Gearbox and Duke Nukem composer settle lawsuit after 3D Realms admits it 'inadvertently overlooked' licence

Duke Nukem Forever
(Image credit: Gearbox)

Gearbox has settled a lawsuit filed by composer Bobby Prince, which had accused the developer of using the musician's work without permission in the 2016 release of Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour

The suit centred around a licensing agreement between Prince and Apogee software, the owner of Duke Nukem's original developer 3D Realms, which according to the original court filing said: "Apogee had a limited right to use Mr. Prince’s music in Duke Nukem 3D in exchange for a royalty equal to $1 per unit sold."

Gearbox Software bought the rights to the Duke Nukem games from Apogee in 2010, going on to release Duke Nukem Forever and Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour. The latter was where Prince's original music was used without permission. "The electronic files for the music within Duke Nukem 3D World Tour include text specifically stating that Mr Prince owns the copyright to the music and has reserved all rights to the music’s use," the court document read. "Yet Gearbox incorporated the music into the game without ever contacting Mr Prince and without clearing the rights expressly mentioned in the electronic files."

The lawsuit was initially launched in 2019 against Gearbox Software, Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford, and Valve (for distributing the game via Steam). Gearbox then added Apogee to the lawsuit earlier this year, claiming 3D Realms had violated the Duke Nukem sale agreement by attesting the rights were being transferred "free and clear," legal terminology that essentially amounts to saying Gearbox was not aware of the agreement between Prince and 3D Realms when it bought the rights.

This move put the blame on Apogee, and looks like it was super-effective. A press release announcing the settlement comes with quotes from various players involved, and the most interesting is from 3D Realms. 

"We at 3D Realms appreciate Bobby Prince, Randy Pitchford, and the Gearbox team for working with us to address the concerns raised in Mr. Prince's lawsuit. After review by counsel, a licence with Bobby was inadvertently overlooked by 3D Realms when we sold Gearbox the Duke Nukem catalog. We are relieved to have the issues resolved and extend our best to everyone."

That's probably going to be an expensive inadvertent overlooking. Gearbox added that its own review had shown Prince's claim "rested with 3D Realms."

Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford said: "Bobby Prince has been and remains a valuable contributor to the Gearbox family. We appreciate Bobby and his team working with us to clear up the misunderstandings and confusion. He's an incredible artist and we value his contributions to our works."

The settlement has not been disclosed, though all parties will be covering their own legal fees. Prince seems happy with the outcome, and has confirmed his music will remain in the game.

"There's been a lot of interest about my lawsuit and Gearbox. I'm glad to announce today that the matter with Gearbox is resolved. After productive discussions, we have reached an agreement that allows my music and sound effects to remain in Duke Nukem 3D: 20th Anniversary World Tour. I appreciate Randy Pitchford and Gearbox for their collaboration, partnership, and understanding. I'm thankful that we can put this behind us and move forward."

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."