ESA Happy to See Game Pirates Going to Jail

August 28, 2008 -

Game publishers lobbying group the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) today issued a press release high-fiving jail terms handed down to a pair of software pirates.

As GamePolitics reported recently, Kifah Maswadi of Florida received a 15-month sentence for peddling nearly $400,000 worth of Power Player handhelds. Each contained ROMs of dozens of old NES games.

The ESA is also pleased to see Kevin Fuchs of West Amherst, New York headng off to the Big House for 8 months of jail time followed by another 8 months of house arrest. Based on court records reviewed by GamePolitics, Fuchs wasn't in it for the money, but rather was part of the game warez scene in a big way.

We'll have more exclusive details on Fuchs' case in Friday's GP coverage.

ESA boss Michael Gallagher commented on the sentences handed down to Maswadi and Fuchs:

We commend the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Western District of North Carolina and the Eastern District of Virginia and the Federal Bureau of Investigation for their work in bringing these criminals to justice. These decisions illustrate, once again, that game piracy will not be tolerated and the extent at which these criminals will be prosecuted.  The ESA and its members will continue to support law enforcement’s efforts to protect the intellectual property of our industry.



Report: Obama VP Choice Biden is Anti-consumer on Tech Issues

August 26, 2008 -

CNet's Declan McCullough reports that Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) has an anti-consumer track record when it comes to technology.

In the past the Democratic VP nominee-apparent has stood with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) on copyright issues.

From the Cnet report:

[Biden] has spent most of his Senate career allied with the FBI and copyright holders... ranks toward the bottom of CNET's Technology Voters' Guide, [his] anti-privacy legislation was actually responsible for the creation of PGP [encryption]...


Biden became a staunch ally of Hollywood and the recording industry in their efforts to expand copyright law. He sponsored a bill in 2002 that would have make it a federal felony to trick certain types of devices into playing unauthorized music or executing unapproved computer programs...


A few months later, Biden signed a letter that urged the Justice Department "to prosecute individuals who intentionally allow mass copying from their computer over peer-to-peer networks." Critics of this approach said that the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, and not taxpayers, should pay for their own lawsuits...


All of which meant that nobody in Washington was surprised when Biden was one of only four U.S. senators invited to a champagne reception in celebration of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act hosted by the MPAA's Jack Valenti, the RIAA, and the Business Software Alliance. (Photos are here.)

McCullough reports that Biden has "steadfastly refused" to answer Cnet's questions on his tech voting record.

GP: It's ironic that Biden has chosen to portray himself as an intellectual property rights champion. He has twice been outed for plagiarizing.

Report: While Still at RIAA, New ESA Counsel Lauded Jammie Thomas Music Verdict

August 22, 2008 -

As GamePolitics reported earlier this week, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the lobbying group which represents the interests of U.S. video game publishers, announced that it has hired Kenneth Doroshow to serve as the organization's General Counsel.

Doroshow was formerly employed as Senior Vice President, Litigation and Legal Affairs for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). During Doroshow's tenure the RIAA gained a reputation for employing heavy-handed legal tactics against individual file sharers.

New York attorney Ray Beckerman, who runs the Recording Industry vs The People blog, worries that gamers will now face the same type of oppressive enforcement strategies:

I guess we may have to rename this blog "Gaming Industry vs. The People" some day, as we have just learned that Kenneth Doroshow -- the RIAA executive who was supposed to debate the statutory damages issue with me back in March, but who chose to avoid that subject and instead recounted his opinion of the facts in Capitol v. Thomas, and who later inserted some paper he'd written into the transcript of the conference instead of allowing his talk to be reported -- has left the RIAA and joined the ESA (the "Entertainment Software Association").


If he accomplishes for game manufacturers what he accomplished for the recording industry, I would say the industry's prospects are bleak.

Beckerman also reports that Doroshow defended the $222,000 verdict levied against single mother Jammie Thomas (seen at left) for file sharing mp3s:

At Fordham Law School's annual IP Law Conference this year, [Beckerman] had a chance to square off with Kenneth Doroshow, a Senior Vice President of the RIAA, over the subject of copyright statutory damages. Doroshow thought the Jammie Thomas verdict of $222,000 was okay, he said, since Ms. Thomas might have distributed 10 million unauthorized copies. [Beckerman], on the other hand, who has previously derided the $9,250-per-song file verdict as 'one of the most irrational things [he has] ever seen in [his] life in the law', stated at the Fordham conference that the verdict had made the United States 'a laughingstock throughout the world.'

