Duke Nukem Goes Retro in Music Copyright Suit

Robert C. Prince v. Gearbox Software LLC et. al.
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, Northern Division
Case No.: 3:19-cv-00380
Filed: September 27, 2019

Bobby Prince, the composer of the soundtracks for the video games Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, and Duke Nukem 3D, has filed a copyright infringement suit against developer and publisher Gearbox, developer Valve, and Gearbox’s CEO Randy Pitchford.  Prince asserts that Gearbox used Prince’s work in a recent rerelease of the video game Duke Nukem 3D. Prince says he was not notified or compensated for this use of his work.

Prince asserts that Gearbox and Randy Pitchford were aware and admitted that they lacked a valid license to the music but proceeded to use the music in the game’s re-release anyways.  Prince further alleges that the defendants subsequently refused to remove the music from the game. It appears that Prince’s allegations against Valve relate to it distributing Gearbox’s re-releases: according to Prince, Valve ignored takedown notices and continued to distribute the game on its popular video game marketplace, Steam, despite being notified and aware that the music in the game had not been licensed.

Prince first composed the soundtracks for Duke Nukem 3D back in the 1990s while working for developer Apogee. The agreement Prince had with Apogee stipulated that the music would remain with Prince as the composer.  The agreement also provided that Prince would be entitled to royalties for its use in-game. The rights to the Duke Nukem series were later acquired by Gearbox, and Gearbox then rereleased the game Duke Nukem 3D during the game’s 20th anniversary of its 1996 release.

The suit alleges that Gearbox was both aware that the music was still owned by Prince and that its use would require Prince’s permission.  In fact, according to the complaint, the digital files for the music note that Prince had retained the copyright in the music.  According to Prince’s complaint, Prince shared a copy of the original copyright agreement between Prince and Apogee and was later assured by Pitchford that he would be “taken care of.” However, Prince was never compensated nor was the music licensed for its use in the 20-year rerelease of Duke Nukem 3D.

We will continue to provide updates as they become available for this case.