Gaming companies zap U.K. pirates

Companies launch legal crackdown

LONDON — Gamers who illegally download the “Lord of the Rings Online” could soon be facing a far more powerful foe than the goblins and orcs of the Mines of Moria.

Codemasters, the British video games company behind the hit MMOG (massively multiplayer online game), is teaming up with four other leading publishers to clamp down on illegal file sharing in the U.K., which is estimated to cost the industry millions of dollars a year.

The companies, which include Infograme-owned industry icon Atari, have appointed U.K. law firm Davenport Lyons to serve notice on 25,000 people in the U.K. suspected of illegally sharing files, ordering them to pay £300 ($559) immediately to settle out of court.

Those who refuse to pay up risk being taken to court, with the companies initially planning to take legal action against 500 people.

“Illegal file-sharing is a very serious issue resulting in millions of pounds of losses to copyright owners,” said David Gore, a partner at Davenport Lyons.

“As downloading speeds and Internet penetration increase, this continues to be a worldwide problem across the media industry, which increasingly relies on digital revenues.”

The move follows a ruling by a London court on Tuesday to order an unemployed mother-of-two to pay £16,000 ($29,802) in damages and costs to Las Vegas-based Topware Interactive.

Isabela Barwinska became the first person in Britain to be ordered to pay damages to a games manufacturer after she downloaded Dream Pinball for free through a file-sharing site.

According to Davenport Lyons, some six million people are thought to engage in illegal file-sharing each year in the U.K.

However, the legal action has provoked criticism from some in the games industry, while record industry trade body the BPI has already distanced itself from the crackdown.

“Working with ISPs to educate consumers is a more effective way of combating illegal downloading,” said a BPI spokesperson.

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