Judge Overturns John Madden Football Lawsuit Award

Judge Overturns John Madden Football Lawsuit Award

John Madden Football cover

A federal judge has ruled that the jury in the John Madden Football case had no basis for concluding that later games in the series were based on the source code of the original.

Robin Antonick came away with a big win against Electronic Arts last summer, earning a judgment of more than $11 million in a long-running lawsuit over the Madden Football franchise. Antonick, one of the programmers on the original 1988 release, claimed that succeeding editions of the game continued to use his source code even though he hadn't been paid royalties since 1992. The jury agreed, awarding him $4 million in damages and interest of more than $7 million.

U.S. District Court Judge Charles Breyer did not agree, however, and ruled on Wednesday that the jurors had no basis for reaching the conclusion they did because they relied on Antonick's expert witness but were never shown the games side-by-side as required by law. "Without the opportunity to view each of the versions [of the later games], the jury had no basis for evaluating whether the changes [the expert] addressed altered each subsequent game," he said.

Because of that, there was "no evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that [the games] are virtually identical when compared as a whole," and thus the case was dismissed.

"We are thrilled to see the claims resolved in favor of EA. It was the right result," Electronic Arts' lead attorney Susan Harriman said in a statement. "As Judge Breyer held, there is no evidence that any of the Sega Madden games are virtually identical to the Apple II game that Robin Antonick programmed. The evidence also proved that EA's source code was not substantially similar to Antonick's source code. As EA has maintained from day one, Antonick was fully compensated for his work on the Apple II game. Because Antonick had no involvement in the Sega Madden games, he had no entitlement to further royalties."

Antonick's attorneys said he will appeal the ruling.

Source: SFGate

Permalink

WHEEEEE LEGAL MESSES!

This is why it's a good idea for a company to include "All source code you write for this project becomes property of this company" as part of the contract. If they did, then this lawsuit makes no sense. If they didn't, that rather changes things.

Falterfire:
WHEEEEE LEGAL MESSES!

This is why it's a good idea for a company to include "All source code you write for this project becomes property of this company" as part of the contract. If they did, then this lawsuit makes no sense. If they didn't, that rather changes things.

Granted back in those days franchise games weren't prevalent or even relevant. They were barely a "thing" to begin with and foresight is an uncommon trait. So I doubt EA would have foreseen an eventuality where they'd be taken to court over a code that may or may not be included in modern Madden games. I've been of the mind that it is odd that EA would keep archaic code from the 80's in modern games but stranger things have happened...

Falterfire:
WHEEEEE LEGAL MESSES!

This is why it's a good idea for a company to include "All source code you write for this project becomes property of this company" as part of the contract. If they did, then this lawsuit makes no sense. If they didn't, that rather changes things.

If he was paid royalties, that means that even if the company owns the code, he's still entitled to royalties from use of his work product. I don't know about the games industry, but in the software industry as a whole, the general model is that you're paid a salary plus bonuses based on company performance rather than getting a direct cut of sales income.

This story raises a whole bunch of questions that I imagine a close reading of the court proceedings might answer. On its surface, however, I'm inclined to proclaim the appellate judge an idiot for overturning the lower court on the basis of not showing the juries the two games side-by-side.

You can have essentially the same core code, yet the outward appearance can be completely different. Likewise, the outward appearance can be nearly identical, but the code underneath it can be entirely different.

The question is not, "Does it look the same to a jury?" The question is, "Were substantial portions of code re-used in subsequent games?" I'm inclined to think not. The Apple ][ was a 6502-based machine, and everyone was writing in assembly code back then. The Sega Master System was a Z80-based box, and the Sega Genesis was a 68000-based box (with a Z80 on the side to run old Master System carts). Totally different architectures; the 6502 source code could not have been directly used.

Now, the algorithms created by Antonick and embodied by the code may have been translated verbatim, at which point we're arguing about what constitutes a derivative work, and whether Antonick's contract would cover such usages...

... there was "no evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that [the games] are virtually identical when compared as a whole," and thus the case was dismissed.

So if I go and write a Cyberpunk novel but lift the plot and dialogue straight from William Gibson's work, then that's OK? Because no reasonable juror would conclude that my novel was virtually identical to Gibson's when compared as a whole. Especially if I use completely different cover art.

amaranth_dru:

Falterfire:
WHEEEEE LEGAL MESSES!

This is why it's a good idea for a company to include "All source code you write for this project becomes property of this company" as part of the contract. If they did, then this lawsuit makes no sense. If they didn't, that rather changes things.

Granted back in those days franchise games weren't prevalent or even relevant. They were barely a "thing" to begin with and foresight is an uncommon trait. So I doubt EA would have foreseen an eventuality where they'd be taken to court over a code that may or may not be included in modern Madden games. I've been of the mind that it is odd that EA would keep archaic code from the 80's in modern games but stranger things have happened...

Command & Conquer 3 (and most likely all the later games until the series was killed off) included file handling code from the original Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn (released 1995). Due to the way sequels are developed, familiar pieces of code you have around for jobs you know you'll need to do keep getting re-used way beyond the point everything else goes obsolete. Would you rather write new code for loading say... settings from a .ini file, or use the code from the game you've been working on for the previous several years? You recycle, because #1 you know all the quirks and #2 the job is already done.