GP: For more the Jammie Thomas case, click here.


EA's Peter Moore Not a Fan of Draconian Tactics vs. File Sharers

August 21, 2008 -

Speaking at GCDC in Leipzig, EA exec Peter Moore said he did not favor the heavy-handed approach to file sharing embraced by five U.K. game publishers this week.

As GamePolitics reported yesterday, Atari, Codemasters and three smaller firms said they would demand £300 from 25,000 people alleged to be file-sharers. Those who fail to pay will be sued in court. A U.K. woman found guilty of sharing a PC pinball game recently was ordered to pay publisher Topware Interactive £16,086. reports on Moore's comments:

[Suing consumers] didn't work for the music industry. I'm not a huge fan of trying to punish your consumer. Albeit these people have clearly stolen intellectual property, I think there are better ways of resolving this within our power as developers and publishers.


Yes, we've got to find solutions. We absolutely should crack down on piracy. People put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into their content and deserve to get paid for it. It's absolutely wrong, it is stealing.


But at the same time I think there are better solutions than chasing people for money. I'm not sure what they are, other than to build game experiences that make it more difficult for there to be any value in pirating games.


If we learned anything from the music business, they just don't win any friends by suing their consumers. Speaking personally, I think our industry does not want to fall foul of what happened with music.

GP: Kudos to Peter Moore for having the brass to take a stand against the consumer-hatin' tactics of Atari, Codemasters, Topware, Reality Pump and Techland.

Let's hope that Ken Doroshow is paying attention.


Is Pirate System Available Through Amazon?

August 20, 2008 -

Yesterday GamePolitics covered the Justice Department's announcement that 24-year-old Kifah Maswadi had been sentenced to 15 months jail time and fined $415,000.

His offense?

Selling the Power Player system, a handheld which connects to a television and offers players access to 76 old - but still copyrighted - NES games.

While federal court documents indicate that it took an FBI undercover operation to bring Maswadi down, we note that the Super Joy Power Player III remains available for purchase - right out in the open - on While the system is not sold by Amazon itself, seven Amazon "sellers" offer the item under the Amazon logo, including Texas-based Anythingonsale and Darmah76 from New York. Prices range from $11.99 to $40.00.

The Amazon product description page describes the system, along with some of the NES titles it plays:

Included: Main System Controller, Joystick Control Pad, Light Gun, AC Adapter & AV Cable. Play Games Like Super Mario Bros., Pac-Man, 1942, Stargate, Joust, Dig-Dug, Galaga, Contra, Hogan's Alley, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders & Popeye.

Although Amazon provides the sales platform for its registered sellers, it is unclear how much oversight takes place. The Amazon sellers program website offers the following blanket disclaimer regarding copyright violations:

Amazon is not involved in the actual transaction between Sellers and Buyers... As a Seller, you may list any item on the Site unless it is a prohibited item... Without limitation, you may not list any item or link or post any related material that (a) infringes any third-party intellectual property rights (including copyright, trademark, patent, and trade secrets) or other proprietary rights... or (c) is counterfeited, illegal, stolen, or fraudulent.

With other sellers still openly peddling the Power Player, why was the FBI so interested in Maswadi?


Does ESA's New Hire Signal a Move to RIAA-style Enforcement?

August 19, 2008 -

The Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which represents the interests of U.S. video game publishers, has hired a former executive of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) as the organization's new general counsel.

According to an ESA press release, Kenneth Doroshow will take up his new position with the ESA in September. He succeeds Gail Markels as GC. As GamePolitics reported earlier this year, Markels, who had been with the ESA since its formation in 1994, did not have her contract renewed under new ESA CEO Michael Gallagher. Of Doroshow, Gallagher said:

The ESA continues to attract and recruit the brightest individuals. Ken has remarkable expertise in the protection of intellectual property and an excellent understanding of the increasingly connected, dynamic, and innovative entertainment environment we live in. The computer and video game industry will be well-protected with Ken’s guidance and I know he will help facilitate our growth to even greater heights.

