Electronic Arts Infringement Verdict Partly Overturned

A federal judge has partially overturned a jury’s copyright infringement verdict against videogame company Electronic Arts Inc. in claims by a former programmer that he wasn’t paid royalties for code he developed that was used in Madden Football video games.

U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer overturned the jury’s finding of infringement  against EA Wednesday but kept in place the jury’s breach of contract verdict in favor of former programmer Robin Antonick.  Breyer ruled EA is entitled to a new trial on the infringement claim.

In a 2011 lawsuit, Antonick claimed the video game maker broke a 1986 contract by failing to pay royalties on later copies of the popular Madden Football games derived from his original code.  He had a contract that included terms for payment of royalties on any derivative works from the software or electronic game Antonick helped develop.

In rejecting the infringement portion of the jury verdict, Breyer said, “Permitting Antonick to rely on the visual depiction resulting from his source code to show illicit copying would be tantamount to granting him ownership of the particular play itself.”

The jury found in July that his work on Sega’s popular Madden Football video games between 1992 and 1996 were virtually identical to Apple II Madden games.  Jurors also said Antonick proved the source code for plays and formations in the Sega and Apple II versions of 1992 to 1996 had substantial similarities. Jurors concluded EA breached its contract with Antonick.

As to reversal of the infringement claim, Breyer wrote, “Even construing the evidence in the light most favorable to Antonick, there is no legally sufficient basis for the jury’s verdict that any of the Sega Madden games as a whole are virtually identical to Apple II Madden as a whole.”

He also held that the record was “devoid of evidence” supporting the jury conclusion that six Sega Madden games after 1990 were virtually identical to Apple II Maden.

Breyer also found that royalties on EA’s sales as provided in the 1986 contract are the appropriate measure of damages and to combine that with disgorgement of EA’s profits on the games would provide a “windfall” by awarding him more than he would have collected under the contract.

Antonick has asked for $16 million in compensatory damages and nearly $200 million from EA’s pre-1996 game profits.

The games brought in more than $4 billion for EA and sold 85 million copies.

Case:  Antonick v. electronic Arts, Inc., No. 11-cv-1543CRB.

Breyer’s order, here.


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