Zenimax Accuses Carmack Of Theft In Move To Oculus

By Nathan Grayson on May 1st, 2014 at 8:05 pm.

This man? A thief and a brigand, apparently. Also an un-aging tech warlock, but that's a discussion for another day.

Today in the zany world of gaming news, John Carmack is a dirty rotten scoundrel – that is, if you subscribe to Bethesda parent company Zenimax’s side of the story. The Elder Scrolls and Fallout publisher has laid claim to Oculus-related tech/code Carmack whipped up while still under Zenimax’s umbrella at Doom dev id Software. Oculus and Carmack, of course, think it’s a load of hogwash, but that hasn’t stopped Zenimax from threatening to sue if Oculus doesn’t sign on to some sort of licensing agreement. Hoo boy.

The Wall Street Journal first ran the story, and Engadget got official statements from both companies. First up, here’s Zenimax with the accusation:

“ZeniMax confirms it recently sent formal notice of its legal rights to Oculus concerning its ownership of key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift. ZeniMax’s technology may not be licensed, transferred or sold without ZeniMax Media’s approval. ZeniMax’s intellectual property rights arise by reason of extensive VR research and development works done over a number of years by John Carmack while a ZeniMax employee, and others. ZeniMax provided necessary VR technology and other valuable assistance to Palmer Luckey and other Oculus employees in 2012 and 2013 to make the Oculus Rift a viable VR product, superior to other VR market offerings.”

“The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax. Well before the Facebook transaction was announced, Mr. Luckey acknowledged in writing ZeniMax’s legal ownership of this intellectual property. It was further agreed that Mr. Luckey would not disclose this technology to third persons without approval. Oculus has used and exploited ZeniMax’s technology and intellectual property without authorization, compensation or credit to ZeniMax. ZeniMax and Oculus previously attempted to reach an agreement whereby ZeniMax would be compensated for its intellectual property through equity ownership in Oculus but were unable to reach a satisfactory resolution. ZeniMax believes it is necessary to address these matters now and will take the necessary action to protect its interests.”

So basically, Zenimax claims Carmack was working under an implicit agreement that the publisher – not Oculus or Carmack – had legal right to any tech given life by Carmack’s wizardly hands, and apparently Oculus wunderkind Palmer Luckey even acknowledged that in writing. Oculus, however, believes Zenimax is telling the tallest of tales. Said the newly Facebook-owned virtual reality megalith:

“It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction [Facebook's $2 billion purchase of Oculus], people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims. We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.”

John Carmack, meanwhile, took to Twitter with a statement of his own:

“No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don’t own VR.”

So that’s complicated. It does kinda sound like Zenimax might be onto something given that contracts often contain “all work produced by so-and-so at these times and places is the legal property of blah blah blah” clauses, but Carmack has suggested that that’s not the case. Even so, it would be tremendously unwise to slug it out with Facebook’s top-dollar legal team sans a rock-solid claim, so I don’t imagine Zenimax is simply blowing hot air here. That’s all speculative, though. It’s incredibly tough to say what’s actually happening behind closed doors.

I’ve gotten in touch with a few sources to try and find out more. I’ll update this story if I learn anything.

Update: A few sources close to the situation (all of whom wished to remain anonymous) have claimed it is not uncommon for Zenimax contracts to contain a clause that gives Zenimax legal domain over employees’ work, even if it’s not necessarily related to the game project at hand. However, old guard employees sometimes get exceptions for side projects in other fields – music, for example. But even then, sources claimed that Zenimax’s legalese is pretty restrictive.

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108 Comments »

  1. Monkeh says:

    “No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don’t own VR.”

    Doesn’t this basically mean that Zenimax can claim their right to the code used for Oculus.. so either they would have to replace that or give Zenimax some form of compensation?

    • PoLLeNSKi says:

      Only if they can prove a section of code was written by Carmack before he left ZeniMax…

      • DanMan says:

        Well, didn’t Carmack just admit he did write it?

