Microsoft is being sued by Halo composers for unpaid royalties

February 11, 2022
Microsoft Halo TV Show

The original composers of the iconic score to the Halo franchise are suing Microsoft over unpaid royalties, potentially blocking the release of the upcoming Halo TV show

20 years after initially composing the fantastic score for Bungie’s Halo: Combat Evolved, composers Marty O’Donnell and Mike Salvatori are still owed royalties from their work, the pair have claimed.

According to O’Donnell, he and Salvatori created and then licenced the music they created for Halo to Bungie, meaning the pair, trading as O’Donnell Salvatori Inc., were entitled to royalties. Even after Microsoft’s acquisition of Bungie in 2000, this licencing deal should have remained in place, with the composers being paid royalties for the use in subsequent games and media. 

Despite what sounds like an open and shut case for O’Donnell and Salvatori, the pair have struggled to get any clarity on the matter. Speaking to Eurogamer, O’Donnell said that they “never seemed, through our attorneys and even when I was physically in Microsoft, I could never get much clarity on it.” 

This led O’Donnell and Salvatori to file a lawsuit to a Washington state court in June of 2020. This lawsuit has been steadily progressing through depositions and discovery, and a date for mediation is currently set for next week, however, this doesn’t guarantee a deal will be reached. 

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Microsoft’s counterclaim to this lawsuit alleges that the music the pair produced for Bungie and Halo qualifies as work-for-hire, which would make Microsoft the owners of the composition and therefore not needing to pay royalties. 

Naturally, O’Donnell disputes this claim, telling Eurogamer that “It was never work-for-hire.” O’Donnell went on to claim that “it was always a licence deal. So that’s what we did with Halo. 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.”

With no clear end to this lawsuit in sight, O’Donnell and Salvatori reportedly decided to put pressure on Microsoft, threatening the release of the upcoming Halo TV show, which is launching on Paramount+. 

According to Eurogamers report, O’Donnell and Salvatori have instructed their lawyers to explore the possibility of blocking the release of the Halo TV show through a preliminary injunction. This move could either delay the release of the show, currently slated for March 24th, or require Paramount and Microsoft to remove the franchise’s iconic music from the series.

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