An original designer of the John Madden football video game franchise sued Electronic Arts (EA) for breach of contract for unpaid royalties in connection with the development of the game. The designer purports to have compelling evidence that EA used his code and design elements as a basis for past and present Madden NFL video games. If true, it might mean that EA violated the designer's right to prepare derivative works. It also might mean that the designer's work was made-for-hire, in which case EA would own the copyright.
A "derivative work" is based on one or more preexisting works that can be from a number of different forms in which a work is recast, transformed or adapted. Editorial revisions, annotations or elaborations constituting works of authorship are examples of derivative works. A "work-made-for-hire" includes work prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment.
Here, the designer almost certainly developed the game within the scope of his employment, but the suit survived a motion to dismiss in April 2013. So there must be some merit to the designer's claim. Time -- and the contract -- will tell on this one.