Ironstone -- the company that has licensed the Commodore 64 brand from Tulip Computers -- has confirmed that it is planning on charging a subscription fee for access to C64 resources, in a bid to help the company become "the guardian angel" of the brand.
The Commodore 64, which according to the Guinness Book of Records is still the best selling computer ever, was launched in the early eighties alongside classic home computer systems such as the BBC Micro model B and the Sinclair Spectrum. Today the brand is kept alive by some 6 million enthusiasts in a vibrant online community.
When Tulip announced the licence deal with Ironstone last week, user groups were up in arms, fearing that the new owners would threaten legal action and shut them down in an attempt to drive traffic and sales to 'official' resources.
Darren Melbourne, creative director at Ironstone Partners, admits that a subscription-based portal is on the cards, but he is keen to convey to the C64 community that Ironstone is not their enemy. "We want to become the guardian angel of the brand," said Melbourne, who first wanted to license the C64 brand in 1997. "We have a huge, dedicated fan base who are interested in keeping this machine alive. At some point in the future, we will probably offer a subscription model."
As part of the plan, Ironstone is also changing the C64 logo -- trademarked logos play an important part in the protection of intellectual property and licensing. Melbourne said the logo had changed to differentiate between the old and new C64 products: "The Commodore and C64 logo has been slightly changed. It retains 90 percent familiarity with the old one, but it has been revised and all new Commodore-branded Web sites and products will have the new logo."
Melbourne claims that the only people that have to worry about legal action are those companies that are "abusing" the brand. "There are big companies on the high street selling C64 emulators and games and they shouldn't be doing that. Those are the kind of people we are going to stop," said Melbourne, who is an ex-C64 developer and a regular visitor to the specialist sites: "Am I going to close down sites like Lemon64 after they have put seven years of work into building the site? No way. I have been reading it for the past few years and it is fantastic."
Melbourne even hinted that Ironstone would somehow 'help' sites that are struggling for survival: "Fan sites are inviting donations and having problems. Without them, the C64 would have died out 10 years ago, and our immediate goal is to try and help them."
Legal experts say Ironstone would have a problem on its hands if it did intend to take action against the C64 community, because the Commodore brand has been left dormant for so long. Simon Briskman, communications and technology partner at law firm Olswang, said that because the name Commodore hasn't been traded under for so long: "If other people have picked up the name and have been trading with it, [Commodore] will not be able to enforce its rights".
Briskman said that, regardless of Ironstones intentions, controlling the brand will not be clear cut: "In an area where there are competing interests between the user groups and the company, I suspect they will have to get into a dialogue in every case."
Melbourne said he is committed to ensuring that Ironstone and the new C64 portal will be friends with the existing community of fan sites: "We have been around the block with this machine a few times -- we were making games for it 20 years ago -- so the very last thing we want to do now is make enemies."