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Despite never having played a game before, senior citizens Gill and Ken Murdoch found themselves the subject of legal threats from Atari for allegedly sharing the game "Race07".  (Source: Atari)
Recent suits illustrate alarming trend in the gaming industry

While few argue that creative artists deserve fair financial compensation for their work, equally few agree with the RIAA's unprofitable campaign of aggressive litigation.  The organization, which aims to stamp out music piracy in America has sued for as much as $9,250 per pirated song, and has even sued people with no internet access. 

The RIAA once sued an elderly woman for allegedly downloading gangster rap, and was unwilling to drop the case for months despite discovering she was dead and had no computer in the house.  They also sued a twelve year old girl, forcing her parents to pay two thousand dollars in damages.

Now copyright owners in the gaming industry may be resorting to similar thuggish tactics to fight growing software piracy.  Gill and Ken Murdoch, senior citizens from Scotland, aged 54 and 66 respectively, received alarming legal threats warning them of an impending lawsuit if they did not £500 ($815 USD) compensation to Atari.  They were accused of stealing the game Race07.

Atari has apparently hired anti-piracy firm Logistep to identify IP addresses of people downloading and sharing games online.  Despite the fact that IP addresses can easily change and be altered and are notoriously poor evidence, Atari is charging head on into a large campaign of legal threats.  The company has already taken aim at Britain's estimated 6 million pirates by sending out threatening letters, based on its partner's surveillance of Gnutella, BitTorrent, and eDonkey.

However, like the RIAA, its results seem to be lacking any kind of evidence or consistency.  For example, the Murdochs hardly used a computer and never had gamed in their life.  They describe, ”We do not have, and have never had, any computer game or sharing software. We did not even know what 'peer to peer' was until we received the letter."

The case was dropped after a protest by the shocked Murdochs and mounting negative publicity.  Atari's law firm Davenport Lyons, which it has hired to handle prosecution, would not comment on the reason why the case was dropped.

Michael Coyle, an intellectual property solicitor with law firm Lawdit, says people should hardly be surprised at the massive amounts of wrongful accusations.  IP addresses, he says, are a horrible way to track down real file sharers.  He states, "The IP address alone doesn't tell you anything. Piracy is only established beyond doubt if the hard-drive is examined."

Mr. Coyle is helping the wrongfully accused fight back.  He has 70 cases currently and has spoken to "hundreds" of others.  He states, "Some of them are senior citizens who don't know what a game is, let alone the software that allows them to be shared."

While prosecutors argue that network theft is no excuse for piracy originating at the IP, he aptly argues that there's no law requiring personal networks to be secure, leading to a sizable inconsistency.  He states, "There is no section of the Copyright Act which makes you secure your network although it is commonsense to do so."

However, as he notes, some users, like the elderly are unaware of the proper procedures to protect a home network, or the risks involved.

In Britain, though the game publishers are starting to have success with their litigation, despite the negative press, though.  Topware Interactive managed to win £16,000 (approximately $26,000 USD) in damages from Londoner Isabella Barwinska who shared a copy of the game Dream Pinball 3D.

In Britain copyright law is enforced by the Copyright, Design and Patents Act of 1988, which is much like our Digital Millennium Copyright Act here in the U.S.

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When will the next Electronic Gaming bust happen?
By Bateluer on 10/31/2008 8:51:41 AM , Rating: 5
We have publishers churning out incredibly short, bug ridden titles, crippled with anti-consumer DRM; they are filing lawsuits without cause, evidence or provocation; the large telco's are screaming that they cannot provide the large bandwidth their customers are increasingly demanding; the customers are demanding faster Internet; Valve/Sony/MS/Etc all want to push online distribution for their software, etc.

Seems to be some 'incompatibility' issues to me. Hopefully, the current financial meltdown will take its toll on EA, Activation, Ubi Soft and others so we can have a long over due purge, flushing the crap out.

RE: When will the next Electronic Gaming bust happen?
By mmntech on 10/31/2008 10:21:17 AM , Rating: 1
The bust has already happened, for PC gaming anyway. Console sales are stronger than ever despite the economic slowdown.

It just goes to show that you can only abuse your customers so much before they begin to turn away from you. EA and Ubi's methods have involved mostly restrictive DRM but I think the Atari case goes beyond any reason. They are basically hiring a private detective to spy on people without cause or warrant. If that's not illegal, it should be. To me it falls under unreasonable search and seizure. The disturbing legal trend is that these cases are being won based on flimsy circumstantial evidence and hearsay. The whole war on piracy has turned into a witch hunt and a lot of innocent victims are being punished in the process.

I suppose it's ironic coming from Atari. If any one organization can be singled out for causing the 1983 crash, it's them. If I recall correctly, Atari didn't even list credits for games back then, now they're championing for the rights of creative artists. Despite changing hands numerous times over the years, they still have the same arrogant attitude they did in the mid-80s. I personally won't be buying any more of their products.

By Spivonious on 10/31/2008 1:12:49 PM , Rating: 2
Atari from the 80s went out of business. The name was bought by another company (Activision?) about 5 years ago.

By ShaolinSoccer on 11/1/2008 11:38:54 AM , Rating: 2
by mmntech on October 31, 2008 at 10:21 AM
"They are basically hiring a private detective to spy on people without cause or warrant. If that's not illegal, it should be. To me it falls under unreasonable search and seizure."

How can it be unreasonable when you're downloading something illegal publically? If you download anything using bit torrent or other file sharing apps, you can clearly see who you're getting it from and who you're sharing it with. That's just like basically walking into a store holding up a big sign that says "I am stealing something right now". If a detective does a search for a certain product and sees you are sharing it, he has every right to do something about it.

By mcturkey on 11/1/2008 9:52:15 PM , Rating: 2
Not quite. While I agree that if you are sharing something through a program like that, you are in effect holding up a sign, but it's that you are distributing it. The only person besides you who can see what you are downloading is the person distributing, and that person is, according to the law, doing so illegally. Sharing and stealing from a store aren't the same thing.

By kilkennycat on 10/31/2008 1:09:27 PM , Rating: 3
Consider the alternates. Bethesda's Fallout3 - a truly vast game, rapidly acquiring rave-reviews. Released on 3 platforms (PC, Xbox360 and PS3) Likely to have massive sales. And the PC version has simple disk-based copy-protection like thousands of PC games before. Oblivion, Bethesda's previous release has sold over 3 million copies ( ~2m on Xbox360, ~1 m on PC). Again just simple disk-based copy-protection on the PC version. Or Sins of a Solar Empire (PC-only) with no copy-protection and sales now well over 500,000 - massive sales for a strategy-game, and still commanding near-list prices.

Quality releases do not need draconian copy protection. Sure, a percentage will be lost to piracy, but consumers are still prepared to pay for true quality.

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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