Does Doroshow's hiring signal a move toward the RIAA's controversial copyright enforcement tactics? That's unclear, although the ESA press release touts his experience in that regard:
Doroshow served as Senior Vice President, Litigation and Legal Affairs for the RIAA, the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry. As the head of the RIAA’s litigation department, he led efforts to protect the copyrighted works of recording artists and managed cutting-edge anti-piracy lawsuits against companies like LimeWire, and
Doroshow's name also comes up in relation to RIAA strategies aimed at music file sharing by college and university students. Before his RIAA stint, Doroshow served with the Department of Justice as Senior Counsel with the Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. Partick Ross, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, also praised Doroshow:
The copyright community is fortunate to have strong advocates in Washington at a number of trade associations who are working on their behalf, and I am so pleased to see one of these seasoned professionals continue this work to the benefit of the entire creative community. Ken brings a wealth of intellectual property knowledge and experience to the Entertainment Software Association. He has worked in multiple facets of the copyright industries and will be a knowledgeable addition to the ESA. The Copyright Alliance looks forward to continuing to work with Ken in this new role.

Game Pirate Gets Jail Time, $415K Fine; GP Has Exclusive Content

August 19, 2008 -

The United States Attorney's Office has announed that a Florida man who dealt in pirated video games has been sentenced to 15 months in prison and fined $415,000.

According to a press release, Kifah Maswadi, 24, of Oakland, Florida had pleaded guilty in June to selling Power Player handheld units which were pre-loaded with more than 75 titles, mostly owned by Nintendo and Nintendo licensees. According to the feds, Maswadi earned more than $390,000 peddling the handhelds.

From the press release:

In addition to the 15 month prison term and restitution order, Maswadi was ordered to serve three years of supervised release and to perform 50 hours of community service, which includes educating the public on the perils of criminal copyright infringement.

That's what the press release says. But GamePolitics has probed court records and has many more details on the case:

According to Maswadi's indictment, he charged $23.99 for wired versions and $47.99 for wireless units. Both types connect to televisions.

The case began in 2006 when an FBI agent, acting undercover, placed an order with Maswadi for 100 Power Play units at an agreed-upon wholesale price of $10 each. The agent told Maswadi that he planned to sell them at a mall in Manassas, Virginia during the holiday shopping season. The agent eventually purchased 80 more units from Maswadi. In April, 2007, agents raided Maswadi's facilities in Florida. According to the indictment, he admitted to both selling the units and knowing that they infringed on game copyrights.

Court documents indicate that Nintendo reps found 18 unspecified first-party titles on the Power Play units as well as 58 unspecified titles owned by Nintendo licensees. More than 8,500 units were sold by Maswadi. The ESA, which represents game publishers, estimated that the retail value of the Power Play units at $50 each (although the indictment states that Maswadi sold them for $23.99 or $47.99). While admitting his guilt, Maswadi disputed the government's valuation of the loss caused to game publishers. His sentence was below the typical minimum range for the crimes charged.

A Wikipedia entry on the Power Player describes the system and lists a number of the games included (which appear to be old NES titles). The WikiScanner utility indicates that the ESA edited the "legal issues" section of the Wikipedia entry in April, 2007.


BoingBoing's Cory Doctorow: People Believe V-Tech Killer Was a Gamer

August 7, 2008 -

BoingBoing co-author Cory Doctorow gives a wide-ranging interview to the Chicago Tribune in which he touches on misperceptions about violent video games and the Virginia Tech massacre.

There’s this broad consensus that the Virginia Tech murders had something to do with violent video games. When you actually read the coroner's inquest report, video games are mentioned twice. The first is his mother saying he never wanted to play those video games. The second is his roommate saying, "We always thought he was weird because he never wanted to play video games." Yet it’s still a [popularly held] truism that violent video games must be responsible for Virginia Tech.


GP: As GamePolitics has reported in the past, the official commission investigating the Virginia Tech rampage found only one game that the killer played - Sonic The Hedgehog.


Canadian Copyright Lawyer Debates ESA VP Over Mod Chips & more

August 3, 2008 -

As GamePolitics has reported in the past, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), which represents the interests of US game publishers, is backing a proposal to bring tougher, DMCA-syle copyright laws to Canada.

Along those lines, GP just picked up on this video of a May, 2008 TV debate on the issue between ESA VP Stevan Mitchell and Howard Knopf, a Canadian attorney. Mitchell is specifically worried about mod chips. He holds one aloft during the program.

For his part, Knopf is aghast at the notion that American corporate interests might force copyright changes in Canadian law. Knopf seems to have the interests of Canadian consumers at heart.