        • purex. says:

          He said they own the code he wrote, but he didn’t specify any sections of code he may have written.

          • DanMan says:

            That’s what I said. He implies that he had written some code by issuing that statement. Which code is a different matter.

    • Sagan says:

      What Carmack means is that Zenimax owns whatever code he wrote at Zenimax. But he didn’t take any code with him from Zenimax. And the “no work has been patented” means that they have no claims over the code he wrote at Oculus.

      Also Zenimax doesn’t claim that he took any code when he left. They merely claim that Oculus is using ideas (only they call it “technology”) that Cramack had while he was working at Zenimax. And you can’t forbid someone from taking ideas with him.

      • PoLLeNSKi says:

        *You can’t forbid someone for taking THEIR OWN ideas with them

        Minor point but otherwise they could just steal someone else’s as an act of corporate espionage :)

        OT: If what Zenimax says is true about all the agreements with Luckey then depending on what’s actually written down this could get quite interesting…especially since Luckey is no longer in a position to give away holdings in the company – whether or not that makes Facebook liable is another question to consider and probably again will go back to Luckey for not disclosing the full information before the sale went through.

        • aepervius says:

          You can and it is pretty much legal to steal idea, as long as there is no copyright or patent. If one chose secrecy as a protection way, then one has no recourse if that secret is vented.

      • Martel says:

        In the US you can, that’s how most major corporations work (or try to).

    • phuzz says:

      The other wrinkle is, any code he writes now, will look pretty similar to the code he wrote at Zenimax, because it’s the same person writing it.

  2. int says:

    Then I guess… IT’S ON!

  3. DatonKallandor says:

    It sounds like Zenimax and Palmer Luckey had written agreements that they could use Carmacks VR work as long as it was just for Occulus and they feel the whole “being bought up by Facebook” violates those terms (which it probably does).

    • Philomelle says:

      It sounds more like Zenimax thought that by landing Carmack’s talent to Oculus, they would be able to become a major shareholder and thus make money off Oculus’s VR tech. Note the comment on “equity ownership”. They basically expected to partially own Oculus Rift via Carmack’s involvement in the project.

      Instead Carmack got excited about all the new tech and ran off from Zenimax to Oculus. The result is that instead of making money off shiny new VR tech, Zenimax lost one of the greatest programmers in the world.

      All things considered, that is a major reason for extreme butthurt. No idea if they actually have the legal grounding to get back at Oculus, though, or if they’re just whining in public.

      • oxykottin says:

        Very good break down of what most likely happened. Well said.

  4. Kemuel says:

    Is this gonna be another “Scrolls” thing? This looks like it might be another “Scrolls” thing.

    • DatonKallandor says:

      No, because this about something that’s actually relevant. If Cormack came up with VR tech while at Zenimax, it’s entirely possible they have grounds to sue if he then uses that VR Tech when working for Facebook.

      • Drake Sigar says:

        Well whatever the case, I’m reminded of the 90s when the members of id Software ‘borrowed’ their overlod Softdisc’s computers every night to make their own games. But that was something physical.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Another legitimate legal complaint by a large commercial entity where the Internet peanut gallery will automatically interpret everything in favour of the guy they like*? Yes.

      * Even if in this case the “little guy” is Facebook.

      • subedii says:

        I think it’s skewing things a LOT to suggest that siding with Mojang on the Scrolls thing was because you liked Notch instead of being to do with the perceived veracity of either the complaint or the alleged “problem” that Zenimax would experience for allowing Mojang to use it uncontested.

        Even with how messed up current IP law currently is, it was extremely tenuous for Zenimax to try to claim against Mojang purely for the use of that one extremely common word, and apparently the courts agreed.*

        One thing I do feel the cases have in common, in terms of public relations, even on the assumption of victory, it still would have been a bit of a Pyrrhic victory.**

        *Yes they settled. I’m under no illusions that Zenimax would have fought it out for the next solid decade if felt they could have won. As it stands in the “settlement” Zenimax gave Mojang basically everything they wanted, and Zenimax got zip except the opportunity to pay their lawyers to do something.

