Microsoft doesn’t own the rights to Minecraft’s ending — no one does, its author claims

Microsoft doesn’t own the rights to Minecraft’s ending — no one does, its author claims

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The author says he was paid €20,000 but never signed a contract — so he’s making the End Poem public domain.

Poem’s end.
Image: Minecraft

There is no question who wrote the poem at the end of Minecraft, the best-selling video game of all time. Julian Gough is the one who gave the game’s unseen gods their voice, beautifully telling the player how the universe loves them — and how the player is the universe, dreaming of itself.

We know it is Julian because he put his name in the poem, and because game studio Mojang put his name in the credits, and because Mojang founder Markus “Notch” Persson personally and very publicly recruited him for the task. What we did not suspect — not till we read Gough’s new Twitter thread and an epic 10,000-word blog post that is well worth a full read — is that Microsoft may not actually own the rights to the game’s ending.

Gough says he never signed the contract — not with Mojang and not with Microsoft, which purchased Mojang for $2.5 billion in 2014. And after spending nearly a decade conflicted about whether he should consult a lawyer about that, he now says he’s chosen to give the ending away for free, making it public domain by tacking on a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal license.

He announced much of this on December 7th, nearly a month ago, though it flew under the radar for me. Fittingly, the Twitter thread is about why some of us might not have seen this saga — he claims “several national newspapers” and a “global news organization” are all sitting on the story simply because Microsoft decided not to respond to their request for comment and they were too afraid of Microsoft’s 1,700-person legal team.

As a newsroom editor with a decade of experience, I think there’s a more plausible explanation: it’s really damn hard to prove this story is true, particularly without Microsoft’s help. (Microsoft didn’t immediately respond to my request for comment, either.)

Yes, Gough is absolutely the author of the poem, and yes, he can show us photos of unsigned contracts, but how is, say, The Washington Post to know he didn’t sign a different copy that Microsoft has locked up in some vault? It’s nigh impossible to prove that something doesn’t exist, like a piece of paper with Gough’s signature on it. Any editor sitting on this story is probably hoping Microsoft plays ball or at least that someone else who would have been in the path of the contract ’fesses up as corroboration.

That way, they can write a factual headline, which is much stronger than the “author claims” headline I’m presenting to you today. News orgs tend to prefer that for obvious reasons.

Also, consider that the source may be unreliable! There was a huge controversy recently when Bayonetta’s original voice actor Helena Taylor called for fans to boycott the game, claiming she was offered an obscenely low amount of money to reprise her role, but it quickly got overshadowed by Bloomberg’s reveal that she was offered more than she originally claimed. Today, it seems clear that she misled fans, even though she drew attention to a very real problem in the industry.

Gough, too, claims he’s barely getting by despite contributing something huge to a game that’s sold 238 million copies around the world.

But I don’t think we need absolute proof to bring you this story, partly because Gough’s tale is well worth reading even if you hold some doubts, and partly because he isn’t asking for anything save a little attention and possibly some donations.

He makes it crystal clear that he doesn’t want you to blame Microsoft, Mojang, or Notch and that he did make good use of his sole €20,000 payment. If he didn’t strike it rich with his contribution to Minecraft, he explains, he’s got no one to blame but himself.

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Sean Hollister

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