Unfortunately, Knopf does not articulate his points especially well - perhaps due to the tight time frame of the debate - while the hosts of the program seem to jump right in line with Mitchell of the ESA. Maybe that's because the program aired on the Business News Network. shiny dot bulletin comments:

It’s amazing how the hosts are really willing to bend to American market interests as opposed to listening to Howard about the facts and issues.

Knopf runs the Excess Copyright blog, the motto of which is:

Copyright is good. Excess in copyright is not.


Scrabulous Returns to Facebook as Wordscraper

July 31, 2008 -

Earlier this week Hasbro DMCA'd Scrabulous right off of Facebook.

But the popular Scrabble knockoff has returned with a new name - Wordscraper - and a slightly new look.

Cnet reports:

The game has effectively returned, but with a redesigned board, a few original play options, a different points tabulation system, and a new name...


The reason for Scrabulous' extreme makeover has its roots in some pretty gray legal matters: the real problem wasn't that it ripped off Scrabble, but that it ripped off Scrabble so blatantly. The colors of the board were the same, the list of rules led to a Wikipedia entry for Scrabble rules, and the two names were similar enough for Hasbro to cry foul...


So will this end the legal spat? Maybe... Many other games on Facebook bear strong-but-not-too-strong resemblances to board games like Battleship and Risk, but so far haven't encountered the same corporate scrutiny.



ESA Annual Report: Game Industry Policy to "Push Back" Against Fair Use

July 31, 2008 -

The ESA's 2008 Annual Report indicates that the video game industry hopes to uphold the controversial Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) against critics who claim that it restricts Fair Use of copyrighted material.

Based on the following passage from the report, the industry's position seems to be that gamers can create user-generated content only to the extent that in-game tools allow them to do so:

The interplay Between Fair Use and Digital Rights Management User generated content (UGC) is a high-profile policy issue in the copyright community, sparked by the phenomenal success of social networking sites like YouTube.


Influential policy papers from the U.K. IP Office and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) cite UGC as a tremendous social benefit of the Internet and call upon policymakers to tweak current legal regimes to better accommodate UGC. This issue has captured the imagination of critics of the current U.S. copyright system, who argue that Digital Rights Management restrictions confound legitimate fair use.


ESA IP Policy staff is bolstering its ability to push back against this assertion. In discussions with domestic and foreign IP officials and the OECD, ESA emphasized the rich and varied UGC-features currently incorporated into DRM-protected games.


Feds Pursuing Guilty Pleas in Last Summer's Controversial Mod Chip Raids

July 8, 2008 -

August 1, 2007 is a date that 32 American families are not likely to forget.

On that Wednesday, more than 100 federal agents from the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) service, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, executed search warrants on 32 homes in 16 states. The ICE agents, who were seeking mod chips for console systems, were acting in concert with employees of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the trade association operated by US video game publishers.

Among the feds and the ESA, the raids were code-named "Operation Tangled Web." The mod chip investigation began in the ICE field office in Cleveland and the case continues to be coordinated by the U.S. Attorney's office there. The raids generated a fair amount of publicity as well as criticism from some quarters.

In the more than 11 months since Operation Tangled Web, GamePolitics has been attempting to find out what happened to the 32 mod chip suspects who were targeted in the raid. In that time the feds have made no announcements concerning arrests or indictments. Although we've been in contact with ICE several times we have received no information so far.

Our search of publicly-accessible federal court records has turned up only one of the 32 search warrants. That's an indication that the others are still sealed. And in the one we did manage to locate, the probable cause section is not available, so we don't know the basis for the investigation, what the agents uncovered, etc.

But an April 7th website post may yield some clues as to the investigation's status. The author reveals that he received a target letter from the Department of Justice in relation to the raid on his home. The DOJ letter, as described by the author, seems to encourage a quick guilty plea in lieu of a full-blown indictment and federal court trial :

A few days ago I received a letter from the Department of Justice. The letter stated that I was the target of an investigation by Homeland Security (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). In the letter, they inform me, that the potential violations are:


1. Title 17 US Code, Section 1201 (in connection with the sale and installation of modification chips)
2. Title 18 US Code, Section 545 (relating to the importation or smuggling of modification chips)
3. Title 18 US Code, Section 1956 (money laundering)


The letter goes on to say that if I want to resolve the matter before I am indicted, they suggest I obtain a defense counsel. It also states that defense counsel will be in a much better position to explain the advantages of a one count felony plea. The letter goes on to say that a plea would present significant sentencing concessions on the part of the government, over the sentence that I would get, should I let the indictment process (and subsequent multiple felony convictions) proceed.

