Original Halo Composers Suing Microsoft over Unpaid Royalties, Could Block TV Series

Image: 343 Industries

The upcoming Paramount+ series could be heading for a roadblock, as the original Halo composers have instructed their lawyers to explore options in getting an injunction against it. This latest development stems from an ongoing lawsuit in which Marty O’Donnell and Mike Salvatori have claimed that Microsoft still owes royalties going back over two decades. Filed in 2020, the lawsuit has been in development, but depending on mediation, it could go to court as soon as next week. It has six causes of action listed 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
  • Unjust enrichment
  • Tortious interference

Both O’Donnell and Salvatori have each shared a number of details in phone interviews with Eurogamer regarding the events leading to the lawsuit. “We just never seemed, through our attorneys and even when I was physically in Microsoft, I could never get much clarity on it,” Marty O’Donnell said. Microsoft had declined to comment on the matter but has filed a counterclaim declaring that the disputed music qualified as a work-for-hire type of arrangement. “It was never work-for-hire,” O’Donnell said. He added that it was always a licensing deal. “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.”

From Bungie to Microsoft

Mr. O’Donnell further clarifies how shortly after Microsoft had bought Bungie, he had even gone so far as to include information regarding the licensed music as an addendum on his employment contract for Microsoft.

On day one of signing my employee contract, I wrote this addendum at the back where you’re supposed to, and I said, by the way, the Halo music up to now is licensed, it’s owned by O’Donnell Salvatore, Inc., and I’m an ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) composer. And that’s the way it needs to be going forward.

He explained that immediately triggered a meeting with Microsoft representatives and lawyers who wanted to know more detail on the meaning of the addendum. It was explained to them that Bungie never had an internal composer, and the music was created through a licensing deal. In turn, when Microsoft purchased Bungie, it too inherited the licensing deal and did not wholly own said music. At the time, no one knew if the franchise would be successful, or even how much of the music would even make it into the game(s), so the final details would get worked out later.

And so I was like, ‘Hey, if you guys can’t handle this, no harm, no foul, I’ll go back to Chicago and, you know, maybe I can freelance this stuff. I didn’t know. But they said, ‘Okay, we’ll let you do ASCAP music and we’ll deal with the licence later on this music, because like, how much of this music is going to be used in Halo?’

A New Contract

As time went on, the music was used in the games, and pieces like the monk chant became a signature part of the franchise. Microsoft went on to use the music in trailers and ads, and even went so far as to re-record it in future games. Upon pushing the matter further, and around when the official soundtrack was getting released, a new contract came about. The duo’s company, O’Donnell Salvatori Inc., specified a 20% cut of anything outside of the game.

That particular contract is at the root of the current lawsuit with Microsoft. It also stipulated documentation from Microsoft on how and where the music is used, along with revenue generated. Mr. O’Donnell further explains how the team had thought it was a pretty straightforward, and even modest, deal for them, adding that some musicians seek as much as 50% with their contracts.

It’s just the typical music business deal. That’s what we thought we wrote into the contract. And 20 percent of course of soundtrack sales – so we were expecting, quarterly, to see – this is how simple it would have been for us – 500 soundtracks were sold at $10 a soundtrack, Microsoft made $9 – or let’s say $11 and Microsoft made $10. And, here’s your cheque for $2 per soundtrack to O’Donnell Salvatori, so we could see the number of soundtracks sold, and here’s our 20 percent. We never got that kind of accounting for decades, if you can believe it.

Generic Checks and Reused Material

Things did not pan out as expected. He claims they only received generic checks throughout the years and never got the aforementioned documentation requested along with them. It was added that the size of the checks led the two to believe Microsoft might actually be losing money on the franchise, which seemed to contradict its perceived successes. Since he did not want to jeopardize his employment with Microsoft, Mr. O’Donnell chose not to pursue the matter until things escalated further.

From Halo 2 to Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, film and anime, other projects, and then the trailer for the forthcoming Paramount+ series, the duo were seeing their compositions reused. He’s then alleged that Microsoft has not credited them in any of the re-recordings used in these projects either. “I mean, part of our contract even said, ‘If you’re going to re-record any of our stuff you need to contact us, talk to us about it, or give us some sort of information,'” said O’Donnell. ” We’ve heard nothing.” “I feel disrespected,” added Salvatori.

A pretrial conference for May 9 along with instructions about seeking the injunction has been confirmed by a law firm in an email to Eurogamer.

Source: Eurogamer

Peter Brosdahl
As a child of the 70’s I was part of the many who became enthralled by the video arcade invasion of the 1980’s. Saving money from various odd jobs I purchased my first computer from a friend of my dad, a used Atari 400, around 1982. Eventually it would end up being a lifelong passion of upgrading and modifying equipment that, of course, led into a career in IT support.

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