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Video game wars are usually waged by teenagers on a small screen. But now the mayhem has spilled over into federal court in Austin, where a video game industry executive is suing a book publisher for libel. Computer game publisher Michael Wilson sued publishing giant Random House Inc. on May 10, alleging that statements made about him in a book about two gaming industry gurus are false and have damaged his reputation. The New York-based book publisher contends Wilson’s claim has no legal merit. At issue in Wilson v. Random House Inc., filed in U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks’ court, are statements that Random House published in “Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and Transformed Pop Culture,” written by David Kushner. The book tells the story of John Carmack and John Romero, co-creators of gore-filled games “Doom” and “Quake,” which revolutionized the video game industry in the 1990s. In “Doom,” a pioneering first-person shooter game, a player shoots at enemies that appear to be moving all around him and sees blood spurt from the bodies of those he guns down. Wilson, who lives in Austin, says in an interview that he served as vice president of marketing for id Software Inc., the company that Carmack and Romero built, and later joined Romero at Ion Storm following the breakup of the Carmack-Romero partnership. According to Wilson’s original complaint, Random House first published “Masters of Doom” in May 2003 and published a paperback edition in May 2004. Wilson alleges in the complaint that Random House defamed him when it published statements in the book that, while he was at Ion Storm, “without the owner’s knowledge, Wilson had borrowed company money to buy a new BMW.” What the book doesn’t mention, Wilson says in an interview, is that he was the chief executive officer and an owner of Ion Storm. “I borrowed $30,000 for 30 days; I didn’t borrow money to buy a BMW without anybody knowing,” Wilson says. Wilson says Ion Storm’s chief operating officer was aware of the loan and that the company’s chief financial officer signed the loan documents. In his complaint, Wilson alleges that the “false and libelous statements” that Random House published about him in the book are tantamount to stating that he embezzled money from the company in which he was the CEO and an owner. The clear innuendo is that he was dishonest, Wilson alleges. “There’s nothing they could have possibly said that could be more damaging,” Wilson says in an interview, noting that he’s trying to raise money for a new video game publishing company, Gamecock Media Group. “This is an industry publication read almost exclusively by my peers in the industry,” he says. Wilson alleges in his complaint that the false and libelous statements that Random House published about him “were made with actual malice knowing that such statements were false, or with reckless disregard for the truth.” Wilson also alleges that he sustained special damages as a result of being harmed in his business interests, in his reputation and standing in the community and “has suffered shame, humiliation and mental anguish.” Represented by Austin plaintiffs lawyer Broadus Spivey, Wilson is seeking $50 million in actual, general and special damages as well as punitive damages against Random House. PUBLIC OR PRIVATE? Stuart Applebaum, spokesman for Random House, downplays the suit in a written statement: “Although our company policy generally is not to comment on pending litigation, we will make an exception this time because the facts here so strongly support our author, whose ‘Masters of Doom’ has been widely praised by many book reviewers for its meticulous research. Should the prospective plaintiff choose to pursue this action, our expectation is that the court will find this claim completely without legal merit and factually baseless.” Thomas Leatherbury, a partner in Vinson & Elkins in Dallas, confirms that Random House retained him to defend the company against the suit. Leatherbury declines further comment, saying he doesn’t have authority from the client to discuss the case. Spivey, a partner in Spivey & Grigg, says Wilson filed the suit against Random House instead of the author, Kushner, because a publisher is financially responsible for what it publishes. David Anderson, a University of Texas School of Law professor who specializes in torts and mass communications law, says the standard of proof in defamation suits such as Wilson hinges on whether the plaintiff is considered a public figure. If he is not a public figure, Wilson has to show that the publisher was negligent in making the alleged false statements and that the statements caused him emotional distress and pecuniary loss, Anderson says. A plaintiff who is a public figure can’t recover unless he shows a publisher acted with actual malice, either knowing that a statement was false or publishing it with reckless disregard of its falsity, he says. Anderson says a plaintiff who is not a public figure but who proves actual malice can recover premium damages. But he says it’s hard to prove actual malice (showing that the publisher knew a statement was false) or to prove reckless disregard (showing that the publisher had doubts about the truthfulness of the statement). The burden is on Wilson to show the statement is false, Anderson says. It’s not enough for a plaintiff to show a statement is technically wrong. Notes Anderson: “Wilson will have to show the statement has a different effect on the reader than the truth would have on the reader.”

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