GamePolitics has learned that at least one other individual has also received such a letter. It would seem likely that many, if not all, of the 32 suspected mod chippers will be offered quick plea bargains in this fashion. Perhaps ICE and the ESA are waiting for the upcoming anniversary to make an announcement.

On the fallsinc website, the author goes on to say:

I honestly do not believe that I have violated any law, and as such, I feel I should not be charged with any crime, nor should I have my property confiscated. The actions of big business lobbyists is very apparent in this action, and destroying the lives and livelihoods of 32 people just to satisfy “The Big Three” is not a move that I see in the best interests of the people.


At this point I need all the help I can get. If you are a video gaming or linux enthusiast, or just a user who enjoys the ability to get more out of legally purchased hardware, I need you at my side...

A copy of an Operation Tangled Web search warrant obtained by GamePolitics from publicly-accessible federal court records shows that 10 WiiKey modchips and one Xeno modchip were among items seized from an Ohio residence believed to be that of the author of the fallsinc website. 

Mod chips are illegal in the United States under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). They are not illegal, however, in some other countries, including Australia and Canada. Last month, a court in the UK dismissed a case against a British mod chipper, ruling that mod chips do not violate copyright under English law.

ESA CEO Michael Gallagher is quoted on Operation Tangled Web in the organization's 2007 year-end piracy report:

As an industry, we protect our intellectual property, encourage our government to crack down on those who break the law, and urge other governments to take similar action against video game pirates. Yearly worldwide game piracy costs total over $3 billion and it impinges on businesses and employees who create, develop, and distribute innovative products.


The ESA will work with federal law enforcement to ensure that those engaged in the illegal trade of circumvention devices are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.



ESA Canada Lauds Copyright Legislation But Others Not So Sure

June 12, 2008 -

The ESA's Canadian cousin, ESA Canada (ESAC), has issued a press release in support of a copyright reform bill introduced by the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper (left).

Joan Ramsay, president of ESAC, praised the measure:

It's simple: Every time someone acquires an illegal copy of a video game, money, in turn, is not going to those Canadians who work so hard to develop and publish games. That's money that cannot be reinvested in creativity, job growth, and industry development. Copyright reform is essential to strengthen our competitiveness as an industry.

But not every Canadian is so pleased with the proposed new law. David Shipley of the Kings County Record writes:

I'm not opposed to making illegal to download copyrighted music, movies and video games... But I'm dead set against any law that would make it illegal to take music from legally-purchased CDs and put it on your own personal computer or MP3 player - that's fair use.


If the Tories include fair-use killing provisions in the updated copyright law, I hope it is defeated either in the House of Commons or by the courts.

A report in the Canadian Press labels the bill controversial:

The long-awaited changes [to the bill] are a hot political potato for [Industry Minister] Prentice, who must find a middle ground between business interests who want strict protection for intellectual property, including recordings and films, and Internet users accustomed to downloading material free.


There's speculation is that Mr. Prentice will try to come down the middle as much as possible, imposing a $500 fine on individuals caught downloading copyrighted files... The video game industry wants the law strengthened to allow Internet service providers to monitor high-speed downloads and shut down transfers containing unauthorized copies of games and other files.

University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist is concerned that the legislation will be too restrictive - like the USA's:

I expect Minister Prentice to characterize the law as a Made in Canada solution, yet the reality will be that the key provisions are born in the USA. In doing so, the new law will have serious negative effects for Canadian consumers who could be locked out of their own purchased content, as well as for privacy, education, and research.

As GamePolitics has previously reported, here in the US, the ESA has been complaining for years about what it views as lax Canadian copyright protections. Yet, some officials north of the border are loathe to implement a Canadian version of the US's consumer-unfriendly Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA).


Do Library & Church Game Nights Violate EULA?

June 2, 2008 -

While libraries and church groups are increasingly turning to video game events in order to attract teens, such get-togethers may have copyright implications, according to the School Library Journal.

Check out this Q&A posted yesteday:

Q. Lots of school and public libraries are hosting gaming tournaments, featuring popular video games like Guitar Hero and Madden Football. Since these games are intended for home use, isn’t that similar to purchasing a movie and showing it to a large audience?


