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.