Renowned video-game creator John Carmack is suing his former employer, ZeniMax, claiming a breach of contract. The terms regard ZeniMax’s purchase of id Software, the development studio Carmack founded — which created the classic Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein franchises. According to a complaint filed in Dallas, Carmack is alleging that ZeniMax is trying to get out of a final $45-million-payment obligation, and that ZeniMax is refusing to notify investors of its ability to purchase his remaining shares.
The undercurrent running beneath the complaint is the recent trial between ZeniMax and Carmack’s current employer, virtual-reality company Oculus. ZeniMax sued Oculus, Carmack, and Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey, alleging that they had stolen code developed while Carmack was at ZeniMax. It was a case that Mark Zuckerberg deemed important enough to fly down to Oculus to testify for.
During testimony, Carmack admitted to taking code he had developed, but the defendants were only found guilty of copyright infringement and the breach of a nondisclosure agreement. ZeniMax was awarded $500 million (it initially sought $2 billion), and Carmack, Luckey, and Oculus are able to say that a court found them not guilty of stealing trade secrets.
Following the trial, tensions have not died down between the two parties. In early February, Carmack ripped into ZeniMax’s expert witness on computer science in a lengthy Facebook post. It’s too technical to describe here in detail, but Carmack explains the difference between ZeniMax’s and Oculus’s work thusly:
The analogy that the expert gave to the jury was that if someone wrote a book that was basically Harry Potter with the names changed, it would still be copyright infringement. I agree; that is the literary equivalent of changing the variable names when you copy source code. However, if you abstract Harry Potter up a notch or two, you get Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, which also maps well onto Star Wars and hundreds of other stories. These are not copyright infringement.
Carmack’s lawyers, in the complaint, state that the Oculus trial is being used as a reason for withholding payment, also pointing out that Carmack was never sued on charges of breach of contract.
A ZeniMax spokesperson told the Dallas News that, “Apparently lacking in remorse, and disregarding the evidence of his many faithless acts and violations of law, Mr. Carmack has decided to try again.”
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