In the summer of 1999, I could often be found hunting for 8-track tapes at local flea markets. At a large flea market in Douglas, MA, I found a man with a box full of 8-tracks and Atari 2600 game cartridges. When I asked how much he wanted per tape, he told me I could have the entire box for 10 dollars.


I didn't really want the Atari games, but $10 was a good price for the 8-tracks. When I got home, the 8-tracks and game carts were separated, and the games were set aside in a cardboard box in my closet. When the summer ended, I returned to Rochester, NY for my senior year of college.

Flash forward two years... It's January of 2001, and I'm going through all my old stuff, trying to sort out things worth keeping from things that would go into either the trash or could be donated to Goodwill. I found the box of Atari games, and glanced at the titles as I transfered them to another box. While transferring the games, something occurred to me, and I looked over the cartridges again. There was something very familiar about the picture on the sticker for Space Invaders. I couldn't put it together right away, so I went back to sorting things. After a few minutes, I placed the nagging feeling I was having, and went to my record collection.

I pulled out my vinyl copy of Boston's second album, 'Don't Look Back,' and compared it to the Space Invaders cartridge...

Don't Look Back album cover Space Invaders cartridge label

Both images feature a spaceship topped with a domed city (even details like light flares on the dome and the direction of light/shadow on the buildings are alike), and a red underside with a circular orifice that's emitting three beams of light/energy. Both spaceships are against a fading blue sky with similar streaks of light clouds toward the horizon, and both ships are hovering over jagged red landscapes.

It was more than a coincidence, I figured: One of these designs was patterned after/copied from the other. The copyright dates on both the Boston album and my Atari cartridge were 1978, so the question became: Who copied who?

In searching the Internet, I discovered that nobody had discussed or seemly noticed this graphic similarity before, so there was no easy answer.

After much research, it appears that Atari ripped off the 'Don't Look Back' album cover.

Here are my findings, in timeline form:

  • Summer 1978 - Taito released Space Invaders to arcades in Japan.

    The artwork on the arcade cabinets was reminiscent of comic book art, using primary colors and thick black and white lines; the main motif in this artwork was a shadowy alien figure with bright, catlike eyes.

  • August 2, 1978 - Boston's second album, 'Don't Look Back' was released.

    Jacket artwork, as pictured above, was by artist Gary Norman.

  • 1979 - To reinvigorate sluggish Atari Video Computer System (Atari 2600) sales, Atari entered into negotiations with Taito for rights to port Space Invaders to their system.

  • February 1980 - Space Invaders was released for the Atari 2600.

    Three labels from the 1980 release exist -

      One label bore no imagery, and the following copyright:
      "Program © 1980 ATARI, Inc."

      A second, most common, label is pictured above, and reads:
      "Label, Program & Audiovisual © 1978 ATARI, Inc."

      A third, with the same color illustration, but against a red background, read:
      "Copyright © 1980 Atari Corporation. All rights reserved."

The Gary Norman artwork for Boston's 'Don't Look Back' album cover was clearly created and in print long before Atari entered into negotiations with Taito for rights to a port of Space Invaders, and also before Atari's (not so unique) artwork for the cartridge label was created.

The 1978 copyright on the common Space Invaders label seems to be a misprint; Atari did not yet possess the rights to the game, which completely precludes them publishing it. The fact that the other two contemporary labels bear a copyright of 1980 more or less confirms that the 1978 Atari copyright is a labelling error.

- Steve Moss    [July 2001]

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