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Sunday, 29 July, 2001, 13:10 GMT 14:10 UK
Software piracy on the rise
A person playing a video game
Britain's computer games industry generates 1bn of annual sales
The BBC's Quentin Sommerville reports from Manchester, UK, on how counterfeiting computer games is becoming a booming business.

Britain's computer games industry is one of the top-ranked players in the world, generating 1bn of annual sales.

But the industry loses at least the same amount every year to software pirates who copy their titles as quickly as they are released.

Graph to show increase in software piracy
Seizures of pirate games have risen twelve fold, according to ELSPA
In Manchester, I was able to buy 250 worth of fakes for only 10.

The equipment needed to make the fakes is available from any high street computer store at a very low cost.

But the chances of being caught and the penalties for trading in these games are on the rise.

Twelve fold rise

Over the past four years counterfeit seizures of pirate games have risen twelve fold to over 200,000 titles, according to industry figures.

At a flea market just outside Manchester, thousands of pounds worth of games are openly on sale, all of them fake.

Terry Anslow, chief investigator of the European Leisure Publishers Association
Terry Anslow: Small developers are affected by piracy
But new initiatives from the industry, police and trading standards are targeting counterfeiters up and down the country.

The police say that one-quarter of organised crime is funded by counterfeiting, and the industry rejects claims that copying games is a victimless crime.

Terry Anslow, chief investigator of the European Leisure Publishers Association, says: "It isn't your sort of big multinational companies that are affected by piracy. It's your small developers, the lads who've got ideas, the brilliance that's being pushed by universities."

He adds: "That's the reason why it isn't a victimless crime and it's basically those jobs, those livelihoods and those futures that are being affected."

New protection

But some smart programmers have developed a new layer of protection to slow down the pirates for games like Operation Flashpoint.

Richard Darling, creative director of Codemasters Software
Richard Darling: Games from a car boot sale won't be as good
Richard Darling, creative director of Codemasters Software, says: "A copy of one of those games will degrade over time so if you were to copy Operation Flashpoint and play the copied disk then you would find that things would gradually start to go wrong.

"If you buy original video games from your high street shop, then you'll be fine. If you buy counterfeited games from a car boot sale, they won't be as good."

Privately enforcement officers admit they are fighting a losing battle, but the sums involved mean this is a one game they can't afford to lose.

See also:

07 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Hollywood faces piracy battle
20 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Piracy problems stain Windows XP
06 Jun 01 | South Asia
Clamp down on computer piracy
10 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Pirates 'cripple' software industry
18 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Hackers' hero faces piracy test case
11 Jan 00 | Scotland
Games firms aim to sink pirates
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