People have been enjoying the video game Tetris for 32 years now. The simple yet exceedingly clever game is maddeningly addictive. In fact, its creator, Alexey Pajitnov, was so hooked on his own game that he could barely get any work done at the Soviet Academy of Sciences. But even though he realized how successful his creation might be, profiting from your own creation was illegal in the Soviet Union in 1984. So he gave it away, sharing it with friends, who shared it with others, until it leaked to the outside world. A British company started manufacturing and selling Tetris.
Behind the iron curtain, a state-owned company called Elektronorgtechnica (or Elorg for short) had taken over the responsibility of selling the rights to Tetris overseas. Because Pajitnov and his colleagues had created Tetris while working for the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Tetris effectively belonged to the state, and by extension, Elorg.
It’s here that the rights issue surrounding Tetris became somewhat fraught. The UK company Andromeda was forced to negotiate a proper licensing deal with Elorg when the latter’s director, Alexander Alexinko, noticed that Andromeda was selling on rights that it didn’t actually own. Meanwhile, Spectrum HoloByte sub-licensed its rights to Henk Rogers’ company, Bulletproof Software, which planned to sell Tetris in Japan, without realizing that Mirrorsoft had also sub-licensed the game to Atari, who planned to sell it not only in America, but also in Japan.
If you think that’s confusing, the KGB and Soviet president Mikhail Gorbochev got involved in the negotiations, too. Read the rest of the story of how Tetris became a worldwide phenomenon at Den of Geek. And there’s extra trivia about the game in the same post.