Robin Antonick wins Madden lawsuit

EA could be liable for millions in back royalties; we speak with Antonick's attorney [Updated: EA responds]

Update: EA sent us the following statement: “While we're disappointed with the jury's verdict and will appeal, this has always been a case about games from the early 1990s, and it has no impact on today's Madden NFL franchise.”

The jury has returned a verdict in programmer Robin Antonick's lawsuit against Electronic Arts over John Madden Football, finding in favor of Antonick. This leaves EA liable for what could be millions of dollars in royalties for multiple versions of Madden Football.

"Now that we have this liability finding, it's going to be pretty easy for our expert to link all the other games," said Antonick's attorney Stuart Painter, speaking exclusively to GamesIndustry International. "We will be sending out new discovery to Electronic Arts, and we'll be asking for all their source code." Of course, the process could be over soon if there's a settlement, but Painter doesn't see that as likely. "Our experience with EA's lawyers, especially their in-house lawyers, is what they lack in good legal judgment they make up for in unreasonable stubbornness," he said.

The Sega Genesis games up until January 1st, 1996 were ruled by the jury to be using Antonick's copyrighted material. Specifically, that the expression of the plays in Antonick's source code was used by EA in its games over time.

"Our experience with EA's lawyers, especially their in-house lawyers, is what they lack in good legal judgment they make up for in unreasonable stubbornness"

Stuart Painter

The next phase of the trial will be a series of discovery motions, where Antonick's attorneys will request information from EA regarding the source code for all versions of Madden Football, as well as sales data. When the attorneys have had a chance to analyze the information, a new jury will be impaneled to determine what royalties Antonick may be owed. The sum could be considerable, because those royalties accrue 10 percent interest from the date they were incurred. A million dollars in royalties that was due in 1991 could therefore be closer to $9 million.

Antonick's fraud claims were tossed out, but his attorneys are appealing that decision. It's expected that EA will also be appealing this decision, and the court case that began in 2011 will continue into next year, unless a settlement is reached.

Antonick, a programmer who had played college football, says he was resopnsible for the programming innovations that allowed 22 players on the field and the execution of a real NFL playbook, as well as algorithms that would replicate player attributes.

The case had multiple witnesses, including former EA CEO Trip Hawkins and current Chief Creative Officer Rich Hilleman; John Madden testified on video. Closing arguments Friday focused on Antonick's claim that he contributed to the Sega Genesis versions of Madden from 1991 to 1995. The jury deliberated for two days before returning its verdict upholding Antonick's claims.

EA has been asked for comment; we'll update you if we hear back.

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Latest comments (11)

David Serrano Freelancer 5 years ago
Our experience with EA's lawyers, especially their in-house lawyers, is what they lack in good legal judgment they make up for in unreasonable stubbornness.
Bada boom! Who knew that lawyers had a sense of humor?
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Tony Barnes Creative Director & Founder, Twitchfactor LLC5 years ago
So, does this mean anyone who's written code that's been grandfathered or anyone with an idea still being used in a series finally gets "royalties"?!?

If so, I feel EA and a few other companies owe me some back pay.
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Andrzej Wroblewski Localization Generalist, Albion Localisations5 years ago
Funny to see that especially in view of all the ruccus about Zynga.
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Show all comments (11)
Brook Jones Programmer, United Front Games5 years ago
As a programmer in the games industry, I'm all for programmers in the games industry being fairly compensated for their work.

But as a programmer in the games industry, I'm also extremely skeptical that Mr. Antonick's contributions to a 1988 PC game remain as integral to a 20+ year-old franchise as he claims.
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Bjørn Jacobsen Audio Design, Io Interactive5 years ago
Back then, the source code and other types of input into games were easier to copyright for the individual, I suppose, and if he can prove that they are using his copyrighted material from the original game, I don't see the problem in this verdict.

Though I don't understand, as you point out, how his contributions to a 1988 game and up 1996, could have anything of itself left in the never games as part of their simulation.

This reminds me of older cases in the music industry, loops were sampled and then copyrighted by the sampler instead of the original composer, later remixed and remade by others, then suing the sampler for having sampled their new mixed loops - it was an endless ridiculous discussion. mud fight.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 5 years ago
He most likely just became an instant millionaire.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
Hmmm. Perhaps they can pay him in copies of this year's Madden. And next year's... and so on and so on...
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Murray Lorden Game Designer & Developer, MUZBOZ5 years ago
You know, it's funny, I actually worked at a place that worked on Madden, and I remember some programmers laughing about how there was some really old code in there from a good decade or so prior.

So I've been interested in this case, as it jangled that bell of my memory of those conversations. I seem to recall that someone at the company had worked on a really old version of the game from around 1992 or something, and was really surprised when they worked on it again around 2006 or something, that the old code they'd written was still there! It was to do with player AI of some sort. Can't really remember.

So... believe it! :)
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game5 years ago
As for questioning a programmer getting royalties now, if I recall the original story, he was a contractor, who was entitled to royalties in his contract. I think he received them for the first game, just not the subsequent games. This is clearly not the same as a fixed salary employee, or contractor with a contract that gives a fixed pay for signing over ownership of their work.

And although EA claimed none of his code was reused, clearly they weren't able to prove this in court. If they had the old code, and produced it in court, they surely could have proved if it was a total rewrite. If they didn't produce it it would have to be questioned why.

It also seems the judge recognises that it is less likely anything made it across to the PS era, which is why Robin hasn't yet been granted anything from that until he has a chance to go through that code and prove otherwise.
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Brook Jones Programmer, United Front Games5 years ago
That's an interesting point, Andrew -- clearly his employment contract was structured differently from modern equivalents...

However, even if it were shown that some of his code was still being used in the current codebase, I think the damages awarded would have to be weighted according to:
1) how "integral" (ie. intelligent, unique, central) is the code in question?
2) what percentage, in terms of number of lines, does the code in question represent of the entire codebase?

My (entirely speculative) guesses would be "a little" and "less than 0.001%", respectively -- so maybe worth tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, but probably not millions or tens of millions...
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game5 years ago
However, Brook, if it is still used, it seems it is used in breach of contract, and it has been lied about. I imagine the award would take that into account too.

However, assuming it is no longer in the code at all, I think he will do alright from the award he already has for the pre 3D era plus interest.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Andrew Goodchild on 25th July 2013 8:11pm

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