of "nobody knows for sure, so nobody dares to touch it," too. Like No One Lives Forever.

 

A small group of old game nerds (us!) would be pleased if they just said, "OK, take this ancient software, just don't try to get rich off of it."

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If Imagic was a public company that dissolved and nobody aquired their games copyrights, then nobody could legally publish those games in the US. That might not stop somebody from doing so, since there would be nobody to sue them. But Imagic was a private company, so I think those properties remain with the shareholders when Imagic folded. It sounds like Activision did aquire Atari 2600 Demon Attack, Atlantis, and Moonsweeper but that doesn't necessarily mean they got other versions of those games (eg. Intellivision, c64) or the audio/visual rights.

 

The head of Imagic at its bankruptcy joined Activision in 1987 and later became CEO. I think that was about the time Activision first published Demon Attack. People might have thought Imagic assets came with him. Around 2001 Keith Robinson of Intellivision Productions contacted Activision about licensing the Intellivision Activision and Imagic games for Intellivision Rocks. Keith R. explains in an interview that Activision didn't acknowledge ownership of the Imagic games. The contract was worded to name some games like Pitfall, River Raid, Stampede but others were covered as "other games they may own". That was from the Intellivisionairies podcast episode 9, ~2h:26m.

 

Edit: The Imagic trademarks, unlike copyrights, could be up for grabs; legally.

Edited by mr_me
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So I can call dib on Imagic 2600 games and release a single 2600 cart containing all 19 known games plus menu to select them?

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No, nobody can claim ownership on the software. Making and selling copies would be software piracy and you could be arrested. Imagic shareholders or their heirs could sue you. Activision might own the copyrights to three of the games. If you tried to find the Imagic shareholders but couldn't you might be able to sell copies in Canada according to this. http://www.cb-cda.gc.ca/unlocatable-introuvables/brochure2-e.html

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Could also be a situation where Activision owns a significant percentage of the shares and therefore asserts a right of ownership.

What shares?

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What shares?

Not even saying there are any for certain, but I worked for a privately owned company for eight years where the "owner" worked in his office almost daily. Not even employee's who had been there for years long than I had were aware until the company "owner" made it none during a meeting that he had been slowly buying up all of the shares in the company for over a decade.

 

My point is even a privately owned company can have privately issued and held shares. A privately owned/held company isn't required to publicly acknowledge shares and holders exist to anyone other than the IRS. What I'm suggesting is that could be the case with Imagic, and Microsoft/Activision may have acquired enough shares in the original defunct company that they can do as they please with the entire Imagic game library.

Edited by game_player_s

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When ATGames licensed Pitfall from Activision for their latest flashback, I wonder if they asked about Demon Attack.

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If you tried to find the Imagic shareholders but couldn't, you might be able to sell copies in Canada according to this. http://www.cb-cda.gc.ca/unlocatable-introuvables/brochure2-e.html

 

In so far as I am aware (and part of my job involves intellectual property law), nobody has yet tried to apply the "orphan works" exception to computer software. I would not want to try it with a recognizable brand, but it may be an interesting test case with some long-defunct, local company from the mid-1980s.

 

If anyone decides to make an application to the Copyright Board, please do let us know the outcome.

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Betting the real reason is that no one wants to pay lawyers to go though DVDs of old contracts as a lot of old properties may have conditions tied to their usage or been loan out or sold.

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I'm interested in owning the Imagic brand and games concepts, but I live in Italy: what is teh copyright board you mention and do you know where I should apply?

 

 

 

 

In so far as I am aware (and part of my job involves intellectual property law), nobody has yet tried to apply the "orphan works" exception to computer software. I would not want to try it with a recognizable brand, but it may be an interesting test case with some long-defunct, local company from the mid-1980s.

 

If anyone decides to make an application to the Copyright Board, please do let us know the outcome.

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I'm interested in owning the Imagic brand and games concepts, but I live in Italy: what is teh copyright board you mention and do you know where I should apply?

 

 

 

Here's the application information at the Canadian copyright board.

 

http://www.cb-cda.gc.ca/unlocatable-introuvables/index-e.html

 

It wouldn't give you ownership, only permission to use the work in Canada. The Imagic trademark is seperate and not applicable.

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