A. Everyone seems to be asking that question! Video games come with licensing agreements, and before purchasers can play the games, they must agree to their terms. The video-game licenses that I’ve seen are strictly for “personal, noncommercial” uses—not public ones. So when libraries host gaming programs, they’re violating these agreements. Yet, lots of libraries are doing just that—and they’re getting away with it. And some are even charging an admission fee to attend these events. What gives?


My guess is that video-game distributors never anticipated their games would be used publicly. So when their lawyers drafted the licenses, they simply used language commonly found in software contracts...


Librarians can: (1) continue to offer video-game competitions and let the chips fall where they may; (2) contact the rights holders and ask if their licenses can be modified to accommodate your programs; or (3) email the rights holders and tell them you’re opting out of the portion of the contract that allows only home use—and unless they tell you not to, you’re planning to offer gaming tournaments.

GP: It's a fascinating question. Game publishers would look like big meanies if they tried to enforce this, of course. On the other hand, I believe that Internet cafes pay for some type of multi-user license for some online games.

UPDATE: A well-informed video game industry source dropped GP a line, offering some insight on this story:

For motion pictures, schools, libraries, and other institutions get licenses to exhibit the movies. It's pretty straightforward and no-one seems to have a major problem with it. See and I'm not aware of similar services for video gaming. Probably should be.



Consumer Revolt Convinces EA & BioWare to Rethink Mass Effect DRM Scheme

May 11, 2008 -
Last week GamePolitics reported on a controversial copyright protection scheme which Electronic Arts was planning to institute on the upcoming PC version of Mass Effect as well as on Will Wright's long-awaited Spore.

The proposed SecuROM scheme would require periodic re-validations following initial activation. PC gamers were not happy, to say the least. Apparently that consumer discontent got some attention, at least at BioWare. In a message posted on a BioWare forum, community manager Jay Watamaniuk announced the good news:
There has been a lot of discussion in the past few days on how the security requirements for Mass Effect for PC will work. BioWare, a division of EA, wants to let fans know that Mass Effect will not require 10-day periodic re-authentication.

BioWare has always listened very closely to its fans and we made this decision to ensure we are delivering the best possible experience to them. To all the fans including our many friends in the armed services and internationally who expressed concerns that they would not be able re-authenticate as often as required, EA and BioWare want you to know that your feedback is important to us.

The solution being implemented for Mass Effect for the PC changes copy protection from being key disc based, which requires authentication every time you play the game by requiring a disc in the drive, to a one time online authentication. This system has an added benefit of allowing players to seamlessly play the game without needing the DVD in the drive.

UPDATE: Mike Doolittle of GameCritics wonders why PC gamers hate DRM.

Via: GameDaily

GP: Thanks to longtime GamePolitics reader Black Manta for the heads-up!

PC Gamers Angered by EA's New Copy Protection System

May 8, 2008 -
Hotly-anticipated PC titles Spore and Mass Effect will be among the first wave of PC games from EA to employ a controversial form of copy protection.

Techdirt reports that publisher Electronic Arts will use SecuROM protection, a scheme that has caused technical problems with some past titles. From the Techdirt story:
This new version is causing controversy due to an online verification system connected to its CD key. The system requires a connection to the internet during installation... After this the game will try to re-check the CD key every 5-10 days... If the game can't verify the key... it will continue to try for a further 10 days, after which it will stop working... The protection will also only allow the game to be installed three times.

So what's the beef? According to Techdirt:
A lot of gamers consider this intrusive and inconvenient, and that the publishers are effectively assuming their customers are pirates... Other concerns have been raised over users who don't play with machines permanently connected to the internet... or how the system will work in regards to resale.

These potential problems combined with SecuROM's past have made some call for a boycott of the titles and others to declare an intention to pirate the game out of spite.

Cnet's Daniel Terdiman weighs in on the brewing controversy:
Systems like this are never going to be winners for companies like EA. For every copy of one of its games that it successfully keeps from being illegally copied, it's going to lose a good customer who's beyond annoyed at the way the system works and the way they feel they're being treated.

To be sure, software companies feel they have to fight tooth and nail to avoid being robbed... [but] as the Sony rootkit scandal and other DRM PR nightmares have shown, users do not want to be controlled in this way. And they vote with their wallets.

San Diego Republican Boss is Former Game Piracy Ringleader

May 1, 2008 -
The Raw Story has a lengthy expose on Tony Krvaric, head of San Diego's GOP committee.

