London (England) – Chris Sawyer, the developer of the PC hit series Roller Coaster Tycoon, has sued the game’s publisher Atari, alleging that it skimped out on paying royalties and other fees totaling millions of dollars.
Though it sounds like an easy court decision, Atari’s counter-claim has stalled the process. Atari’s claims open up new legal questions in the UK that have pushed the case to the House of Lords, which is essentially the UK version of the US Supreme Court.
In total, says Sawyer, Atari owes him $4.8 million because he was underpaid between 1999 and 2001. He alleges that for those three years, Atari would not allow him or third-party auditors to access its accounts.
Atari’s defense is that Sawyer commissioned development company Frontier to create a game demo for Roller Coast Tycoon, which induced copyright infringement and severed any responsibility for Atari to pay Sawyer.
The “law of inducement” is different in the UK than it is in the US, and because of the precedents Atari would legally have little chance at success. However, the House of Lords has the power to change the law, which could give Sawyer a victory.