Ubisoft vs. Black Eyed Peas – The Million Dollar Answer

By Kira Grunenberg

If there’s one thing that tends to easily get thrown around in casual American vernacular, it’s exaggerated terminology to make an expressly overt point.

e.g. “That test was totally a million times harder than they said it would be!”

Of course, there are some places where imparting such quantities wouldn’t be nearly as funny. Case in point: a lawsuit. If someone says, “I’m taking you to court for a million dollars,” that’s not so amusing. That’s how things are for video game developer/publisher Ubisoft right now. The company is going toe-to-toe with BEP Music LLC –better known as the Black Eyed Peas– for just that sum in damages. The cause of the suit comes from an alleged breach of contract on the part of BEP Music.

Ubisoft isn’t a stranger to court proceedings. Earlier this year, the company was on the defensive for a suit filed against them by the makers of Guitar Apprentice. Unlike that competitive clash, Ubisoft and BEP Music have been in what is supposed to be a beneficial relationship, as the two were working together. Courthouse News Service reports that in June 2011 [Ubisoft] and BEP…

“entered into a license agreement… pursuant to which BEP Music licensed to Ubisoft the exclusive, worldwide right to use, among other things, the names and likenesses of a music group and its members … to develop, produce, and distribute a video game … on all existing and future handheld and home consoles and IOS platforms, including the iPhone and iPad.”

Problems arise in this arrangement under the section of the contract that asserts BEP Music’s obligation to provide a written decision concerning relegated content –either in acceptance or disapproval thereof. The specific timeframe outlined in the contract, (as also listed by Courthouse News), is purported to be 10 business days and an unnamed title for iOS has gone unacknowledged either way by BEP Music since Ubisoft requested response back in March of this year.

Although the amount incurred by Ubisoft for its labor and production expenses don’t add up to the one million dollar filing –allegedly €181,000 or roughly $233,000 USD– the publisher is including further costs for current and projected future losses in game sales that they claim are a result of BEP Music’s apathy on green-lighting the product.

One has to wonder where communications broke down and why. Granting someone permission to use your music in a separate product is a bold move; similar to athletes choosing third party companies to endorse. One’s creative livelihood is being associated with a second company and if one sincerely supports that second business, it would seem sensible that a musician would want to do whatever necessary to streamline the release process. Then the third party product can be promoted and optimal, mutual benefits can be attained. If the musician turns out not to want their music connected with the third party, then disapprove and re-discuss the contract so things get a clean break.

Doing neither ruins an otherwise healthy business connection. This particular scenario sees the Black Eyed Peas putting game synchronization profits way down on their list of important money reserves and certainly leaves a trail of negative mental precedent for any other game developers that might be watching.

Kira is an old school music nerd with a love for all things creative; always searching for music’s common ground. She graduated with an M.A. in Performing Arts Administration from New York University. Drop her a tweet @shadowmelody1