Carmack Takes Exception To ZeniMax Expert Witness' 'Absolute Certainty'

John Carmack, the famed software developer who is credited with creating the first 3D game engine and is currently Oculus' Chief Technical Officer, voiced his opinions of the recent ZeniMax verses Oculus lawsuit in a public Facebook post. The Oculus executive accused the plaintiff of “misdirection, and selective omissions” and said that ZeniMax's expert witness' choice of language was unscientific.

During the trial, ZeniMax's expert witness declared that Oculus used “non-literally copied” source code that Carmack wrote while working for id Software. Carmack contends that the statement is untrue.

“The authors at Oculus never had access to the Id C++ VR code, only a tiny bit of plaintext shader code from the demo,” wrote Carmack. “I was genuinely interested in hearing how the paid expert would spin a web of code DNA between completely unrelated codebases.”

Carmack doesn't deny that he took code from id Software when he left the company. The developer admitted on the stand that he took a hard drive full of files and source code, but he maintains that those works were not the basis of Oculus’s software. Carmack said he took exception to the witness’s steadfast certainty and lamented not having the chance to challenge the witness’s testimony. Had the witness used other language, Carmack said he believes it would have fit the narrative, but he is “offended that a distinguished academic” would come to such hard conclusions. “That isn’t the language of scientific inquiry,” he said.

“Early on in his testimony, I wanted to stand up say ‘Sir! As a man of (computer) science, I challenge you to defend the efficacy of your methodology with data, including false positive and negative rates,’" said Carmack. "After he had said he was ‘Absolutely certain there was non-literal copying’ in several cases, I just wanted to shout ‘You lie!’”

Carmack went on to say that “the notion of non-literal copying is probably delicious to many lawyers” because “just about everything is related” when a “sufficient application of abstraction and filtering” is present. That is to say, he believes the phrase “non-literal copying” is vague enough to spin the narrative.

Carmack isn’t keen about the analogy that ZeniMax’s expert used to explain the copyright infringement claim to the jury, either. The code infringement was likened to someone taking Harry Potter and changing the character names, which would be an infringement. Carmack argued that software copyright doesn’t work the same way, though, because copyright “does not apply to concepts or algorithms.” He also argued that “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,” which wouldn’t copyright infringements.

Carmack is also displeased about being restricted from reading the expert's “several-hundred-pagereport.” The developer said he was permitted to listen only to the expert's testimony; the document, as well as the testimony, are sealed from the public record.

“This is surely intentional,” said Carmack. “If the code examples were released publicly, the internet would have viciously mocked the analysis.”

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  • shrapnel_indie
    What Carmack says has its merit. Unfortunately, none of us are privy to the details of the case, and all we can do is speculate.

    The concept of “non-literal copying” sounds like lawyer speak for "we're butt-hurt because they got the same functionality" regardless of the fact it didn't use the same code... If this case supports that conclusion... beware... innovation and creativity will be locked down tighter than Fort Knox, placing it squarely in the hands of big money media/software conglomerates.
  • Yuka
    What I can gather from the term "non-literal copy" is that you don't make a carbon copy of the code, but take the base assumptions and concepts for creating such a piece (functional) into your new code set.

    In Project Management terms (or making a parallel through it): you copy the specific requirements and functional spec, but the code looks different while delivering the same end results.

    Now, that is what I interpret and in no way, shape or form I'll go against Mr. Carmacks word, lol.

  • Tylanner1
    "no country for old men" applies here.

    I'd love to see how the case is settled when they must distinguish non-literal copying between two massively complex datasets.

    This is why talent...the humans and knowledge (Carmack) is so valued by large tech companies...why sign up for a full acquisition when Carmack and an array of coders is nearly as good.