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‘Call of Duty’: Intellectual property theft or wrongful termination?

After a request for an extension was denied, the highly anticipated California trial between Activision and the two men they fired will begin 29 May. Activision, the company that created the wildly successful “Call of Duty” franchise, is being sued by the two men they fired in 2010. The two men are co-creators of the “Call of Duty” video game. They were accused by Activision of breach of contract and stealing intellectual property for personal gain and then fired.

The men sued Activision for wrongful termination. They are asking for over $1 billion in unpaid royalties, bonuses and punitive damages. Activision has counter-sued them for the alleged breach of contract and intellectual property theft.

Another large video game company, Electronic Arts Inc, offered to fund a studio for the two men. This prompted Activision to add them to their suit, claiming Electronic Arts conspired to destroy the Activision’s Infinity Ward studio. Infinity Ward is the studio the two men initially worked in when “Call of Duty” was created. Electronic Arts and Activision have settled their dispute for an undisclosed amount, but the rest of the trail will proceed.

Some 12 former employees of Infinity Ward have since joined the suit against Activision claiming unpaid royalties and bonuses. On Monday, Activision paid each of the 12 individuals $43 million each. However, the former employees have not dropped their part of the suit.

Recently, documents were unsealed by the California court revealing statements by a former Activision senior director of IT. He claims he was told by Activision’s chief public policy officer to “dig up dirt” on the two men months before they were fired. He was told to do so by privately accessing their emails, voicemails, and computer files.

Was this a breach of contract and did the two men steal intellectual property for their own personal gain? Did Activision conspire to get rid of the men so they would not have to pay royalties and bonuses to the sum of millions of dollars? With the trial right around the corner, everyone is looking for answers.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Activision and EA settle but Call of Duty trial to go forward,” Alex Pham and Ben Fritz, May 17, 2012

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