Andrzej Sapkowski, Polish author best known for his Witcher series of fantasy novels, has recently demanded 6 percent ($16 million) of the profits gained by CD Projekt through their use of his intellectual property.
The author’s lawyers believe a fair asking percentage exists between 5 and 15 percent of the profits, despite Sapkowski having previously sold the rights to CD Projekt at the game’s outset, some 18 years ago.
The relationship between Sapkowski and CD Projekt began early 2000, when studio co-founder Marcin Iwiński approached Sapkowski inquiring after the Witcher license in light of another Witcher project failing to get off the ground. Sapkowski was widely regarded as the best fantasy writer in Poland at the time, with some even regarding him as a Polish Tolkien. With a license this potentially lucrative, Iwiński was more optimistic than confident about acquiring the rights, yet Sapkowski’s disdain for gaming ensured the rights would be theirs.
Not thinking it would amount to much, Sapkowski accepted a single lump sum payment over a percent of the profits, agreeing to allow CD Projekt use of his characters and settings, and allowing for new stories to be told. Sapkowski’s lack of faith in the gaming market would prove to be ill-founded however, and as of 2017, the three games in the Witcher trilogy have sold over 33 million copies.
In a 2017 interview with Eurogamer’s Robert Purchese, Sapkowski lamented on the public perception towards the Witcher games and series, feeling most acknowledgment was aimed towards CD Projekt. “In 20 years somebody will ask, ‘Witcher, the game – and who’s the author?’ No one will know.” This is further enforced by novels displaying artwork from the games. Considering the global success of the franchise, including standalone Gwent-based games and an upcoming Netflix series, it is understandable that Sapkowski would feel regret at his previous agreement with CD Projekt.
Angling towards a miscommunication, a letter from Sapkowski’s lawyers states that “Careful reading of your contracts concluded with the Author might lead one to conclude that, if the company did effectively acquire any copyright at all, it concerned only the first in a series of games, and therefore distribution of all other games, including their expansions, add-ons etc., is, simply speaking, unlawful.”
CD Projekt has rejected these demands.
The studio’s response reads “In the Company’s opinion the demands expressed in the notice are groundless with regard to their merit as well as the stipulated amount. The Company had legitimately and legally acquired copyright to Mr. Andrzej Sapkowski’s work, i.a. insofar as is required for its use in games developed by the Company. All liabilities payable by the Company in association therewith have been properly discharged.”
There are some oddities surrounding the timing of this claim. Sapkowski claims the deal only regarded the first game, yet has waited until three years after the third game was released to voice concerns over rights. It is plausible that the author feels he deserves more, despite the initial deal, and is angling for what he feels he is owed. It is also important to note that the benefit was mutual, as Sapkowski’s literary work has arguably benefited from the public’s exposure to the Witcher franchise through other means.
His Witcher books have been translated into Czech, Hungarian, Russian, Lithuanian, German, Spanish, French, Chinese, Ukrainian, Portuguese, Finnish, Slovak, Bulgarian, Serbian, English, Italian, Dutch, Turkish, Estonian, Romanian and Swedish. The success of the Witcher games, and the lore displayed in them has also opened up a more western audience, with the aforementioned Netflix series expected to arrive in 2020 which Sapkowski is serving as a creative consultant on.
There is no denying that the Witcher games are wildly popular and financially successful, yet despite Sapkowski’s reportedly insubstantial initial deal with CD Projekt, the author has benefited greatly from the relationship up to this point.