During his maximum success in the 1980s, Atari, besides counting money, was seriously engaged in the war on piracy. Centipede, Missile Command, Asteroids, BattleZone counted many copying attempts and the cloned pcb infested the world market.
One of the first cases of legal battle was against the Italian SIDAM, producer and distributor of MAGIC WORM, a space edition clone of Centipede. Let’s say that SIDAM sooner or later had to expect a convocation in court, considering that in just three years they had copied Avalanche, Asteroids, Video Pinball and Missile Command to Atari as well.
In court, Atari’s designer prodigy Ed Logg was able to show that not only Magic Worm was obviously inspired by Centipede but that all or part of the code was the same. How did he do it? Just hiding in the original game code a routine, apparently useless and not very visible, that could be recalled through a particular key. Once activated, the routine processed the words “Copyright 1980 Atari” in … morse code.
Ed Logg was able to detect this protection routine directly on the SIDAM game card, thus proving that the code was taken directly from Centipede. Since then SIDAM stopped copying Atari games … and started copying only Sega, Konami and Namco 🙂
In the image an internal Atari document written by Ed Logg himself, inviting all Atari staff to find “creative” solutions on how to protect future games produced, suggesting tricks like routines that controlled the continuous presence of copyright notice on screen without alterations or protection systems that “mess up” the game in the event of tampering. In particular, the blocking of the game had to take place sadistically not at power-up, but when the scores started to get high, in order to add to the copyright infringement the even more dangerous “anger of the gamer”.