The Halo Game Composer's Lawsuit Could Jeopardize The Show's Premiere

For all the glorious heights the franchise has reached in the years since the seminal release of "Combat Evolved" in 2001, "Halo" and its fans have had to endure their fair share of lows on the way to reaching the ultimate prize of pop culture ubiquity  ... but enough about "Halo 5," am I right, folks?

In all seriousness, the rocky journey towards finally greenlighting a live-action adaptation of the popular video games has been littered with frequent stops and starts, lengthy stays in development hell, and a revolving door of creative talent before dreams finally became a reality with the upcoming Paramount+ "Halo" series. Even then, however, certain divisive storytelling choices in the trailer ended up rubbing fans the wrong way, such as the (apparently?) unforgivable lack of blue on the artificial intelligence Cortana or, much more inexplicably, the decision to forego the franchise's famous and memorable theme song in favor of ... a slowed-down and moody cover of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight."

At least one of those pressing questions might have an answer now, however. A lawsuit filed by the original "Halo" composers could help explain the theme's noticeable absence in the marketing so far while, at the same time, possibly throwing a wrench in the plans to release the series as scheduled. The news comes courtesy of Eurogamer (via Gamesradar+), who report that composers Marty O'Donnell and Mike Salvatori, creators of the famous theme full of epic choir orchestra vocalizing and snappy guitar riffs (the original report amusingly describes it as "the rousing 'der der der der' refrain," which I guess is pretty accurate!), are moving forward with their lawsuit against Microsoft (which acquired game developer Bungie in 2000) for over a decade of unpaid royalties owed them. The six charges leveled against Microsoft include:

  • breach of contract
  • breach of fiduciary duty to develop the royalty income in a joint venture
  • breach of duty to act in good faith and fair dealing
  • failure to provide an accounting partnership
  • unjust enrichment
  • tortious interference

Because of their lack of progress in resolving this matter, Eurogamer reports that the composers have instructed their lawyers to look into filing an injunction that would potentially block the release of the upcoming "Halo" series. Read on for all the details!

Lines in the Sand

Another day, another dispute between a corporation attempting to claim ownership over artists' work, and artists fighting back to receive what they deserve.

Eurogamer spoke with Marty O'Donnell about this litigation and learned that Microsoft is attempting to settle the conflict by having the "Halo" music declared as "work-for-hire," making the company the sole author of the compositions. According to O'Donnell:

"It was never work-for-hire. It was always a license deal. So that's what we did with 'Halo.' With the first 'Halo' music ever, that was written and recorded in 1999 for the first time. It was licensed to Bungie. Bungie didn't get bought by Microsoft for over a year."
"But at the time, the 'Halo' music, for this very nascent beginning thing called 'Halo,' was still owned by O'Donnell Salvatori [Inc., the partnership the two composers worked under] and licensed to Bungie."

From O'Donnell's perspective, this confusion goes back to the very early stages of the development of the original game, "Combat Evolved." At the time, nobody knew just how big of a smash-hit the game would go on to become, increasing the likelihood of artist exploitation. The composer goes on to say,

"But at the time, we'd only used that music for a couple of trailers that were, you know, pretty popular, but I didn't know if the stickiness of the monk chant and the theme would actually be appropriate to the final game. I just didn't know yet. I hoped it would be. I wrote it so it would be."
"That's when it first started. And [Microsoft] said, 'Yes, we will deal with this later.' And believe it or not, I couldn't get anybody's attention to deal with the fact that this was officially-licensed music until after we shipped 'Halo 1.'"

O'Donnell and Salvatori still receive a certain amount of quarterly royalties, though they haven't been able to verify whether the amounts match up to the company's actual profits, because Microsoft doesn't provide any actual numbers for units (soundtracks) sold or downloads. Adding salt to the wound, neither composer received credit on last year's "Halo Infinite" game and, apparently, the last straw occurred when ancillary marketing for the Paramount+ series used snippets of their theme.

As much as fans may want the show on time, properly compensating the artists involved is far more important. Stay tuned for more updates as they come in. As for the "Halo" TV series, it's currently set to premiere on March 24, 2022, on Paramount+.