Carmack Is Pretty Furious After The Zenimax-Oculus Trial

Carmack Is Pretty Furious After The Zenimax-Oculus Trial

Anyone would be furious if they were on the wrong side of a $US500 million lawsuit. But while losing is bad enough, that’s not as annoying as an expert witness who misrepresents the facts.

That’s the base assertion laid out by John Carmack, one of the central figures in the lawsuit between Zenimax and Oculus, in a post on Facebook early this morning. According to the Id software co-founder and veteran developer, Zenimax’s expert witness lacked so much credibility that “the internet would have viciously mocked” their analysis, if their full report was allowed to go on the public record.

“The exception was the plaintiff’s expert that said Oculus’s implementations of the techniques at issue were ‘non-literally copied’ from the source code I wrote while at Id Software,” Carmack wrote. “This is just not true. The authors at Oculus never had access to the Id C++ VR code, only a tiny bit of plaintext shader code from the demo. I was genuinely interested in hearing how the paid expert would spin a web of code DNA between completely unrelated codebases.”

Carmack went on to criticise the alleged assertions of the expert witness. It’s seemingly pretty thorough, although one-sided: since the expert witness’s report isn’t part of the public record, it’s a bit of a one-sided argument.

Nonetheless, the legendary Doom and Quake programmer’s demolition of this analogy gives you an idea of how angry Carmack is:

The analogy that the expert gave to the jury was that if someone wrote a book that was basically Harry Potter with the names changed, it would still be copyright infringement. I agree; that is the literary equivalent of changing the variable names when you copy source code. However, if you abstract Harry Potter up a notch or two, you get Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, which also maps well onto Star Wars and hundreds of other stories. These are not copyright infringement.

Carmack finished by saying that while he didn’t have any issue with the principle of the “expert witness circuit”, he argued that expert witness testimony should be “as much a part of your permanent public record” as academic journal papers. “There should be a danger to your reputation if you are imprudent,” he concluded. Carmack also added that he never hid or wiped any evidence and that “all of my data is accounted for, contrary to some stories being spread”.


  • On the one hand I would be angry too if I was mis-represented in a court of law and made out to be a villain incorrectly. On the other hand, the legal system exists because saying “I didn’t do anything wrong” doesn’t make you automatically innocent. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

    • Perhaps, but coming out and saying flat “Yes, I took a bunch of corporate emails from my work account with me when I left to join Oculus, even though I know I shouldn’t have” like he did has to have consequences, and gives credence to the witness testimony he is actively trying to discredit. Kinda hard to be too angry that the jury gave greater credit to the expert witness than to his argument against it if that is the sort of thing he is going to come out with.

      • Of course this is all speculation…

        But he does have a point if he isn’t lying. Just because you took code doesn’t automatically corrolate that said code would be instrumental in the infringement. It all depends on the code that he had and would it be possible to deconstruct the code into a source you build off to create the same product.

        The problem here is FB’s defence team didn’t build enough of a counter point or argument to say that “yes we had code. but it’s not usable/deconstructable code”.

  • As a big fan of Carmack, I initially assumed that Zenimax were playing patent troll, but by the end the case I was frankly surprised that they didn’t get the full payout. Occulus didn’t live up to their agreed obligations, Carmack did ‘share’ trade secrets (whether they were useful or not), and Facebook didn’t do any due diligence. These are just things your not meant to do.

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