        ** I basically feel the same about the whole “Saga” thing as well. Ultimately all that King got from it was bad publicity before they decided to just drop it entirely.

        • LionsPhil says:

          What bothers me the most about the “Zenimax trying to claim ownership of the world ‘Scrolls’” deal is that, well, Zenimax weren’t trying to claim ownership of the world ‘Scrolls’.

          Mojang were. Zenimax objected.

          • subedii says:

            EDIT to delete looooong comment:

            N/M, I’d rather not get into this lengthy argument.

            Let’s just say, I feel there was legitimate reason to side with Mojang on this one (on how it could affect IP laws if nothing else), and that “liking” them wasn’t the reason.

          • Phasma Felis says:

            And this is where a person who was not a dick would have said “Hey, we think your language in this document might affect our rights to market our own products. Could we talk about this?”

            Instead, they sent a legal nastygram and we were off to the races.

            More and more I feel like a certain set of lawyers has genuinely forgotten how to discuss things like civilized human beings. It’s not that they intend to be unpleasant, it’s that they’re so far up their own assholes that they think the world is a computer program and the command to open negotiations is “cease-and-desist”. It feels like the worst stereotypes of an unsocialized nerd, except that when lawyers do it someone always seems to come along and defend them on the grounds that they’re just executing their program code. But no one accepts that excuse when it’s a harmless kid being socially awkward. Why does it suddenly become okay when done by someone who can destroy livelihoods?

          • HadToLogin says:

            Your problem comes from confusing (successful) lawyers with human beings. Or with civilized beings.

          • rustybroomhandle says:

            @LionsPhil

            Mojang trademarked their game’s name, which was “Scrolls” so they were not wrong to do so. There’s no reason to assume they would have gone around suing everyone else who try to have games/things with the word “Scrolls” in it. Zenimax’s suit just shows the typical “sue first” attitude companies in the US tend to have. It’s like Game of Thrones over there.

            Anyhoo, Zenimax can go to hell.

          • El_Emmental says:

            @Phasma Felis
            While you’re 100% right regarding lawyers forgetting to talk things out, there is legal requirements regarding trademarking and how you defend your trademark.

            It depends on the country where you registered your trademark, but in most system, thanks to international treaties between countries, most legislation agreed on a few key points.

            One of them is that letting someone else use your trademark (brand) for a “significant” (could be a handful of months) period of time will make you lose that trademark.

            The idea is that companies/people not using their trademark and leaving them to gather dust, then coming out of the woodwork once a company starts making profit with that brand (infringing on the initial trademark), wouldn’t be able to do that if they waited for too long: the new company has to be legally protected from trademark-trolls hiding in the shadows.

            It’s also why most legislation force trademark holders to actually use their trademark to sell goods/services – if they don’t use it for X years, they can lose it (conditions and years depends on the country).

            That’s why Zenimax “had” to legally “defend” its trademark, through legal means, to prove to the courts (and the organization dealing with trademarks) that they effectively defended their trademark.

            It’s far from a perfect system, but if you’ve got a better trademarking system to offer, go for it because millions of companies wish it was simpler and fairer.

            -

            What Mojang should have done, was hiring a competent-enough IP lawyer, and contact all the companies owning a trademark with the word “Scrolls” and “Scroll”, related to video games and entertainment. Then, they could have reached an agreement, providing enough elements (could be visual, on the logo – or adding “Scrolls: something something” that is not on the logo, but in the trademark application and full name of the game) to prevent confusion AND allow Zenimax to say they legally defended their trademark (using a written agreement with Mojang regarding the modifications).

            What Zenimax should have done, was immediately calling Mojang (Markus Persson included) and explaining the situation, making clear they’re not actually willing to sue Mojang and are only forced to defend their trademark. They should have sent their lawyers AND directors (or at least some top executives) in person to discuss this out calmly, instead of threatening them with obscure legalese letters.

            In my opinion, both companies failed to do their duty: Mojang should have checked, Zenimax should have flew some of their top guys for negotiations.

