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[Name deleted] owes me money - Looking for advice

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Hi everyone,

 

First of all its been a long time since I visited this forum, but I'm glad to see that it's still alive and kicking.  Everyone is as passionate today as they were when I used to spend far too many hours here daily, and not coding all those years ago smile.png

 

For the moment I want to keep my identity anonymous, but I am veteran game developer and worked on various platforms and titles from late 1995 - early 2004.  The events I am about to document occurred in 2003.  Soon after I decided to depart game development and "broaden my horizons" so to speak.  Since then I have rarely visited any of my old hangouts or followed news and events in the industry and that is probably the main reason I have not uncovered this wrong doing until now.

 

I'll take it from the top...

 

Earlier today when taking a break from my daily tasks and aimlessly roaming the web, I stumbled across a rather negatively titled article referencing an individual I had worked with in the past.  Recognizing the name, I read the article and was aghast at the content regarding actions made by this individual over the course of time. 

Curious, I dug into it a bit more, and was further amazed at the seemingly endless and relentless pursuit of litigation towards anyone and everyone.  Before long I was knee deep various transcripts from court proceedings and it was at this point that I read a statement that quite simply made me livid.

 

I don't want to give away too much detail right now, but the basic breakdown of events is as so...

 

Back in 2003 I had the unfortunate honor of engaging in conversation with this individual.  Being young, naive and blindly ambitious, said individual seemed like exactly what I was looking for so we agreed terms, royalties and such, exchanged contracts and I started work on development of some games.

 

Not long after things started to become awry, with constantly moving goalposts, endless carrot dangling and myself expending what must have been 100s of hours of work in an attempt to meet his requirements.

 

As far as I was concerned the work I was doing was good and met every requirement asked....until it changed, or non-existent bugs were reported and all manner of other things to keep me on "hook".

 

After a few months of this it was decided by the other party that the relationship was not working out, and that the games would not be published the games and called off the deal.  Not having much experience of contract law, nor any money (as I'd spent what little savings I had from previous development contracts living with the expectation of a payday) to hire a lawyer, I was left with few options. 

 

I kept my eye on him for a while, but not too long after I got a job offer I couldn't refuse, I left game development and I forgot all about it.

 

Fast forward to today...

 

It turns out that the games I had worked on around a year or so after our "disagreement", were offered for sale, and have been for at least the past 10 years.  Looking on wayback.com, these games have been listed on the parties website from at least 2005, and according to a statement in one of the aforementioned transcripts, it was stated that these games in question had made significant sales.

 

Now, I'm no expert on contract law, I know enough to get me by in my current profession and for anything else I hire a lawyer, but it seems obvious that this is a slam-dunk.  My only concern is with the amount of time passed, I'm not sure if that has bearing on any rights that I may have had, but I intend to take this all the way if possible.  

 

I can prove that I was the original developer.  I am in possession of the source code including multiple revisions, the original graphics files, none of which I delivered to the party at any point other than the compiled versions for approval. I also hardly ever discard anything, so I'm confident with a brief search I can locate the contracts, and probably most, if not all email correspondence between us.

 

I'm asking for advice and contact details for contract lawyers, specifically specialising in game development contracts.  I figured if I want to find the best with a good reputation, and find them quickly, here would be the best place.  I can then determine swiftly if I have a case worth pursuing, or even a case at all.

 

Thanks for reading.

Edited by scoretosettle

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I'd recommend trying to get in touch with Mona Ibrahim or Tom Buscaglia, both of whom I've met and consider reasonable people. I've never worked with either of them professionally, but I'd expect that if nothing else I think either of them would be able to provide you better direction.

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it seems obvious that this is a slam-dunk.  My only concern is with the amount of time passed, I'm not sure if that has bearing on any rights that I may have had, but I intend to take this all the way if possible.

 

You point out in your message that these things happened back in 2003 and 2004.  That is 11+ years ago.

 

Civil copyright claims must be addressed within three years unless certain specific exceptions are in place. 

 

Breach of contract claims have various dates, generally three to six years. A few states have ten years.  In California (where you probably are) the limit is 4 years, which has passed. Even in the most generous states offering ten years, you are already at eleven.

 

It is possible that those may not apply.  For using it on his web site, if you have evidence that it was added to the site or modified on the site within the past few years then it may change a few things, but you will need to find that evidence and discuss it with a lawyer.

 

If you want to pursue it then you will need to talk to a lawyer, just understand up front that you probably have waited far too long to take action.

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You know he probably doesn't actually have any money?

 

You're supposed to sue successful companies...

 

Sueing unsuccessfull ones without money can also have some benefit, if you want to stop them (or at least throw a spanner in the works) doing shady businesses like the one described.

I am not 100% sure this applies to the US, but at least around here if you get successfully sued that will be on record, and might damage your future busines even if you don't need to pay anything.

AFAIK that is the reason many companies decide to settle outside of court, because if they loose, the damage will reach far beyond the monetary cost of the settlement.

 

Of course getting money out of it might be harder to do (either the guy never sold as many copies as he claims to, or is just as skillfull in hiding his money as he is in tricking his contractors to work for free). You might invest much more money into attorneys and the lawsuit than you will ever get out of it even if you win.

 

although if frob is right, that ship might have sailed a long time ago anyway....

Edited by Gian-Reto

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Civil copyright claims must be addressed within three years unless certain specific exceptions are in place. 

 

Naive question: Since the OP claims the copyright infringement is ongoing, can't he still sue for the most recent three years of infringement?

If the OP wasn't paid, and if the deal was literally "called off" as the OP puts it, then the OP might still own the rights to his work. (Does it still count as "work for hire" if the worker wasn't paid?)

