Court Victory for Computer Games Firm in Crackdown on Illegal Downloads ; LEGAL ANALYSIS
Rozenberg, Joshua, The Evening Standard (London, England)
THOUSANDS of computer users who breach copyright by sharing games and films are facing legal action from producers determined to protect their interests.
Topware Interactive, which produces the computer game Dream Pinball 3D, obtained default judgments in the Central London County Court against four individual file-sharers on Friday. Each was ordered to pay the company interim damages of [pounds]750 by the end of next week. The final figure could be as high as [pounds]2000 per person, plus costs in the region of [pounds]1500.
Why so much when a licensed copy of the game costs as little as [pounds]16? It's because the game may be downloaded many times from a single computer and damages are intended to reflect the claimant's losses.
Topware's Mayfair solicitors, Davenport Lyons, say they will issue a "substantial number" of new claims this week on behalf of several clients. Their targets are people who share music, films and games through peer-to-peer networks. These give subscribers direct access to each other's computers, allowing people to download files without paying fees to the copyright owner.
The problem, of course, is finding out who the file-sharers are. All users must subscribe to an internet service provider an ISP. But the ISPs' trade association claims that breach of copyright is nothing to do with them.
"ISPs bear no legal liability for illegal file-sharing as the content is not hosted on their servers," the association says.
"They are 'mere conduits' of information, no more able to inspect and filter every packet passed over their network than the Post Office is to open every envelope." Well, maybe. ISPs move swiftly enough to block child pornography, for example. And what they do have is the name and address of every subscriber.
While online, each internet user is allocated a unique number known as an IP address. Computer experts can search for file- sharers who have copyright material on their computers and log their IP addresses. But only the ISPs can say which customer was using a particular IP address at a particular time.
ISPs will sometimes warn customers if their accounts are being used for illegal downloads as Virgin Media agreed do last month, following a request from the music industry. …