  5. DrManhatten says:

    I am surprised that anyone still gives a rat-ass about Carmack anything he touched in the last 5 years turned to crap. Including his space company

    • PoLLeNSKi says:

      He’s still one of the leading minds in tech, sadly he hasn’t been partnered with anyone that had a clue about game design for many years

    • Clavus says:

      The guy’s still one of the best engine programmers in the business. Unfortunately for him you need more than just coding skills to develop high-quality games. I think Oculus is a perfect fit for him in that case; lots of new technological problems that require novel solutions.

      • caff says:

        Absolutely this. The man is a genius and has pushed graphics technology in ways most minds cannot perceive.

        • Harlander says:

          More usefully for graphics, he’s also advanced it in perceptible ways.

  6. TillEulenspiegel says:

    This article’s title really exemplifies why people shouldn’t use “theft” when referring to intellectual property issues. It’s not a word ZeniMax used, it has no legal relevance, it says nothing specific, and it’s needlessly inflammatory and inaccurate.

    • Philomelle says:

      On the other hand, the word “theft” makes the article’s URL really amazing.

      “Zenimax Carmack Stole Oculus, Virtual Reality, Facebook.”

      If I ever write a cyberpunk novel, Zenimax Carmack will be the name of my chief antagonist.

    • Entitled says:

      And while we are at it, stop using”intellectual property” when talking about information.

      Copyrights, patents, and trademarks are three entirely unrelated forms of information monopoly, and neither of them have much to do with property ownership.

      • El_Emmental says:

        Aye, but at the same time you can buy and sell that information monopoly (even rent it, with license), and fiscally it’s counted as an asset (almost everywhere in the world, minus tax haven), so in most countries these “information monopolies” are treated like properties (in many sub-categories of the law).

        It really depends on your definition of property – in civil law, it’s often related to having an absolute and exclusive right over something, combining the usus, fructus and abusus of the roman law.

        With a patent, you have an exclusive (can sue someone for using it without your permission) and absolute (only limited by law) right to use your invention [usus], to get all the benefits/profits from licensing [fructus], or to sell/mortgage it [abusus]. So there’s a lot of similarities between the “traditional” property and IP, even if there’s major differences (no scarcity !).

      • stupid_mcgee says:

        Yes, they have nothing to do with intellectual property. Except that Copyright, Trademark, and Patents all fall in the realm of Intellectual Property rights and law.

        Like it or not, it’s a real term that has a very real and quite specific meaning.

    • El_Emmental says:

      Hear, hear…

      (RPS could use a jurist for some of its articles :P)

  7. Ditocoaf says:

    “The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax.”
    Carmack’s know-how developed when he was an employee is owned by ZeniMax.

    Are they really claiming that any knowledge or skills he gained during the period of employment belongs to them? Even if he didn’t learn it from them?

    Can you do that sort of thing with a contract? Can they own his mind???

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yes, basically, even in the UK. I suspect the situation in the US is, if anything, less in favour of the employee.

      • Ditocoaf says:

        The cyberpunk dystopia is here, but it didn’t arise from VR or network technology. It was birthed in the unholy pools of intellectual property law.

        • LionsPhil says:

          There is, as always, some good reason lurking behind it. Companies don’t want their creative workers claiming every idea they had was actually their own, on their own time.

    • Iain_1986 says:

      You’ve obviously never worked for a games company, or tech company before. This is why comment sections on the interenet for topics like this are laughably bad at times….someone above is even comparing it to the “scrolls thing” purely because of who’s involved.

      Every games and tech company I have worked at (as a programmer) has had clauses in my contract that basically state any idea, tech, code, whatever I write during office hours, on their equipment or in their offices is THEIR property.

      If Carmack wrote some core code/library/tech while working for Zenimax, and now at Oculus is using that WITHOUT any firm licensing agreement, just because it was *him* that wrote it does not mean it is his.

      Now. Companies rarely actually enforce it. Its tricky to say the least. But when that company just gets sold for $2bn to one of the largest tech companies out there…yeah…you might get your lawyers out to check those contracts.