 

In any case, the OP needs to contact a lawyer, not post about it in public forums, for which he could be sued for libel.

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Naive question: Since the OP claims the [...] infringement is ongoing, can't he still sue for the most recent three years of infringement?

 

My non-lawyer understanding is he can sue but it will either be thrown out in preliminary hearings or after discovery. If it went all the way through the courts he would likely not make any money. I'll go through my own reading very carefully.  I'm not a lawyer, but I do have some experience with contracts.

 

Sorry about mentioning copyright, my first read-through I thought they were mentioned, but looking deeper I see that I was the first to accidentally bring it up.

 

Re-reading the original post very carefully: 

 

 

Original post suggests a business owner made an agreement back in 2003. He performed "100s of hours of work" toward that agreement. Original post says the requirements were met but business owner disagreed. The claim is he "called off the deal".  Then after the disagreement, they parted ways.  

 

Then the post says that the business owner had been offering the result of that work for sale for "at least the past 10 years" and that the games were at one point "hugely successful".

 

Now today he is considering taking legal action.

 

 

 

 

So now it comes down to details.

 

Let's first ignore the date, and look at what would happen assuming he filed a lawsuit in a timely manner.  (Sometimes it is possible to have deadlines ignored.)

 

What were the exact details of the contract?  What were the exact termination clauses?  What were the exact clauses for assignment of rights? What were the exact wording of payment clauses?

 

While I don't know the specific details of the contract, in most of the contracts I've worked with before a system of milestone payments are made.  The developer does a certain amount of work and receives a payment for that part that gets accepted. Generally those payments represent a partial acceptance. If either side decides to break the agreement at that point both parties get to keep what they have.  So if I worked on a game for two months and received a milestone payment, then we terminated the agreement, I would walk away with the money and the company would own the product with the full rights given in the agreement.  Even if the game was only 40% complete at that point, the agreement would be considered fully executed.

 

Were payments made? Were products delivered?  We don't have those details here.  

 

So that is one potential cause of action: the contract was possibly breached by the business owner for refusing to accept the agreed upon work.  

 

Another possible breach was if the contract specified a method of terminating the agreement and that method was not followed.  

 

There are likely more.

 

But that breach of contract would have happened in 2003 or 2004, far in the past for California's 4-year limit.  (I'm assuming California due to the business owner's current location.)

 

 

Moving on, the original post also mentions "royalties and such". The exact details of royalty payments are hidden in that contract.  They might have had specific requirements such as remaining on the job until the project was complete, or remaining employed at the time of payment, or some other contingency.  The payments may have been specified as discretionary.  We don't have those details, all we know is the comment that the product "made significant sales".

 

So then questions come up about the specific terms of the contract. Were the obligatory terms or discretionary? Were the terms met by the developer? Were there escape clauses that the business could use to get out of them? 

 

Without knowing those details, it may be that even if we ignore the issue of the decade-long delay, the contract may have required $0 in those payments. Or it may be that the contract required a windfall of money. We don't have those details here.

 

But even if he did owe him money from a huge success in 2004, California's general guideline is typically four years for contractual debt. So even if there was a windfall in 2004, he may have (check with a lawyer) only been required to make that payment until 2008, four years later. Right now in 2015 he could only collect for the previous four years, so any royalties earned from 2011-2015.   A game that was successful in 2004 is probably not making significant money any more, especially considering the business's and the business owner's current financial situation. 

 

Posting that the work was his on his web site may have yet another cause of action, but it might not based on the terms of the original contracts. 

 

 

 

That leads to my earlier statement, "If you want to pursue it then you will need to talk to a lawyer, just understand up front that you probably have waited far too long to take action."

 

 

 


the OP needs to contact a lawyer, not post about it in public forums, for which he could be sued for libel.

 

Agreed that it was probably a stupid move.  The first thing a lawyer will tell you to do is to shut up.

 

But I really doubt he could be sued for libel, at least not in the US.

 

When I first saw this thread I very nearly edited it to blank out the names of the company and individuals involved.  Even though the original poster took some time to create a throw-away account they were choosing to boldly use strong claims along with specific names and dates. The businessman involved probably has more than enough information to know who the person is and the details being discussed.

 

Right now the post just came from a third-party person online, the content they post are their own, and they have their own personal liability.  They may have proverbially put their foot in their mouth by making those statements, but that is all covered in the site's TOS. Someone else may decide to take it down, but I haven't seen any takedown requests. The original poster can go back and edit their post if they want to hit the edit button, so a whole lot of 'meh' there.  See look, I hit the button and made a change. He can do the same if he feels the same.

 

While I wouldn't have been so bold with the claims to list the names of people involved, I seriously doubt it would meet the requirements for a libel claim in the US, where generally you need to show that the statement was false, that it had actual harm or damages, and that it had malicious intent.   It seems that the poster believes the statements to be true and claims they've got proof to that effect, it seems unlikely the post will harm the businessman or his business considering their legal woes in the past, so there's two of the three. I don't know if there was malicious intent involved, but my guess is not enough to convince a jury.  So for a libel claim, 0 of 3 where all three are required, probably no real risk of libel lawsuit.

Edited by frob
Edit for demonstrative purposes.

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, I seriously doubt it would meet the requirements for a libel claim in the US, where generally you need to show that the statement was false


Right. If the statement is true (can be proven true), then no libel occurred.

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Yes, I fully agree a lawsuit against a breach of contract is unlikely to work; but since you brought up copyright, the does seem like a possible option, if the OP was never paid any money for his work, and if the copyright infringement is still ongoing. That's what I was asking about.

 

Do you have to file lawsuit within 3 years of the beginning of the infringement, or with ongoing infringement can you still try to recover compensation for the most recent three years?

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