Page last updated at 02:05 GMT, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 03:05 UK

Game sharers face legal crackdown

Screenshot from Dream Pinball 3D, Southpeak
The creators of Dream Pinball have aggressively pursued suspected pirates

A British woman who put a game on a file-sharing network has been ordered to pay damages to the game's creator.

Topware Interactive has won more than 16,000 following legal action against Isabella Barwinska of London, who shared a copy of Dream Pinball 3D.

Three other suspected sharers of the game are awaiting damages hearings.

The test case could open the floodgates for litigation against thousands of other Britons suspected of sharing the game.

'A lot more'

In the case heard at London's Patents County Court the game maker won damages of 6,086.56 plus costs of 10,000.

"The damages and costs ordered by the Court are significant and should act as a deterrent," said David Gore, a partner at Davenport Lyons who acted for Topware.

He added: "This shows that taking direct steps against infringers is an important and effective weapon in the battle against online piracy."

"This is the first of many," said Mr Gore. "It was always intended that there would be a lot more."

Mr Gore said details of "thousands" of suspected file-sharers of the game who might now face legal action were known.

On file-sharing or peer-to-peer (P2P) networks the files being shared are held on members' computers and those who want a particular game, music track or video get bits of it from everyone else who has it.

CD being placed in computer, Eyewire
The music industry has taken a softer line against suspected pirates

Topware Interactive started its campaign against pirates of Dream Pinball 3D in early 2007 after legal action forced 18 British net firms to pass on details of suspected pirates that it had identified.

Following this it sent out about 500 letters to Britons it had identified as making the game available via file-sharing networks such as eMule, eDonkey, Gnutella and many others.

In the letters the company asked for a payment of about 300 as a "settlement" figure that would head off further legal action.

Some of those accused of sharing the game chose to fight the legal action and it was in one of these contested cases that Topware Interactive won its claim for damages.

"This is a proper Intellectual Property (IP) court that has made this judgement," said independent IP barrister David Harris. "The previous ones were default judgements where defendants never turned up."

The hearing in the IP court meant the case had been rigorously analysed and the law properly understood, said Mr Harris.

"It's a much more interesting case in that respect," he said.

But, he said, he was not sure if this case meant game makers were getting more aggressive about chasing and prosecuting pirates.

"I do not get any sense that there's been any fundamental shift in the desire to litigate," he said.

Becky Hogge, director of the Open Rights Group that campaigns on cyber liberties issues, said: "An open court process with a full report is certainly preferable to justice of the type being mooted by the government on P2P, where activity takes place behind closed doors through industry action."

She added that awards for damages had to be realistic and not made to act as a "deterrent".

"In relation to the orders for release of personal data, it is important that court processes do not become rubberstamps for industry action but retain judicial safeguards and independence," said Ms Hogge.

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