      • Ditocoaf says:

        I’m not talking about code/library/tech stuff, that makes perfect sense. If you make stuff while employed, then sure, your contract might say they own that stuff you make. Especially “while you’re in their office” or “during office hours”. You’re using equipment or time that they’re paying you for.

        But I’m talking about their claim to his “know-how”, all of it developed during the years of employment. If you go home at the end of the work day, and study something else in your own time, and learn something new from that… can they own that? And anything you later build using that knowledge?

        Even if not a single line of that code was written while under contract with them, they can own it because you wrote it using skills that you gained while under contract?

        • arccos says:

          You can even take it a bit further than that: skills an employee developed at work are not the property of the company. My second employer didn’t owe anything to my first employer after I was hired, despite my developing those skills on the clock.

          What makes it messy is that Carmack worked for both companies simultaneously. If Carmack did anything Occulus related while at Zenimax; some sample code ending up in the Occulus, conceptual drawings, even a technical conversation with other Zenimax staff, Zenimax has a case.

          Which is why many tech companies go with a clean-room approach to technology.

      • DanMan says:

        Yes, which is why I find it especially strange that he didn’t just say that he did all that in his spare time at home or something.

        • stupid_mcgee says:

          Because he might not have and if he’s found to be lying, it would have some serious repercussions. If he worked on code while employed under ZeniMax, they can and will find out.

      • quintesse says:

        No, many normal standard contracts include *everything* you might work on, invent or think of that’s somehow related to your field of work during your employment. Key things are broad terms as “employment”, not “office hours” and “field of work” instead of something like “job related”. Which is why I always refuse to sign contracts like that without first watering that down. I only accept clauses that give away rights for work that is *directly* related to the job I’m given to do.

    • El_Emmental says:

      As stated above, work done during office hours and/or using office resources are owned by the company (in almost all cases) in the US.
      See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_for_hire

      (1) a work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment; or (2) a work specially ordered or commissioned for use as a contribution to a collective work, as a part of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, as a translation, as a supplementary work, as a compilation, as an instructional text, as a test, as answer material for a test, or as an atlas, if the parties expressly agree in a written instrument signed by them that the work shall be considered a work made for hire. (17 U.S.C. § 101)
      (nb: there’s exceptions and subtleties regarding that)

      It’s not the same in european legislations, some countries state that the company has an exclusive right to buy the IP first (if they don’t buy it, the employee is the owner), some countries limit that right-to-buy or automatic-ownership to your job mission (if you work at a cake factory, and invent a new electric bike speed regulator = not related to your mission), etc.

      Also, Carmack might be breaching a non-compete clause here: working for Oculus during Zenimax employment might have been tolerated as long as that work was done for independent-Oculus only (the idea was that having their own flagship employee working there would allow later cross-licensing and partnerships to happen, once Oculus had spare money) – now that Oculus is Facebook’s VR department, Carmack’s work has just landed in Facebook’s hands and Zenimax ended up letting one of its employee work for a competitor (fully capable of paying for that availability) – the non-compete clause might work here (if there’s one).

    • sophof says:

      These things are usually in a contract and these clauses are usually invalid if actually brought in front of a court. Which is why it usually is dealt with in a sort of ‘gentlemanly’ way between companies when an employee switches.
      From Carmack’s statement it is quite clear what is going on imo. He simply rewrote code at Oculus, which is fine because that code is not patented by Zenimax, they only own copyright on what he wrote while working for them. I doubt there’s any court that’ll side with Zenimax in this one, even in America. Otherwise it would mean that companies owned people and not just their work. If it were true, it would be impossible for him to ever work anywhere else that is even vaguely associated with coding.
      The only reason this is a thing is because of the ridiculousness of the existence of patented code. Zenimax likely wants to believe they somehow own the if-then statements in Carmack’s mind. It’s a logical conclusion if you are allowed to patent ‘slide-to-unlock’ and the likes of it.

