Last month, the Gamer/Law legal blog published an article which in many ways failed to understand what so-called pay-up-or-else anti-piracy schemes are all about. Now the owner of Gamer/Law is back with an open letter titled “To those who defend game pirates”. Since it’s published in Edge, probably the best print-based games publication ever made, I simply can’t let this one lie.
The Gamer/Law blog is written by Jas Purewal, a London-based games lawyer. Late December a guest article appeared there titled ‘The Internet v CD Projekt: a Legal Perspective’ by gamer and law student John Wrigley.
Today, Purewal published another on the same subject in the online edition of Edge, which in my opinion is the most intelligent games publication ever committed to paper. As a fanatical gamer, former 8bit games coder, and proud owner of the publication’s issue 1 from 1993, I felt compelled to respond.
“By far the most emotive argument that is often proffered is that CD Projekt are blackmailing people by saying ‘Pay up… OR ELSE!’ and thereby are removing access to justice and denying due process and so forth. Sadly, from a legal perspective, the case seems to be slightly different,” wrote Wrigley in the initial piece.
“…if you haven’t downloaded The Witcher 2 illegally and CD Projekt cannot prove that you have then actually the entire process won’t cost you a single penny,” he added.
What we have here is someone who writes clearly with an undoubted understanding of the mechanics, but also seems to lack specific experience in a practical boots-on-the-ground sense.
Here at TorrentFreak we aren’t lawyers, but we have spoken intimately with dozens of people targeted in similar actions and for them to deal with court-bound accusations effectively they need lawyers, and they cost lots of money. It is not enough to say “oh, well, you’ll get the money back when you win”, because many of these people don’t have the money in the first instance.
In any event, why should innocent people be dragged through hell for months on the word of a faceless and largely unaccountable anti-piracy company? Well let’s not worry right now, since Gamer/Law seems to think that proving innocence is easy.
“It should first be noted that if CD Projekt do take you to court, they have to prove that you downloaded the game [TF note: It's uploading, not downloading], the only thing that you will ever have to try to prove is that their proof is wrong. This could actually be easier than anticipated, as IP tracing is far from a reliable source of evidence,” writes Wrigley.
However, proving innocence in the legal arena chosen by CD Projekt is not easy at all. After first hiring a UK law firm where the lawyers carrying out their pay-up-or-else scheme were later severely disciplined for their activities, CD Projekt shifted their enterprise to Germany to claim money from alleged file-sharers there.
And getting convictions in Germany is like shooting fish in a barrel.
Just recently a Retired, Computerless Woman was fined there for pirating a ‘hooligan’ movie. Her lawyer, Christian Solmecke, with law firm Wilde Beuger Solmecke, outlined her desperate situation to TorrentFreak.
“Normally the copyright holder has to prove who did the copyright infringement. As this is hard for him – because he has no chance to look into a thousand houses – the courts in Germany alleviate this burden of proof,” he explained.
Proving a negative was ultimately impossible for the woman and she had to pay 650 euros to the claimant. This is the environment CD Projekt know they are working in and they will be making nice profits from settlements because after hiring a lawyer at their own expense, people learn that they cannot win in court.
The rest of the initial Gamer/Law post had many other issues, but we don’t have all day and there is a more pressing issue – a fresh ‘open letter’ just published in the online edition of my beloved Edge.
“In case you hadn’t guessed, this is a letter to those folks who oppose developers taking legal action against people who download and play their games without paying. Hello,” begins Jas Purewal.
I’m going to ignore the exclusive nature of this invite and consider it directed at me, since as the title of this piece points out, you don’t have to support piracy to detest these hateful schemes.
Purewal lists several reasons people put forward as to why game devs shouldn’t chase down alleged pirates. His first two points – Technological Reasons and Evidential Reasons – are shown separately but in reality they are utterly intertwined. Here are some observations of our own on the same points:
1. CD Projekt refuse point-blank to reveal who their anti-piracy company is (let alone allow anyone a look at their systems) and as we can see from the ‘hooligan’ case listed above, in their chosen territory, Germany, conveniently there is a reverse burden of proof. In that case the court didn’t even examine the technical evidence. But for a moment, let’s pretend that CD Projekt’s impossible claim of 100% accuracy is real….
2. In previous UK cases, after initial harvesting IP address ‘evidence’ was shifted from company to company, from format to format, with no safeguards and no checks. IP addresses were even copied/transposed by hand (often incorrectly), and the wrong account names were attached to outgoing letters. Trust us, in these case humans can screw anything up, and they have done so in the past, royally.
3. CD Projekt’s ‘perfect’ anti-piracy contractor sends an IP address and a timestamp to the ISP of the alleged pirate and they match it to the correct subscriber – well, sometimes they do. There were several proven cases in the UK where ISPs identified the wrong subscriber and in a huge number of cases couldn’t identify the subscriber at all, which is hardly confidence inspiring.
Only last year, Irish ISP Eircom incorrectly identified 300 account holders as Internet pirates, despite them allegedly receiving the correct information from an anti-piracy company. CD Projekt can not claim to have a complete chain of accurate evidence because they are quite simply not in control of all of it.
Worryingly, Purewal (a UK lawyer) also rolls out the tired notion that it is an account holder’s responsibility to protect his own Internet connection, along with the implication that the person is then responsible for the actions of others. In previous UK cases that didn’t wash with the courts but wait – that is the case in Germany where CD Projekt is looking for settlements. Rest assured, they know that – why do you think they gave up on the UK?
Purewal goes on to give a 5/10 credibility mark to “The ‘little old lady’ reason”, that sending scary letters only scares people. Well, of course they do. The claimants have to give the impression that the end result of not settling is legal action or no-one will hand over their money, but as we know, these companies rarely go to court unless it’s an open and shut case. Like they all are in Germany.
Since CD Projekt’s actions are Purewal’s cited reason for his open letter, let’s end with them.
The company says they’re taking this action to reduce piracy, but the only reason the wider world knew about their lawsuits is because TorrentFreak wrote about them. If we had written something else that day, people would still not know, and if they don’t know they can’t ever be deterred from piracy.
But if people do know, they won’t get caught, and if they don’t get caught they can’t get a $1,000 invoice. Without one of those, CD Projekt don’t get paid.
What we have here is a business model – a complaint filing machine that generates around $1000 a time, split between a law firm, the anti-piracy company and CD Projekt, and the more letters sent out, the better it is for everyone. There are no outward checks, there’s no accountability and absolutely no compassion or understanding for those wrongfully accused through hidden incompetence.
This is why I, a prolific games player and games buyer of more than three decades standing, say that you don’t have to support piracy to hate bullying, intimidation, and abuse of position.
But, most importantly, the reason why games companies shouldn’t embark on these schemes is a lot more simple. They will ruin their hard-earned image and do nothing – NOTHING – to reduce piracy.