The original composers for Microsoft’s Halo franchise are suing the company over unpaid royalties that go back as far as 20 years, according to a new report from Eurogamer.
Marty O’Donnell and Mike Salvatori are also exploring the option of securing an injunction on Paramount’s upcoming Halo TV series. If such an injunction is secured, it could delay the show’s release.
According to Eurogamer’s report, the lawyers representing O’Donnell and Salvatori filed the lawsuit in a Washington court back in June of 2020 and that since then, depositions and discoveries have been made. Now, a mediation session is scheduled for next week between the two parties – presumably the duo’s lawyers and Microsoft’s lawyers – and if an agreement or settlement is not reached then, this dispute could go to court.
This lawsuit brings six faults against Microsoft:
Breach of contract
Breach of fiduciary duty to develop the royalty income in a joint venture
Breach of duty to act in good faith and fair dealing
Failure to provide an accounting partnership
O’Donnell told Eurogamer that he and Salvatori have been attempting to secure these royalties from Microsoft for more than a decade but after little return, the two decided to proceed with a lawsuit. According to the famed composer, Halo’s iconic music was trademarked by the two of them under O’Donnell Salvatori Inc. As such, their Halo music was licensed to Bungie, which O’Donnell says happened under a deal that remained in place even as Bungie was purchased by Microsoft in 2000.
Eurogamer reports that Microsoft’s counterclaim declares that the composers’ Halo score actually qualifies as work-for-hire. If proven to be the case, would name Microsoft as the owner of that work.
“It was never work-for-hire,” O’Donnell said. “It was always a license deal. So that’s what we did with Halo. With the first Halo music ever, that was written and recorded in 1999 for the first time. It was licensed to Bungie. Bungie didn’t get bought by Microsoft for over a year.”
After some time back then, the composers approached Microsoft about signing over the publishing rights for the music as well as its associated copyright. O’Donnell said when doing that, he wanted “to do it the way it’s done in movies and television, where the composers are still ASCAP composers, and it’s not a pure work-for-hire.”
“There is a contract for any ancillary royalties – so use in commercials, use in anything outside the game, specifically, or sales of soundtracks,” O’Donnell said. “O’Donnell Salvatori is supposed to get 20 percent of anything outside the game that uses the music. Which is, by the way, actually reasonable. A lot of composers and music people in the movie business get more like 50 percent.”
O’Donnell and Salvatori are claiming that they have not received the royalties due to them. It’s important to note that O’Donnell is also going through some legal troubles in association with Bungie and his work on the Destiny franchise. You can read more about that here. However, this lawsuit against Microsoft was filed before Bungie served O’Donnell with contempt of court papers over musical tracks O’Donnell uploaded to his own YouTube channel, which he was reportedly not allowed to do, as reported by Eurogamer.
“We’re just trying to get them to do this thing that we thought everybody agreed to 20 years ago,” O’Donnell said.
In regards to the upcoming Halo TV show from Paramount, O’Donnell told Eurogamer that he is instructing his lawyers to explore injunction options to get the TV show’s release blocked, or at least delayed for now.
“This Paramount thing just showed up on TV and Mike and I felt pretty disrespected,” O’Donnell said. “Having a connection to ancillary revenue from exploiting the original Halo music is exactly what this contract is all about. Since we filed two years ago, they’ve continued to ignore the terms. Now, they’re about to broadcast the Halo TV show and are using our monk chat (calling it the theme to Halo) to also advertise and solicit subscriptions for Paramount+.”
For more about this ongoing legal dispute, be sure to read Eurogamer’s full report.