      This all is based on my own experience. Granted, I’m not Carmack, but it was very similar. It starts with a lot of posing and numbers thrown around but ends in a whimper. It’s simply lawyers trying to get the other side scared.

  8. Ein0r says:

    Who cares, they are just after the money. wont change much for the consumer.

    • Moraven says:

      The dispute has been around since 2012.

    • Graves says:

      Careful with this kind of thinking. I’m not saying it will have a huge impact, or the story is worth your attention, but disputes like this do effect consumers.

      Every penny that both Zenimax and Oculus spend on this litigation increases their company overhead, and they need to make up that shortfall somewhere. In a market with elastic pricing, Zenimax could decide to raise the price of the next elder scrolls game by a dollar to make up the difference to keep their bottom line. Pricing for VR tech is elastic- how expensive the Occulus Rift will be is directly related to the cost of making it, which includes company overhead on things like PR and Lawyers.

      Given that video game prices are inelastic, what will probably happen is this litigation will drain funds from some other aspect of their business- QA, or Customer Service, or even development. Want to know why there are so many bugs in the next TES game? Because they spend 200,000 less in testing because they had to pay for the 200,000 in lawyers. If things get bad enough, they may even fire developers, or cut features from or cancel an upcoming game, or decide they can’t afford that new IP they are wanting to develop. These things all have real, material affects on consumers.

      Now, you can rightly say that those costs can be distributed to do little harm, especially with the support of Facebook. But when those costs get big enough, they get harder and harder to distribute.

      • Ein0r says:

        Either way, the chances are very likely that the consumer will pay for it in the end. Be it a higher retail price or be it a worse product than it could be, due to lack of quality control, bad programming because of people they had to dismiss, and so on. As long as they get their money, or license, the companies and their shareholders wont care.

        If Carmack used a code he had to write for zenimax, i can understand why they are upset.
        And i did not know that the problem existed for a longer time, if it is true what Moraven replied.
        But would they also claim license-/copy-/whatever rights if they had not seen that Occulus Rift had a rather huge amount of hype and a good chance of success behind it from the get go?

        • Graves says:

          The nature of American copyright law (and code is generally copyright-able, so I’m sure what Carmack was refering to when he mentioned patents in his tweet) is that it is not private, not public law- that is, enforcement of a copyright is handled by the rights holder or owner, not the government. This means that copyrights are, by design, selectively enforceable. While Zenimax might not have laid claim to Carmack’s work if Oculus wasn’t doing well, that is there prerogative- in fact, its one of the good things about Copyright law.

          The internet is full of copyright violations- songs used in mods and videos, even fan fiction, that sort of thing. The reason why they are often allowed to operate is either because it would cost more to extract a judgement from the infringe than the benefits gained by enforcement, or because the company actually likes what the infringer is doing and knows that they can’t afford a license, so they just let it occur.

          Maybe Zenimax would have been cool with their code being used to support a struggling indie start-up, but they weren’t so happy with it being freely given to a company with a million dollar kick-starter and a solid commercial future. That is their prerogative, though, and if the regime that allows them to have that prerogative also allows me to play a cool mod with some copyrighted material, I’m ok with it.

  9. RedViv says:

    “You have one more witness to call, Mr Law Person of Mr John Zenimax?”

    “Yes, your honour. I call to witness… MITZI THE CAT.”

    *dramatic music sting*

  10. onsamyj says:

    For the love of… Who taught you photo manipulation? Why not squeeze it even more, you blind… amateur!

  11. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    It looks like someone fudged the dimensions on that image and squished Carmack’s face.

    Also: Staring Eyes tag!

  12. Frank says:

    Facebook has infinite monies, so why not?

  13. Neurotic says:

    I see ZeniMax getting eviscerated by FaceRift in court, but with the twist ending that they were actually right. The problem is, they’ve accrued a lot of ill will over the last few years (the Scrolls debacle, etc), and no one outside of that courtroom will ever buy it.

