The creator of The Witcher books, Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, has called on CD Projekt Red to pay him up to $16.1 million more in royalties following the success of the studio’s video game adaptation of the series. In a post on the company’s website, CD Projekt Red called the demands “groundless.”
Lawyers for Sapkowksi claim in a letter CD Projekt Red reposted on its website that Polish copyright law entitles him to more royalties based on the now large discrepancy between what the studio originally paid him and how much it has gone on to profit from the copyright. Citing Article 44 of Poland’s 1994 copyright law, they write, “[Article 44] may be invoked when the compensation remitted to the author is too low given the benefits obtained in association with the use of that author’s work.” The lawyers also argue that the original agreement only applies to the first Witcher game and not any others, something CD Projekt Red denies. “All liabilities payable by the Company in association therewith have been properly discharged,” the company writes.
Not much is known about the original agreement by which CD Projekt Red secured the rights to make its Witcher trilogy, which wrapped up in 2016 with the release of the Blood and Wine expansion, or its current digital card game Gwent based on the same characters. Based on reporting by Eurogamer, the studio apparently approached Sapkowski in the early 2000s about making games based on his books. “It wasn’t a huge amount of money,” CD Projekt Red co-founder Marcin Iwiński told the site in 2015.
In Sapkowski’s view, the studio’s offer wasn’t so meager. “Well they brought a big bag of money,” he told Eurogamer in 2017. Sapkowski didn’t expect the games to amount to much, so he settled for the flat amount rather than royalties based on its financial success. In hindsight he regretted his decision.
“I was stupid enough to sell them rights to the whole bunch,” he told Eurogamer. “They offered me a percentage of their profits. I said, ‘No, there will be no profit at all - give me all my money right now! The whole amount.’ It was stupid. I was stupid enough to leave everything in their hands because I didn’t believe in their success. But who could foresee their success? I couldn’t.”
In the years since, The Witcher has come to be one of the role-playing genre’s defining series, with with CD Projekt Red reporting in 2016 that The Witcher 3 had shipped 10 million copies. By the following year, the studio announced that the trilogy as a whole had sold 33 million copies worldwide.
Now, Sapkowski is trying to pressure to the company into paying him more to account for that success. While his lawyers’ letter mentions various legal arguments in Sapkowski’s favor and claims the original contracts “do not conform to even rudimentary due diligence principles,” the ultimate goal appears to be some sort of new settlement, calling for the studio to resolve things with him amicably lest either party’s reputation be damaged.
For its part, CD Projekt stated it’s also interested in keeping its relationship with the author of the source material on good terms. “It is the Company’s will to maintain good relations with authors of works which have inspired CD PROJEKT RED’s own creations,” it said in the post on its website. “Consequently, the Board will go to great lengths to ensure amicable resolution of this
dispute; however, any such resolution must be respectful of previously expressed intents of both parties, as well as existing contracts.”
It’s unclear how much of either side’s words amount to posturing, and CD Projekt Red did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the terms of its original agreement with Sapkowski and whether it would be open to some new financial settlement. The letter from Sapkowski’s lawyers give a deadline of October 19 for negotiations to begin.