CD Project Red rejects Witcher author's request for $16.1m in additional royalties

“Mr Andrzej Sapkowski expects payment beyond what had been contractually agreed”

The writer behind the original Witcher stories that inspired the best-selling RPGs wants a bigger share of the money they're making - and been denied.

Developer CD Projekt Red posted a regulatory notice observing it had received an official demand for payment from author Andrzej Sapkowski, and even shared the original document.

In it, Sapkowski's legal representatives convey his request for at least 60 million Polish zlotys ($16.1 million), arguing the studio has exceeded its rights to use the author's IP, and he is therefore owed a share of the revenues CD Projekt is generating with his creation.

"Careful reading of your contracts concluded with the Author might lead one to conclude that, if the company did effectively acquire any copyright at all, it concerned only the first in a series of games, and therefore distribution of all other games, including their expansions, add-ons etc., is, simply speaking, unlawful," the demand reads.

It continues: "We are fully aware of the fact that the Author's claim expressed herein is not a typical request, and that demanding payment of dozens of millions Polish Zlotys is not an everyday occurrence. We nevertheless wish to assure you that the case has been under preparation for a fairly long time, and that the Author is fully aware of the scenarios which may unfold depending on your actions. Even more importantly, both we and the Author are determined and prepared to see this matter through to a fully successful conclusion."

Sapkowski's representative says it is willing to arranging a meeting by October 19th to discuss this, providing CD Projekt responds within 14 days.

The studio has already responded, rejecting the request and claiming Sapkowski "expects payment of additional royalties beyond what had been contractually agreed upon between himself and the Company."

"In the Company's opinion the demands expressed in the notice are groundless with regard to their merit as well as the stipulated amount," the firm wrote in its regulatory notice. 

"The Company had legitimately and legally acquired copyright to Mr. Andrzej Sapkowski's work, i.a. insofar as is required for its use in games developed by the Company. All liabilities payable by the Company in association therewith have been properly discharged."

The notice goes on to say CD Projekt is keen to "maintain good relations with authors of works which have inspired [our] own creations" and will "go to great lengths to ensure amicable resolution of this dispute."

The request has come as a bit of a surprise, given how long CD Projekt's Witcher series has been going. If, as Sapkowski's lawyers suggest, the studio only secured copyright for the first game in the series, it's unclear as to why Sapkowski did not come forth around the release of The Witcher 2: Assassin's of Kings in 2011, or The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in 2015, or its Blood and Wine extension the year after.

CD Projekt has also been quite publicly building up Gwent, the fictional digital card game based on the world of The Witcher since it was introduced in the 2015 title, even hosting multi-million dollar esports tournaments around it. It's likely the announcement of Thronebreaker, a full-blown RPG built around Gwent with a new Witcher story, has prompted the author's demands.

Our sister site Eurogamer interviewed Sapkowski last year, who admitted he regretted rejecting CD Projekt's original royalties proposal.

"They offered me a percentage of their profits. I said, 'No, there will be no profit at all - give me all my money right now! The whole amount. It was stupid. I was stupid enough to leave everything in their hands because I didn't believe in their success. But who could foresee their success? I couldn't."

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Latest comments (6)

Jonathan Ridgway CEO & Creative Director. Co-founder, Rebourne Studios10 months ago
No surprise. If they're not contractually obliged to pay him, then he won't get paid. His quote from the Eurogamer interview sums it up really.

"I said, 'No, there will be no profit at all - give me all my money right now! The whole amount.' It was stupid. I was stupid enough to leave everything in their hands because I didn't believe in their success. But who could foresee their success? I couldn't."
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Daniel Trezub QA Analyst, Ludia10 months ago
@Jonathan Ridgway: unless his claim that they had an agreement for only one game holds true.

Like, who sells rights like this anyways? "Here, take my work and do whatever you want with it for how many years you wish, just give me some spare money for that. I don't really like it." :D
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Chris Payne Managing Director & Founder, Quantum Soup Studios10 months ago
I'd be fascinated to see the terms of that contract...presumably it covered any number of games on any platform for...perpetuity? I'm amazed he signed that. It must cover future books in the same IP too, otherwise surely he'd be writing NEW stories and asking CDP to cut him in on those...
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Yiannis Koumoutzelis Founder & Creative Director, Neriad Games10 months ago
@Daniel Trezub: From the sound of it, his whole approach was underestimating what he was not understanding. If you don't believe anything will come out of it and you consider these weird "game developer kids" as creatively inferior, all you care is to grab their money and forget about this ever happened. You sign whatever and probably laugh all your way to the bank thinking they were probably crazy or stupid to give you money for nothing.

We do not know the terms of their license so we can't say much about it.

In any case though, I would expect he sold a lot more books after the Witcher game became such a success. He should be happy about it.

Sounds like someone gave him a hint about how much money successful games make and he felt he left money on the table. But that is not how things work. It all depends on the terms of the licensing contract. i.e. if there is a bumper in there, it could be that he is right.
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I think going forward, CD Projekt should create their IPs from scratch and not from licensed works.
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Anthony Gowland Director, Ant Workshop10 months ago
Apparently there's some allowance in Polish law if the licensee's earnings from a deal make the original terms seem very unfair - specifically to protect people who have signed bad deals for whatever reason (ignorance, bad faith, desperation, etc)
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