  14. Shodex says:

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

  15. Mungrul says:

    Gah, Zenimax are ran by a lawyer who seems to like to chance his luck at any claim he can think of. Guy’s always struck me as being a spiteful little troll. If he wasn’t running Zenimax, I’m sure he’d be patent trolling.

  16. BLACKOUT-MK2 says:

    I swear to God that John Carmack is the real life troll face.

  17. lomaxgnome says:

    Zenimax seemed to look at Activision a couple of years ago and decide that the way to succeed was to become even bigger scumbags than them. From this, to the Scrolls bit, to the Prey 2 fiasco, to what they did to Obsidian, they’ve just become the poster boys for scumbag business.

    • KhanIHelpYou says:

      Don’t forget how they bankrupted Arkane during the development of Dishonored by not paying them so that they could then buy the studio in order to rescue it from its financial troubles…

      • Ninja Dodo says:

        Pretty sure that’s not how it went down.

        • lomaxgnome says:

          Yeah, it pretty much is. They tried to do the same thing to Human Head during the development of Prey 2, which is why the game is dead now. It’s pretty revolting.

  18. buzzmong says:

    As people said, when you’re any type of creative, especially programmers, anything done in the office, in works hours or using company assets, generally belongs to the company.

    I wouldn’t be suprised that when he was working for both companies he did some experimental work using the closest game engine he had available, which was probably idTech5. In which case, Zenimax probably does have a valid claim if he’s taken the results of those experiments and given them to Oculus.

    • toxic avenger says:

      And with this comment, there is no other need for any other comments.

    • jalf says:

      I’m curious, where are you from? Clauses like that aren’t all that common (here) in my experience, and I especially have a hard time fathoming why someone as high-profile as Carmack would ever sign a contract like that.

      But perhaps they really are unavoidable in the US?

      • SillyWizard says:

        These clauses are very common in the US.

        • TheMightyEthan says:

          They’re often even worse in the US than the OP says. Often they will stipulate that anything you create at any time during your employment at the company is owned by the company. Even if you do it on your free time, at home, your employer owns it.

          • AbyssUK says:

            I work in research in europe and this is the case if it is in any way related to what I do research in :) off the clock or on the clock my firm owns it.

          • Ninja Dodo says:

            Never mind ownership, some companies will even altogether prohibit ANY work on personal projects at home (like they have any right). I have heard this is the case for Zenimax in the US, though individual superstar devs like Carmack would likely have negotiated more favourable terms (especially given certain rocket science hobbies).

      • Jackablade says:

        I’ve been a game developer, CG FX artist and animatronic design guy and there’s been variants of that clause on every contract I’ve ever signed – some say anything created in the workplace belongs to the company, some say anything created at all. It’s pretty rare for them to actually be up held and in most cases would be rather frowned upon to do so. I guess where there’s actually money involved as opposed to a few models on someone’s portfolio, it’s a bit of a different situation.

        At least it’s not as bad as the non-compete clauses that forbid a person from joining another company in a similar field for up to several years after leaving the contracted one.

        • Ninja Dodo says:

          There’s a pretty significant difference between “we own anything built on company time or equipment” and “we own your soul and anything it produces for the duration of your contract”. The first is perfectly normal, the second is unacceptable and it boggles my mind this is not illegal everywhere.

  19. JohnnyPanzer says:

    Wow, that skull…

    Somewhere, a Pygme headhunter just got an erection and he has no idea why.

  20. Lemming says:

    Oh, well two corporate big-boys can fight it out I guess. YAWN.

    I refuse to be convinced that Oculus is the ‘little guy’ in all this. They’ve got Facebook to fight their battles for them now. Who cares who did what, frankly. It’s going to mean massive sums of money changing hands and doesn’t affect gamers one bit.

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      I can die now knowing my life has been worth it.

      • PoLLeNSKi says:

        This needs more than just a link with no explanation, several times I’ve skipped this by in the comments until it had a reply which intrigued me to look.

        Worth it people, clicky clicky.

