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38 at Infinity Ward file lawsuit against Activision over royalties

Group claims $54m is owed; accuses publisher of holding them "hostage" until delivery of MW3

A lawsuit has been filed against Activision by 38 employees of Infinity Ward, both past and present, who claim that the publisher owes them over $54 million in bonus payments.

And according to the suit, Activision has been holding its staff "hostage" since the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 by withholding payments due to them until the completion of Modern Warfare 3.

The lawsuit, which was discovered by G4TV, was filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court by 38 employees calling themselves the "Infinity Ward Employee Group".

One of the group's attorneys Bruce Issacs of Wyman & Isaacs LLO explained: "Activision owes my clients approximately $75 million to $125 million dollars. Activision has withheld most of the money to force many of my people to stay, some against their will, so that they would finish the delivery of Modern Warfare 3.

"That is not what they wanted to do. Many of them. My clients are entitled to their money. Activision has no right to withhold their money."

According to the filing, $28 million has been delivered to Infinity Ward workers in bonuses, but at least $54 million is still owed to them from 2009 profits alone.

However, taking into account other considerations - including bonuses due past the first quarter of 2010 and interest rates - the group is looking "to recover between $75 million and $125 million, if not more, in compensatory damages," said Isaacs.

According to the lawsuit Activision has "improperly withheld this specifically identifiable sum of money from the members of IWEG in order to force them to keep working for Activision so that Activision could receive delivery of Modern Warfare 3."

Activision "made a calculated, purposeful and malicious decision" to withhold proper bonuses "in an attempt to force employees of Infinity Ward to continue to work at a job that many of them did not want just so Activision could force them to complete the development, production and delivery of Modern Warfare 3," it continues.

"In short, Activision withheld the property of the IWEG in an attempt to keep the employees hostage so that Activision could reap the benefit of the completion of Modern Warfare 3."

In response to the lawsuit however Activision has issued a brief statement saying that it believes it is within its rights to determine the schedule of bonus payments.

"Activision believes the action is without merit," said a company spokesperson. "Activision retains the discretion to determine the amount and the schedule of bonus payments for MW2 and has acted consistent with its rights and the law at all times. We look forward to getting judicial confirmation that our position is right."

Last week an Activision employee wrote on Facebook that the bonuses due to employees of Infinity Ward that have since left the company would be "redistributed to everybody else."

Former Infinity Ward heads Jason West and Vince Zampella have also filed a lawsuit against their former employer, suing them for upwards of £36 million. They alleged that Activision forced employees to produce games at "breakneck pace" under "aggressive schedules" and also claimed bonus payments were being withheld.

"West and Zampella were not eager to extend their employment; especially as they watched their games receive countless awards and make Activision billions of dollars, while many Infinity Ward employees were not being provided a fair share," stated the filing.

Activision has counter-sued the pair, accusing them of attempting to hijack its assets and delaying pre-production of Modern Warfare 3.

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Kath Brice

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