Last week we celebrated CD Projekt RED's decision to back down from the practice of demanding cash settlements from alleged pirates. The gambit, that subverts the legal process of innocent until proven guilty, and is based on threatening people with spurious lawsuits with only flimsy, unreliable IP evidence, has been condemned on many occasions, and when tried in the UK led to some rapid backtracking. Many have viewed it as extortion, frightening people into paying fees in the region of €800 in order not to have to go to court to prove their innocence or argue against the notion of piracy equating to lost sales. And as TorrentFreak revealed yesterday, it's something being done by a huge proportion of the publishing industry.
Currently taking advantage of Germany's appalling privacy laws, TorrentFreak alleges, are Koch Media, Techland, LucasArts, Square Enix, Codemasters, Kalypso, Daedalic, dtp entertainment, and Aerosoft.
The dubious practice involves hiring specialist law firms who trace IPs to see whether they have been downloading their clients' selected products, and then fire off a scary letter to the address associated with that IP. The inherent failings of such a technique hardly need expanding, since an IP address no more usefully identifies a person than the number of a public payphone people happen to be walking past. (While most of those vocally against this affair only focus on the very likely possibility of inaccurate accusations, I also believe that even an accurate identification is still a morally corrupt practice. The use of threats, fishing for large chunks of cash on the basis of spurious lawsuits with which they're usually desperately hoping you won't proceed, demanding vastly inflated sums (most of which are taken by the lawyers, it's worth noting), is as wrong as any alleged piracy. You may disagree and believe these people deserve what they get. I believe that such immoral action is flat-out wrong, and a crime is only identified after proof is presented.)
Alleged by TorrentFreak, the games currently in question are Atari's Alone In The Dark, Test Drive Unlimited, and Test Drive Unlimited 2; Techland's Dead Island and Nail'd; Daedalic's (and in turn LucasArts') Euro distribution of Tales Of Monkey Island; Square's Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Just Cause 2; Koch's distribution of Techland games and Ubisoft's Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days, Agrar Simulator 2011, as well as both Painkillers; Codies' Operation Flashpoint: Red River and DiRT 3; Kalypso's Airline Tycoon 2, Tropico 3 and 4; dtp's Cities XL 2012; Aerosoft's City Bus Simulator, Airbus X; and many others.
With legal firms taking about 3/5 of the "fines", and an average fee of €800 being demanded, it means the publishers are pulling in a tidy €300 per person on average. With thousands of letters being sent out at a time, that means potential hauls of a good half million Euros, minimum, each time. As I previously explained, internationally with a 0.001% chance of receiving a letter when pirating a game, it's not a deterrent in any meaningful form. Some will be scared by rumours, sure, but not many. It seems to me it's a rush to make some cash, and a sop to shareholders to give the impression of doing something, until either a ruling is won in the favour of a pirate, or everyone's reputations are too badly threatened by the public's awareness.
Of course games publishers are not the only people involved in this cash grab. Germans are being plagued by multiple law firms representing those from film, television and books. We're hearing from many receiving these letters, and some who are prepared to take them to court. We will keep you up to date with their progress.
RPS would like to see every publisher and developer involved in this disturbing business follow CDP, and stop immediately. We've contacted all of them to ask if they are willing to defend the practice, or whether they will also call a halt to it all. And we certainly be getting back to you with their responses.
Edit: We've heard back from Ubisoft that they no longer pursue such claims. They gave us a statement saying,
“Ubisoft has not issued any legal claims similar to those mentioned in the Torrent Freak item in over 3 years”
According to the data we've seen, Ubi have not directly pursued this since hiring a firm to collect on three games in 2007, so we're delighted to make it clear they're not in the current round. We're finding out if they're aware of Koch's actions with their games.
Atari also replied explaining,
“Atari is not targeting consumer file sharers in Germany or any other jurisdiction in Europe.”
However, the figures we've seen show that Test Drive Unlimited 2 was being pursued last year by lawyers Schwarz/Kelwing/Wicke/Westpfahl. We're asking for more details about this confusion.