Grand Theft Auto pioneer accused of poaching staff in court battle

Leslie Benzies, who is working on the game Everywhere
Leslie Benzies, who is working on the game Everywhere
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One of Scotland’s most successful tech figures, who oversaw the growth of the world’s best-selling video game series, has become embroiled in a new row with his former employers amid a long-running legal battle.

Leslie Benzies, the former president of Rockstar North, who is widely credited with the success of the critically acclaimed Grand Theft Auto franchise, is mired in a US court fight with the games’ publishers over millions of pounds in unpaid royalties.

A scene from Grand Theft Auto

A scene from Grand Theft Auto

As revealed by Scotland on Sunday, Benzies has since set up a cluster of new firms in Edinburgh, where his staff are at work on its first title.

However, lawyers for Take Two Interactive, Rockstar North’s parent company, have issued a pre-emptive legal warning to the 47-year-old Scot’s new game development company, accusing it of wilfully infringing its intellectual property and soliciting its staff.

Since starting up his own studio at the old Leith Corn Exchange, Benzies has hired former Rockstar North staff in the capital to work on Everywhere, a game Benzies promises will “blur the lines between reality and a simulated world”.

But in a sign of the bitter breakdown in relations between Benzies and Take Two, lawyers for the New York-based publishers have fired a warning shot across the bow of the Scot’s start up.

In the letter filed with New York Supreme Court, Dale Cendali, an intellectual property lawyer at the New York legal outfit, Kirkland & Ellis, accused Royal Circus Games – which was renamed Build a Rocket Boy Games in October – of having “attempted to solicit Rockstar Games’ (RSG) employees”.

He stated: “It appears that Royal Circus Games may have targeted these employees based on knowledge of confidential personnel and business practices only available to it because of the former RSG employees’ prior employment at RSG.”

Cendali suggested Benzies and his colleagues had tried to deliberately hoodwink consumers into believing their new firm was affiliated with the video game giant.

In the letter, addressed to Christian Poziemski, who until August was a director of Royal Circus Games, Cendali added: “The choice of the Royal Circus Games trademark – which shortens to RCG and will presumably use an R design logo – is clearly intended to cause confusion with the RSG trademarks and mislead consumers into believing that there is an affiliation, connection or association between RCG and RSG.”

However, responding on behalf of Benzies, Christopher Bakes, a lawyer with the California firm, Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith, dismissed Take Two’s arguments.

“Do you have a particular basis on which to make this extreme charge?” Bakes wrote in reply. “Do you presume that all new tech and entertainment hires are just ruses to get confidential information belonging to others?”

He added: “Please let me also remind you that your clients’ companies are not feudal estates where worker movements can be controlled and harassed. Each employee was free to seek other employment and they did so.”

The court case between Benzies and Take Two is ongoing.