U.K. Games Industry Starts Playing Hardball


Videogame companies in the U.K. appear to be taking a hint from their American counterparts following an announcement that 25,000 people in the country could be slapped with lawsuits for downloading games.

Atari, Topware Interactive, Reality Pump, Techland and Codemasters have launched an application to the High Court to force internet providers to turn over the names and addresses of 25,000 people suspected of illegally downloading games, according to a Times Online report, to go along with the 5000 names and addresses they’ve already gained access to by proving their participation in unlawful file sharing. Once the information has been received, lawyers for the group plan to contact each individual with a demand for an out-of-court settlement of around $550; those who refuse to pay risk far more devastating legal action instead.

“Our clients were incensed by the level of illegal downloading,” said Roger Billens of Davenport Lyons, the law firm contracted by the group. “In the first 14 days since Topware Interactive released Dream Pinball 3D it sold 800 legitimate copies but was illegally downloaded 12,000 times. Hopefully people will think twice if they risk being taken to court.”

Up to six million people are estimated to be involved in illegal game downloading in the U.K., but the aggressiveness of this effort is unprecedented. It began with Isabela Barwinska, an unemployed mother of two unlucky enough to find herself made an example for others. She was ordered yesterday to pay Topware nearly $30,000 for downloading Dream Pinball 3D from a file-sharing site, and following that decision a lawyer for Topware said, “This is the first of many. It was always intended that there would be a lot more.”

But not everyone in the industry is thrilled with the new approach. A source close to the U.K. industry group Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association said most of its members would rather not pursue legal against against their “core market” and would prefer to find other, presumably less punitive ways to combat piracy.

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