View Full Version : Marty O'Donnell Wins Big in Legal Battle Against Bungie

Shawn Zipay
09-05-2015, 12:38 AM
Marty O'Donnell, the composer that crafted the iconic soundtracks for games like the Halo franchise and parts of Destiny, has won his legal battle against Bungie. Today's ruling by a court-appointed arbitrator says that Bungie must honor its agreements made with O'Donnell that gave him the right to hold a "considerable share of stock in the company." Today's ruling also sheds some light on what O'Donnel , Activision, and Bungie all went through during the development of Destiny.

How much O'Donnell was awarded was not disclosed. However, it was revealed that the first payment for O'Donnell is for $142,500 (USD) for his work done in 2014. O'Donnell is now allowed to publish any of the music he created for Destiny unless he is given permission from the current copyright owners. Today's ruling is on top of the related case of O'Donnell suing Bungie in order to recover unpaid overtime wages. In that ruling, he was awarded $95,000.

The arbitrator found that O’Donnell demonstrated substantial likelihood of proving that he was one of seven founders of Bungie (which originally had the name Arete Seven LLC) and that the company gave him 1.27 million shares of class B shares in October 2007. Those shares were converted into 336,375 shares of Bungie’s Series B-1 Preferred Stock in 2010, when Activision started making a lot of noise about Destiny. He was also issued 48,000 shares of Bungie’s common stock. And in December 2010, O’Donnell signed a contract extending his employment through 2020. As each installment of Destiny was published, O’Donnell received a share."

O'Donnell recorded a major eight movement suite back in early 2013 for the Destiny franchise. O'Donnell worked with people like Paul McCartney to create Music of the Spheres.

The court papers say that Activision had little enthusiasm for releasing the Music of the Spheres as a standalone work, and O’Donnell became increasingly frustrated that Bungie was making insufficient effort to release it. During E3 2013 preparations, Bungie was getting ready to demo the game for the first time before a huge audience at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the biggest U.S. video game show. Activision was going to play the game music with a trailer, but shortly before E3, Activision took over the trailer work and supplied its own music, rather than the Music of the Spheres segments.

O’Donnell reacted angrily and believed Activision had overstepped its proper role by assuming artistic control of the trailer music. Ryan, the CEO of Bungie, and management shared his concern and filed a “veto” letter with Activision, which overruled the objection. During E3, O’Donnell tweeted that Activision, not Bungie, had composed the trailer music. He also threatened Bungie employees in an attempt to keep the trailer from being posted online, and interrupted press briefings.

The court felt as though O'Donnell was trying to preserve Bungie's "creative process, artistic integrity, and reputation, keeping faith with fans, and protecting Bungie and its intellectual property from Activision’s encroachment into artistic decisions." Bungie, however, felt as though O'Donnell's actions "hurt the Bungie team, hurt the game, drove a negative online discussion, and violated Ryan’s instructions."

Ryan pushed for O'Donnell to be fired. He wasn't, but his performance review said he was "unacceptable." O'Donnell did not agree with that review saying that Bungie showed nothing to demonstrate that his actions did any permanent damage to the relationship between Bungie and Activision or anything to hurt the game's sales.

Destiny's story was massively revised in late 2013, pushing the game's release until 2014. O'Donnell returned to work after a long vacation but the audio team and O'Donnell's supervisor felt that he wasn't "fully engaged in his work." Bungie then set in motion a means to fire O'Donnell.

O’Donnell’s original stock ownership agreement held that O’Donnell would give up his unvested founders’ shares if he left voluntarily. Bungie terminated O’Donnell without cause on April 11, 2014, according to the complaint. The company chose not to pay him for his accrued but unused vacation time, unless he waived his equity interest. So O’Donnell sued. He won the right to get his vacation pay in a separate arbitration.

Bungie also took legal action to recover O’Donnell’s shares. “The forfeiture effectively stripped O’Donnell of all rights that he would have enjoyed as a holder of shares,” according to the findings of fact by the arbitrator.

Meanwhile, in late 2013, Bungie began efforts to find musical publishing partners for Music of the Spheres. During that process, the court said, there was evidence that Bungie management believed that withholding release of Music of the Spheres gave them leverage over O’Donnell. Bungie now claims the non-release was due to court arbitration. During various events, Bungie played parts of the music that O’Donnell created. The music is now considered to be in the public domain, but Bungie was concerned that O’Donnell had copies of the music in the form of CDs, and that he was going to release it himself.

The arbitrator ruled that O'Donnell's rights as a shareholder be restored back on July 1, 2014 when shareholders converted their Series B-1 and B-2 preferred stock into common stock. Bungie and their lawyers argued that O'Donnell would be a "bothersome presence at board meetings and in the company."

In the final ruling, the arbitrator said that O’Donnell is entitled to recover, at his choice, 192,187.5 shares of vested Bungie common stock, the cash equivalent of 20 percent of his referred and common stock valued as of April 11, 2014, or the cash equivalent of 50 percent of his vested common stock valued as of July 2, 2014. O’Donnell essentially got what he was asking for.

The value of the stock isn't known since Bungie isn't a publicly traded company. O'Donnell is simply required to return any Bungie property that was not gifted to him and Music of the Spheres, which O'Donnell has already done. An appeal by Bungie on the ruling has already been denied. Marty O'Donnell is currently leading his own studio, Highwire Games.

(via Fortune (https://venturebeat.com/2015/09/04/ex-bungie-composer-marty-odonnell-wins-epic-legal-fight-with-former-bosses/))

09-05-2015, 05:16 AM
How strange, this all seemed to kick off when Activision created their own music, despite Bungie having a brilliant composer on the team since it was founded, who had already created the music :S. Why on earth would Activision bother when the work was already done?

I shouldn't be suprised really, stupid things happen all the time.