  21. islisis says:

    this is why you choose your masters carefully…

  22. Warduke says:

    As an engineer with a long career I can tell you it is not at all uncommon for companies to make, as a condition of employment, new hires sign agreements that anything they develop during company time is to be owned by the employer.. That is not a new practice and is widespread across many industries..

    • TheMightyEthan says:

      Often in the US contracts will grant the employer ownership not just of things employees develop on company time, but anything developed while employed at the company, even at home on your spare time.

      • Ninja Dodo says:

        Which no one should ever agree to, because that’s bullshit. I’m aware this is widespread, less so in mainland Europe, more so in US and UK, but I don’t see why any employee should ever consider this acceptable.

        They don’t own you. Unless they’re paying for 24/7 of your time they have no right whatsoever to claim ownership or control over anything you do at home in *your* spare time, and in countries or states where employees have a modicum of rights these kinds of clauses are unenforceable.

        • LionsPhil says:

          In countries where it is as widespread as the US, and sectors where demand for jobs is so high as game development, I suspect valid alternatives include: unemployment.

        • Ninja Dodo says:

          … or independence possibly, or emigrating to a country where workers don’t get exploited as a matter of course.

          Which is not to say there aren’t decent companies in the US who don’t pull tactics like this, but you shouldn’t be dependent on employer benevolence for basic rights.

        • El_Emmental says:

          It often depends on what you do on your free time – in the case of Carmack, I don’t see a court giving ownership of John’s rocketry work to Zenimax, but anything related to 3D environment/display programming, hell yes.

          Your company provides you the money, equipment, expertise (other competent people) so you can work on the subject A, if you go home and make a massive improvement on subject A thanks to your employment there (if you were delivering pizza, you wouldn’t be making that improvement on subject A), then the company has the legitimate right to claim ownership (with compensations)/shared-ownership/a buying option on that IP.

          Otherwise, employees would keep all their great ideas/potential discoveries/projects to their home time, leaving the non-lucrative/unpromising part for their researches for their job time, and always claim exclusive ownership of all their new IP.

          R&D is very expensive and require long term planning – it’s a really difficult challenge for companies, you can’t just make their survivability rely on the goodwill of their employees. “I like my employer more than my kids’ college fund, my future swimming pool/house/holidays, ok I’ll let him/her have that brand new IP”.

          • Ninja Dodo says:

            Code and R&D is definitely more of a grey area and certainly there are situations where a concept is clearly conceived as part and result of company work and this being considered within the scope of employment is understandable… However, a company does not own your skills regardless of how much they may or may not have increased as a result of your work, and ideas resulting from personal work unrelated to your professional duties should remain your own.

            The problem is what is work-related is often far too broadly defined.

            I’m not familiar enough with the particulars of Carmack’s VR work, but a more common example would be a developer at a game studio working on an indie game on the side. Unless this indie game is very similar to the kind of game the studio makes, this really can’t reasonably be considered work-related – this is your own project which you built from the ground up on your own time – yet the way most of these clauses are worded they tend to include *anything* game related. This is not okay.

  23. SillyWizard says:

    Oh my.

  24. Big Murray says:

    If this is true, then doesn’t this make the acquisition of Oculus by Facebook a damn good thing? Because Oculus couldn’t fight a behemoth like Zenimax by itself, prior to that deal. They would basically get screwed, and everyone’s hopes for the Oculus along with it.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if Zenimax knew about this all along, but were sitting on it when Oculus was independent to wait and see if it became commercially successful before moving in and trying to take it.

  25. Wyrm says:

    Zenimax Vs Facebook – War of the Wallets?

  26. El_Emmental says:

    You found a secret area ! http://www.docstoc.com/docs/168994612/Oculus-ZeniMax-NDApdf

    (nb: already published elsewhere on several major news websites, for those wondering)

  27. JamesTheNumberless says:

    One insanely rich corporation might have to give a portion of its vast richness to another insanely rich corporation and the lawyers of both sides will buy new yachts. Some money will change hands and it will have no effect on what VR tech gets made. It’s all very interesting, I suppose, if you’re a lawyer.