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EA, Ubisoft caught in Quebec contract quarrel

EA Montreal has hired an unnamed former Ubisoft employee, re-igniting a long-standing feud between the two firms over a non-compete clause in Ubisoft's employment contract.

EA Montreal has hired an unnamed former Ubisoft employee, re-igniting a long-standing feud between the two firms over a non-compete clause in Ubisoft's employment contract.

Following the hiring of the ex-Ubi staff member, EA Montreal's Alain Tascan sent a letter to Ubisoft Montreal head Martin Tremblay asking the publisher to "stop the illegitimate practice of forcing talented people to sign employment contracts that restrict their creative and economic freedom."

The controversy surrounds Ubisoft's non-compete clause, which prevents employees from working with a competitor in the industry for the first twelve months following their departure from the company.

Whilst the practice is perfectly legal in Quebec, EA maintains that the clause is unnecessarily excessive, stating: "Ubisoft has no legitimate interests to protect that cannot be fully protected by confidentiality undertakings. Moreover, the games on which these people work are protected by other legal means, such as copyright. Therefore, a confidentiality undertaking is more than sufficient to protect the business interests of Ubisoft."

The letter includes several strong accusations regarding Ubisoft's practices in relation to government grants issued to businesses in Quebec. Tascan writes: "The restrictive covenants Ubisoft forces its employees to sign are contrary to spirit of the salary grants and employment incentives that Quebec offers to our industry. Ubisoft receives grants from the Quebec government representing 50 per cent of the wages of its employees whereas grants provided to other developers are only equivalent to about 37 per cent."

According to US website Gamespot, Ubisoft head Martin Tremblay was unaware of the situation until he was contacted for comment by the industry press. Speaking to Gamespot, Tremblay stated: "They accuse us of blocking the expansion of the [game] industry in Quebec...have they lost their minds? We use [the non-compete] if we feel the people [leaving] have too much information."

A similar situation between the two firms arose in 2003, when Ubisoft brought a court case against EA for hiring four major Splinter Cell developers. Ubisoft won an interim injunction preventing the employees from working for EA within a specified length of time after leaving, but EA are apparently unwilling to accept a previous judgement as precedent in the matter.

Tascan's letter states: "As you know, the judgment of the Court of Appeal in our last dispute was on an interim basis only and did not decide this issue on the merits. We therefore do not consider it as the final word on this matter."

Ubisoft will be assessing the situation before making any further decisions, but stated categorically that the non-compete clause has only ever been enforced on one occasion - that of the court case mentioned above.

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