Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Activision Suing Filesharers a la the RIAA?

Wired's Game Life is reporting, that Edge Online and Game Politics are reporting that Activision-Blizzard is suing people for copyright violations.

Game Politics has been kind enough to list known settlements with the titles that are named in the court documents(below). It's interesting to note that each of the defendants are unrepresented by counsel.
  • Shawn Guse of Federal Way, Washington. Guse, unrepresented by counsel, agreed to pay Activision $100,000 (CoD 3 Wii, CoD 3 Xbox 360) to settle the case. Read the Guse settlement.
  • Chris Hyman of Abbeville, South Carolina. Hyman, also unrepresented, agreed to pay Activision $25,000 to settle the case. (CoD3 Wii, Tony Hawk's Project 8, Xbox 360). Read the Hyman settlement.
  • George Laflin of New Jersey. Laflin, apparently the only defendant who had an attorney, agreed to pay Activision $100,000 (CoD 3 Xbox 360). Read the Laflin settlement.
  • Maryanne Leach of Northome, Minnesota. Leach, with no attorney, agreed to pay Activision $1,000. Read the Leach settlement.
  • Kenneth Madden of York, South Carolina agreed to pay Activision $100,000 (CoD 3 Wii, Cod 2 The Big Red One PS2, Tony Hawk's Project 8, Xbox 360). He too was unrepresented. Read the Madden settlement.
  • James R. Strickland, aka Ryan Strickland of New York State; case is still active (CoD3 Xbox 360). Read the Strickland complaint.

My thoughts on this? Well, don't steal. That concludes my thoughts on pirates.

What I find interesting is the amounts that are being settled. $100,000? Are these run of the mill The Pirate Bay people who were unlucky and dumb enough to get caught, or are did these people do more to enable others to pirate the titles?

Stealing is wrong, but shaking people down for $100 large is pretty crazy too. How are these damages being calculated? How are they justified? Are these people acting out of fear instead of making good decisions with the input of legal counsel?

Explain it however you want. If people want to make the argument that taking content from the Internet is the same as stealing a game from a store shouldn't the punishment for the two actions be the same? If not, shouldn't they be similar? In my opinion, a fair dollar amount to stealing a title would be in the neighborhood of 2 to 5 times the full retail price of the property. Anything more than that is ridiculous.

People, I have a purchased copy of COD 3 for the Wii that I played for about an hour. I'd gladly give it away free rather than see someone destroy their financial future.

Details are scarce about what the people are accused of. The defendants are bound by their agreements not to talk, so it's difficult to get an idea of who Activision is going after.

I think this is a dangerous PR move on Activision's part. Taking individuals down for $100,000 is not going to win them many friends. Activision has a lot to lose, especially now that they merged with Blizzard.

If Activision's tactics are as ham handed and clumsy as the RIAA's, Activision is likely to cause themselves more harm in bad PR than they will ever recoup by shaking people down.

With the information that is known, it is difficult to know what Activision's intentions are: are they trying to destroy people whom they believe stole from them, or are they trying to protect their property? Without clear information, people are going to assume the worst of Activision and the response is not going to be favorable.

Please do not comment with your view of whether file piracy is justified, wrong, etc. I don't need a flame war, thank you.


Anonymous said...

Activision are not enforcing the settlements in their favour. They are making these people sign NDAs about this. But the software thieves are still telling the press anonymously, which isn't very clever of them.

One told the press “I wasn’t doing anything more than an average college student does with torrents or MP3s, so it’s surprising companies like this are wasting time on people with little money.”

So it is OK to steal if other people are stealing or if you have little money!

Shawn Guse, one of the pirates caught, is actively going round the internet trying to stifle mentions of his name. I received this from him: "My name is Shawn Guse and you have my name posted on your web site without my permission and I want it removed or changed to "A Washington man", and I also want the link to the settlement removed if you have one. Please don't contribute to the crucifixion of my name. If you are so kind as to remove the whole article that would be great. I have contacted many other web sites that are posting this and they are gladly removing it due to my request." My reply was to write yet another article about him on my blog.

I think Activision are just trying to draw attention to the fact that software theft is wrong and that it is serious. If everyone gets their games for free then who is going to pay the wages for game development?

I have written many articles on this subject.
Here is the big one on game piracy: http://www.bruceongames.com/2008/04/23/game-piracy/
And the latest Shawn Guse article: http://www.bruceongames.com/2008/09/25/shawn-guse-software-thief/

Paul Wiedel said...

Excellent work on those articles Bruce. It's interesting to get a marketer's perspective on the issue. As a technical guy who tries to understand human tendencies I believe that there isn't a simple solution to make piracy go away.

From a technical standpoint I think that game publishers are putting themselves in a bad position to compete with pirates by introducing invasive and undisclosed DRM, see http://www.intellectualdetritus.com/search/label/DRM

My proposal to fight piracy is to compete directly with the game pirates. That is, to create a better gaming experience through legitimate purchases than one could get through piracy. This can be achieved by providing a rich online experience, free downloadable content to customers, providing a way for customers to demo and purchase the games through platforms like Microsoft Live or Steam, making it so that the online experience only works, or works the easiest, for people who buy the game.

I say catch the flies with honey. Improve the product and the experience and the increase in sales will reward you.

A destructive approach, in my opinion, is to try and intimidate and bully people. People in your situation may relish the thought of seeing a game pirate get their just dessert. I probably would too if I saw and felt the effects of poor sales and believed that people like these guys are responsible for them.

From the perspective of a consumer, swinging a legal sledgehammer paints a different picture. That picture is of a bully, and people don't like bullies.

I will try to follow up my proposal to fight the effects of content piracy later today.