Games law war stories: the fax contract that saved Tetris

Lawyers love to hear good legal war stories.  Games industry folks love to hear how a deal was put together.   Well, I just heard such a good little one that I had to share it with you.  The DICE conference over in Las Vegas just had a wonderful session of Alexey Pajitnov (inventor of Tetris) and Henk Rogers (his longtime business partner) interviewing each other about the history of Tetris and their partnership together (it was broadcast on Twitch).

Anyway, when I tuned in Rogers was in the middle of explaining how he came to meet Pajitnov for the first time (btw, in case you don’t know who these legends are, here’s an explanation of the history of the Tetris legal saga which I wrote in 2010!): Rogers had flown to (then still Soviet) Russia to try to get a licence from Pajitnov’s organisation for rights to distribute Tetris on Gameboy.  He *had* to get the licence on that trip or be ruined financially, since he already had the Gameboy version in production!  The Russians wanted to play for time.  So – and at this stage I’m now paraphrasing what Rogers was saying on Twitch as closely as I can remember – Rogers played hardball, throwing at the Russians as much legalese as he could think of or make up, including telling them that after a period of time his offer would automatically become “null and void” (nice).

Then, once he thinks he’s making progress, he makes a long distance call to his lawyer in Japan.  It takes 8 hours to connect to his lawyer and, once he gets through, he gives the lawyer a fax number and tells him to send over a contract of no more than 20 pages, which has to give Rogers every right he could need to license Tetris from the Russians, can’t have long words (because Rogers needs to be able to explain every word of it to the Russians) and it has to be fair to both sides because there won’t be a second shot at this.  Then, says Rogers, 24 hours later his lawyer sends over “the best contract I ever read in the industry”. At this point, Pajitnov nods sagely and adds “it was”.

What a story.  I’m sure it ended up being somewhat more complicated but, still, whoever Henk Rogers’ lawyer was, I salute you!

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