Remember how we all cheered when CD Projekt removed the DRM from The Witcher 2? Although the GoG version was always free of the legitimate-customers-only punishing code, all other sources came with the straitjacket. Post launch, however, they patched it out, letting customers enjoy the game without concern. It seemed an all-round sensible way to behave, and despite piracy they sold over a million copies of the game. A happy story. Except, well, now according to TorrentFreak (and seemingly corroborated here, along with mentions of a few other titles) the publisher is reportedly threatening alleged (but unproven) pirates with ludicrous legal letters demanding large amounts of money.
Reminiscent of the vile threats sent out by delightful legal firm Davenport Lyons in 2008, the practice which TorrentFreak points out a US federal judge described as a "shakedown" has apparently been initiated in Germany, where thousands of letters have apparently been sent out demanding the ridiculous sum of €911.80 from anyone they think has downloaded and shared the game by bittorrent.
The widely condemned practice relies on the process of tracing people by their IP address, as if that's any useful way to recognise a person using an internet connection. Be generous enough not to password your wifi (or of course not know how to password your wifi, as is obviously the case for huge numbers of non-net-savvy users) and anyone can download via your IP address. Let alone the confusions of housemates, guests, public spaces, and those who know the extremely simple tricks of disguising your IP. The numbers of false positives make what is already a particularly ghastly method of gaining money utterly reprehensible. And it seems it's happening here, TorrentFreak reports, with people who have never heard of the game receiving these frightening threats.
The matter of the moral or legal nature of copying a game is not discussed here. To do it is to break the understood laws of many countries, and that is that. But the simple reality is that a pirated copy is not a lost sale. It is deliberately ignoring reality to make this idiotic claim. Piracy is unauthorised duplication, where nothing is "stolen", but rather copied without permission or payment. (Where those corporations shout, "But you wouldn't steal a car!" a sensible, level-headed body replies, "No, we wouldn't. What does that have to do with anything? Because to pirate a car would be to drive off in it, while leaving it behind on the owner's driveway.") Those who cannot afford/aren't interested enough/wanted to try first/just wanted without paying/etc etc have not taken something away from anyone to their immediate deficit, and do not represent a lost sale in any meaningful way. It cannot be proven that were piracy impossible they would have all paid for a copy, and it is of course obviously nonsense that they all would. But this point matters: The language being used is irrelevant to the reality of whatever crime may have taken place, and this incorrect terminology allows room for such hyperbolic and unjustified responses. And therefore, to charge people for the perceived loss of sales they've created by uploading a torrent is factually nonsensical.
Again, the legality of the act of unauthorised duplication is not in question. (Never mind the increasingly abundant evidence piling up that demonstrates piracy encourages sales, that is not relevant here.) This is about the response to piracy that has taken place, however wrong it may be to have done it in the first place. And that response is apparently to send out thousands of threatening letters, demanding a significant sum to prevent your having to go to court and face their claims of much more serious charges.
This is a grotesque practice, and one that seemed to be waning after the disgusted reaction from the masses in 2008, which saw Atari (publishers of The Witcher) eventually backing down from their actions. To hear that CD Projekt may be pulling the same awful scheme is a tragedy. They should back out of it immediately, and apologise, to save any face they still have.
We've contacted CDP for comment.