Atari Cancels Anti-Piracy Witch-Hunt

After Atari received some bad press recently for mistakenly accusing an elderly couple of pirating one of its games, the company has now stopped the anti-piracy campaign in question. The "witch-hunt", carried out by the UK law firm Davenport Lyons on behalf of Atari, based on spreadsheets full of IPs gathered by a company named Logistep, continues to lose credibility.

For regular readers of TorrentFreak, Davenport Lyons and Logistep are familiar names. For more than a year now we have reported on their missteps, threatening tactics, and especially their reluctance to have their evidence challenged in court.

Recently their efforts to make money from alleged pirates was picked up by the mainstream press, because an elderly couple was incorrectly accused by them of pirating an Atari game, Test Drive Unlimited. It is of course a stereotype to think that people over fifty don’t play games, but with the help of consumer magazine, Which? Computing, the lawyers were forced to drop the case.

If anything, this suggests that the evidence they gather for use against alleged sharers is not as strong as it should be. In fact, this is not the first time that a case has dropped before it went to court. Apparently, the lawyers that represent the various copyright holders will only make their case when they have a sure win – that is, when the defendants fail to show up. Others who dig in their heels and refuse to pay learn that the consequences aren’t nearly as bad as the law firm would have everyone believe.

Meanwhile, thousands of UK citizens are receiving letters in which they are accused of downloading music, games or more recently, adult entertainment. In these letters, they are asked to pay a few hundred pounds, or else they are threatened with the prospect of being dragged through court, where the fine – if the law firm is to be believed – will be multiplied several times over.

There aren’t any precise figure on how many alleged pirates have paid up, but based on earlier comments from the law firm itself, it’s believed to be between 40 and 60%. It’s not unthinkable that some copyright owners are making more from this type of pirate-chasing than they do from sales of their actual products. Quite an innovative business model actually, especially since in many cases it guarantees a revenue stream for sub-standard products that otherwise simply wouldn’t sell.

But now, according to The Register, computer game manufacturer Atari has had enough, as they have canceled their collaboration with Davenport Lyons and Logistep. Exactly why is open to speculation, but it is difficult to find a single positive article about the activities of these companies, particularly when recent and rather more potentially embarrassing actions are taken into consideration. It’s not surprising that they choose to distance themselves from the operation.

In a comment to El Reg, Atari said that it will “always retain and reserve the right to protect our intellectual property from illegal copying and piracy.” An interesting comment, since cashing in on alleged piracy happens after the offense, and has nothing to do with protection. However, this statement seems more of an attempt to show that this withdrawal doesn’t indicate that Atari is going soft on piracy.

Of course, copyright holders have every right to protect their material, or even make up for the losses they claim to suffer. Whether it is the right thing to do is questionable though, especially when the tactics are as aggressive as they are in these cases.

The complete lack of transparency in respect of the evidence gathering techniques just makes matters worse, and every negative aspect is compounded when people like Simon Davies of Privacy International speak about facets of the operation in very unfavorable terms. “This is appalling, it breaches a number of fundamental human rights,” he said. “They risk bringing the law into disrepute – just because lawyers can do something it doesn’t mean that they should.”

A great example of where copyright has gone wrong has emerged recently. In a leaked contract between DigiProtect (copyright protection outfit) and Evil Angel (content producer), the copyright was actually transferred in order for DigiProtect to make it available on filesharing networks.

“LICENSOR grants DIGIPROTECT the exclusive right to make the movies listed in Appendix 1 worldwide available to the public via remote computer networks, so-called peer-2-peer and internet file sharing networks such as e-Donkey, Kazaa, Bitorrent, etc. for the duration of this agreement.”

So, DigiProtect makes the files available to cash in on the people who attempt to download the files, but not to protect their intellectual property in a way copyright law was put in place for. In fact, this has nothing to do with copyright protection, they are simply exploiting the system. Probably a good thing that Atari got out before it all falls apart.

The question now is how are the other publishers feeling now that Atari has had enough? Since they are based in the UK, the focus now falls on CodeMasters, who are still pursuing people over Colin McRae Dirt, but does the return on the project cancel out the mountains of bad PR it generates? Time will tell.

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