EA doesn't have to pay Madden creator millions after all [UPDATE]

Federal judge reverses ruling that would have paid original programmer Robin Antonick $11 million or more; EA's legal team "thrilled" by the result.

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[UPDATE] Following the publication of this story, we received a statement from EA's legal team Keker & Van Nest on the decision.

"We are thrilled to see the claims resolved in favor of EA. It was the right result. 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."

The original story is below.

We are thrilled to see the claims resolved in favor of EA. It was the right result. 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.

Electronic Arts won't have to pay Madden creator Robin Antonick the millions in damages awarded to him from a jury last summer after all. The San Francisco Chronicle reports today that a federal judge overturned the ruling this week, stating that there was no evidence to prove that EA used Antonick's work without credit.

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The ruling from U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer means EA does not have to pay Antonick the $4 million in damages previously awarded to him, in addition to interest that could have surpassed $7 million. EA was also spared from paying damages related to later versions of Madden titles, which could have been significant when you consider the franchise has sold more than 99 million units to date.

Antonick was paid for his work on the first edition of Madden NFL in 1988. But EA brought on a new programming team in 1990, claiming they "started from scratch," not using any of Antonick's original source code for future games.

Last July, a federal jury ruled that multiple EA Madden NFL games published between 1990-96 used similar plays and formations, and were "virtually identical" to the original Madden NFL Football game, so they must have been based on Antonick's code.

However, Breyer ruled this week that these jurors "had no basis for that conclusion" because they were never shown the games side by side, as he says the law requires for a verdict regarding copyright infringement. The jurors heard only from Antonick's expert witness, who explained that though later games added some new features, they were "essentially the same" and thus were based on Antonick's programming.

"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," Breyer said. As such, Breyer said there was "no evidence from which a reasonable juror could conclude that (the games) are virtually identical when compared as a whole."

Of course, Antonick's lawyers said they plan to appeal the ruling. "The evidence showed they used his source code without permission," attorney Robert Carey said.

According to the original lawsuit, EA and Antonick signed several contracts, one of which was a 1986 agreement that required EA to pay "royalties on any derivative works related to the original version of EA Madden, including current annual releases, and prohibits EA from using his confidential information."

The lawsuit claimed that EA had failed to pay "millions of dollars" in royalties owed and broke the confidentiality agreement as required by the contract.

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