In a moment of true WTF?, Atari and Codemasters have launched an unprecedented assault on illegal downloads, requiring thousands of users to cough up £300 to settle out of court.
The suit comes from a consortium including Atari, Codemasters, Topware Interactive, Reality Pump and Techland. These firms have appointed Davenport Lyons to serve papers to approximately 25,000 UK residents.
Perhaps the taste of fresh blood in Topware’s mouth spurred the action? Isabella Barwinska was recently ordered by the London Patents County Court to fork over £16,000 to Topware for illegally sharing a copy of Dream Pinball 3D.
A quick Google of Davenport Lyons reveals that this type of legal bullying seems to be their specialty. The companies’ history is peppered with threats against private individuals. Obviously, their muscle has worked in the past, and we’ve got another strong example on our hands of Lyon’s ‘Send a bunch of letters out, scare the heck outta people, get them to cough up the cash, sign a letter of guilt, and walk away wealthy’ tactics. Clearly, they’re not spending a lot of time in the courtroom.
A bit more digging reveals that Davenport Lyons seems to be sourcing it’s data from Logistep – an anti piracy tracking company based in Switzerland. Logistep uses a number of methods to distill their data from peer-to-peer file sharing services, and claims that they can pinpoint which user has been sharing what with other users.
Logistep’s methods have been raising more than a few eyebrows in Europe for a while now. They’ve stood accused of violating the law in their pursuit of pirates by initiating meaningless criminal cases against sharers and then consequently dropping said cases once ISPs have released personal data about their customers.
Logistep isn’t just making bad blood in the land of chocolate and watches. A French lawyer working with Logistep was recently banned from the practice of law for 6 months due to the exact same behavior as the Atari/Codemasters suit. These letters demanded 400 euro from supposed sharers. Sadly, it didn’t end at that, as the letters also included a few sentences implicating that the failure to pay this fee and the subsequent court appearance (and costs) would number in the hundreds of thousands of Euros. It didn’t take a French judge long to smell ‘extortion’ in the courtroom.
On a side note, and just some food for thought – How many times have you personally used an open wi-fi connection? If Logistep can ‘supposedly’ pinpoint a user based on IP address, how can they ensure that that user has their wi-fi password protected?
If all seems quiet on the Western front, you’re not alone. All top tier publishers are staying as far away from this as possible. Interesting to note that the best games are certainly those that have a higher probability of being pirated. Neither Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard, Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo have given these actions a thumbs up. In fact, EA’s Peter Moore stated, “I’m not a huge fan of trying to punish your consumer. Albeit these people have clearly stolen intellectual property, I think there are better ways of resolving this within our power as developers and publishers.”
Illegal file sharing and piracy has, and will continue to be a hot debate. The music industry has already been down this road and failed. Not only did they fail, they created their own stew to simmer in (read: PR nightmare). Instead of promoting the non-piracy of music, the lawsuits and threats had the exact opposite effect, with record industry executives looking like dinosaurs that clearly didn’t understand their consumer. In fact, this bullying technique backfired so strongly, that the main instigator, the RIAA, had their own website hacked back in January.
Did these threats and lawsuits recoup lost money? Did it stop piracy? Of course not. The only method currently chipping away at music piracy is the emergence of convenience-based outlets, Apple’s iTunes being the flagship example. By utilizing this microtransaction model, iTunes is beating pirates at their own game by giving willing, paying customers access to what they want, when they want it at a reasonable price.
What makes this entire scenario rather odd is that both Codemasters and Atari are embracing the ultimate anti-piracy: free-to-play. Codemaster’s works with Lord of the Rings Online, Archlord and others demonstrate that they have their finger on the right pulse, and aren’t afraid to step outside the box when it comes to free-to-play, microtransaction based models.
Atari’s new management have made it very clear that they are focusing a majority of their efforts on online opportunities.
Sadly, it’s actions like this that set the entire gaming industry back a few years when it comes to mainstream acceptance and proliferation. One would think that taking a look at the recent history books alone would be enough proof for these publishers to say ‘Hmm…do we really want to open this can of worms…and in this manner?’
On the other side of the coin, stories like this only make David Perry’s drum beat all the louder.