Things not related to what get changed just stay because they work and it costs dev time to replace them. Source still has fairly large amounts of quake code in it inherited from the Half Life 1 'GoldSource' engine it sprang from (which itself is a modified quake engine).

"It was the right result." I hate it when one side says things like that. Yes, it was the right result since you get the money that way, but if you're a lawyer that just took child custody away from a good parent in divorce court or a corporate court bulldog that just helped take away more consumers' right by precedent, is that the right the right result. Sure it is to you as you buy a new Porsche, you greedy bastards.

ewhac:
This story raises a whole bunch of questions that I imagine a close reading of the court proceedings might answer. On its surface, however, I'm inclined to proclaim the appellate judge an idiot for overturning the lower court on the basis of not showing the juries the two games side-by-side.

You can have essentially the same core code, yet the outward appearance can be completely different. Likewise, the outward appearance can be nearly identical, but the code underneath it can be entirely different.

The question is not, "Does it look the same to a jury?" The question is, "Were substantial portions of code re-used in subsequent games?" I'm inclined to think not. The Apple ][ was a 6502-based machine, and everyone was writing in assembly code back then. The Sega Master System was a Z80-based box, and the Sega Genesis was a 68000-based box (with a Z80 on the side to run old Master System carts). Totally different architectures; the 6502 source code could not have been directly used.

Now, the algorithms created by Antonick and embodied by the code may have been translated verbatim, at which point we're arguing about what constitutes a derivative work, and whether Antonick's contract would cover such usages...

^This. I can't believe the judge dismissed the case like that. Everyone knows EA will be more than willing to appeal even if they know they're wrong. I highly doubt EA provided poor counter evidence. The jury probably made the best decision they could or they really could have been bored off their asses after spending hours listened to technobable they barely understand. The judge may have noticed that.

I don't know how loaded he is, but Antonick probably has good reason to risk oodles of money in legal fees from both sides. If I was him, I'd get all the example source code and algorithms I could from the game I made and the games I'm questioning and get other experts that do not have a personal history with me. Because EA is gonna be getting ready to fight a nasty appeal trial, so they can get back to counting their DLC money.

MinionJoe:
So if I go and write a Cyberpunk novel but lift the plot and dialogue straight from William Gibson's work, then that's OK?

Plot, sure (ever read Sword of Shannara?), dialog, no. Copying dialog is copying writing.

Damn it EA.

Come on Robin Antonick, hit them back! I want to see EA bleed money.

It may not be a lot but every little cut helps.

Well this just warms my heart on a snowy night. I never thought Antonick deserved a penny of that money, so good for EA.

I can't see too much of a reason to get mad at the judge of all people; he's merely ensuring that the process follows the law, which is part of his job...
I also still find the EA hate train absurd (in this case, at the moment, it's not clear that they did anything wrong, and are they really the WORST company in America?), but then again I will probably never stop associating them with fun multiplayer sessions of Medal of Honor European Assault

While its good that the judge is following protocol, one question comes to mind - how the hell does showing two pieces of game play side by side do anything?

It doesn't prove that after 1992 Madden continued to use his source code. To prove they used the same source code, they'd need to crack into the actual source code. If its the same, then the man gets his money. If its not, the man doesn't get his money. Simple, no?

And really, the EA hate has gotta be re-directed. We get it, EA is bad because reasons. Focus on those reasons rather than, say, an unsettled court case of a guy trying to get royalties on a charge that is very much up in the air. Was the data iterated on? Was it modified? Was it scrapped all together? Those are all morally grey questions, none of which illicit a hatred for EA. Hate EA because Origin sucks. Or how their business practice of acquiring smaller companies and IP's is just kind of a dick move. Or the business practice of selling butchered, unfinished games then charging you money for the complete experience via DLC. Or how Origin seriously sucks.

No seriously - Origin sucks.

I'm more worried that the judge seems FAR to aligned with EA's interests, and the rep seems VERY smug IMO. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but paying off a federal judge would probably cost a lot less than $11 million dollars. An unclear loophole that results in a complete overruling also smells a little fishy.

I do like how the case was so obviously botched and no one at the time had the common sense to point it out, and we are talking about people who are paid hundreds of thousands to be experts in this shit...

I kinda understand the opinion that it *could* be useful to observe games side-by-side. However, it doesn't sound as if the judge understands that there are underlying algorithms that, with the right mix and parameter settings, obtain the fun gameplay that players prefer. If EA took these underlying algorithms and then upgraded the game with new art assets or even new features or playing perspective, that does not discount the original developer's contributions.

chad001001:
I'm more worried that the judge seems FAR to aligned with EA's interests, and the rep seems VERY smug IMO. Maybe I'm just paranoid, but paying off a federal judge would probably cost a lot less than $11 million dollars. An unclear loophole that results in a complete overruling also smells a little fishy.

The reps HAVE to act that way or else they make their case look weak. All the judge did was point out that a law was not followed, which doesn't necessarily put him on EA's side. Bribing a federal judge is so completely unnecessary in this case when all they have to do is bring this law to his attention and demonstrate that it wasn't followed; they wouldn't hurt themselves by spending unneeded money that would result in criminal charges should it be found out. The loophole isn't unclear- it's a law that wasn't followed as it should have been.

Side note: Gotta love how the facebook comment side keeps bringing up bribery as well. Seriously?

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here