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Could Copyright Crush CD Projekt?

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By Nelson Schneider - 10/14/18 at 02:57 PM CT

News broke recently that the Polish author, Andrzej Sapkowski, of the original novels upon which CD Projekt’s blockbuster videogame franchise, ‘The Witcher,’ is based had decided to sue the Poland-based developer, publisher, and owner of DRM-free PC gaming superstore GOG, for $16 million in additional compensation. It seems that Sapkowski originally agreed to accept a lump sum payment in order to license CD Projekt with the rights to make a game based on his novels instead of accepting a percentage of the total profits because he “didn’t believe they would be successful.” In a classic case of sour grapes, Sapkowski has decided to take legal action now that the scope of his poor judgment has become apparent.

The sad thing is that Sapkowski actually has a leg to stand on thanks to Poland’s version of the Digital Millennium Copyright act. Copyright has existed in Poland since 1926, and originally favored the Public Domain quite heavily, with a meager 10-year term. However, in 1994, Poland’s current copyright framework went into effect – which has been subsequently emended several times in the intervening years – pushing the copyright term to a whopping 70 years (as found in Article 36). Sapkowski’s argument to extort more money from CD Projekt is based entirely on Article 44, which states that original authors can request additional compensation from licensees should there be a ‘gross difference’ between the amount earned by the derivative work and the amount paid to the original author. Ironically, Sapkowski’s novels themselves are all based on prior art, with heavy re-use of Slavic mythology combined with multiverse theory and light superhero tropes (much like Disney, the enormous copyright monster whose early works were all based on public domain cultural touchstones).

CD Projekt may be a $2 billion company now, and may be in the midst of working on an almost guaranteed money-maker in their upcoming “Cyperpunk 2077” (which is also a licensed work based on a tabletop game, which itself was inspired by a novel), but even for a company with that much net worth, I can’t imagine that throwing $16 million down a rat hole or fighting the copyright system in court (which seems to be CD Projekt’s intention) is a trivial expenditure of money.

Is it possible that CD Projekt could go out of business due to overweening copyright reforms? That’s the worst-case scenario that could pan-out if Sapkowski gets his way, leading other licensors to demand excessive additional payments from licensees. And with CD Projekt as the sole protector of DRM-free distribution in the world of videogames, the sole protector of making ancient software available for reasonable prices, the loss of this one company would be a deathblow to consumer rights in videogaming. We should all take another good, long look at the copyright laws in our own countries to realize just how lopsided and offensive to liberty they are.

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