According to the report, the 37-year-old Krvaric, a naturalized US citizen who was born in Sweden, was the co-founder of Fairlight, a  warez group formed in 1987. From Raw Story:
Fairlight... evolved into an international video and software piracy group that law enforcement authorities say is among the world’s largest such crime rings.

After co-founding Fairlight in Sweden, Krvaric established U.S. operations for the organization, including an arm headquartered in Southern California—a major center for the computer and video game industry.

Krvaric, known in the cracking community as "Strider," got his start pirating games for the Commodore 64, but apparently left Fairlight in 1992. In 2004, the ring was taken down following an international investigation which resulted in the arrest of 120 people. Krvaric was not among them, although another group member alleged that he remained involved.

Although Krvaric would not respond to The Raw Story's request for comment, he discounted the allegations in an e-mail to fellow Repubicans:
Apparently there’s a hit piece floating around on me, “exposing” my wild high school, teenage years where I was in a computer club where we swapped Commodore 64 games (similar to how kids swap mp3 music files these days). This was in the 80’s, on a computer that’s long since defunct!

...I don’t know who is spreading this, but just wanted to let you know what’s going on out there. Likely it’s someone who wants us to take our eye off the ball in 2008, be it the democrats, labor or someone else. Either way, we’re not going to let them get away with it.

Via: Laws of Play

Law of the Game Digs Into EULAs

March 28, 2008 -
In a recent column for GameDaily, Hal Halpin, president of the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) fretted about End User License Agreements (EULAs), that mysterious legalese to which game software users are required to agree before enjoying the product for which they've just plunked down $39.99 or more.

Attorney and Law of the Game blogger Mark Methenitis picks up the EULA theme in his latest column for Joystiq:
Copyright law and its application to new media has lagged well behind the curve of practicality... technology has now pushed the envelope to the point that it is generally impractical, if not nearly impossible to impose the centuries old concept of 'copyright' that originated with the printing press...

That's not to say the powers that be haven't tried to adapt copyright to new media. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) was the last train wreck of an attempt to do just that... the problem with a lot of legislation is that the law is primarily drafted by legislators who, to be quite honest, know next to nothing about what they're trying to legislate, while being prodded by highly paid lobbyists who, generally, represent the side with the most money...

With regard to games, Hal [Halpin] has the right first step in mind: there needs to be some sort of large scale discussion about the issue amongst the industry people...

This is an opportunity for the game industry to be proactive and take the lead in dealing with the EULA. Clearly, the license cannot go away altogether, but it can certainly receive a facelift that would be beneficial to both the producer and the consumer.

Full Disclosure Dept: The Entertainment Consumers Association is the parent company of GamePolitics.

Blizzard, Bot Program Creator File New Motions Against Each Other

March 24, 2008 -
You may recall that, about a year ago, World of Warcraft publisher Blizzard sued computer whiz Michael Donnelly, creator of a popular WoW botting program known as Glider.

Last week, both sides filed new motions in U.S. District Court for summary judgment, essentially seeking to have themselves declared victorious without having to go through a trial.

We note that in its motion, Blizzard claims that Donnelly sold $2.8 million worth of Glider. That's a lot of bots. For the legal-minded, here is Blizzard's motion and here is Donnelly's.

Noted Developer: Don't Blame Piracy for Poor PC Game Sales

March 24, 2008 -
Brad Wardell of Stardock (Sins of a Solar Empire) goes off the game industry reservation a bit in a refreshing rant on piracy and PC gaming.

Writing for his Opinionated techie blog, Wardell says that bad games and excessive hardware requirements - not piracy - are the primary villains in poor sales of PC titles:
Recently there has been a lot of talk about how piracy affects PC gaming. And if you listen to game developers, it apparently is a foregone conclusion - if a high quality PC game doesn't sell as many copies as it should, it must be because of piracy.

Now, I don't like piracy at all. It really bugs me when I see my game up on some torrent site.. And piracy certainly does cost sales.  But arguing that piracy is the primary factor in lower sales of well made games? I don't think so.

According to Wardell, most PC developers tend to create games not for the largest base of potential users, but for the hardcore crowd, the folks with $600 GPU's sitting inside their PC cases. Okay, I'll cop to being one of those... But Wardell makes sense when he writes:
PC game developers seem to focus more on the "cool" factor. What game can they make that will get them glory with the game magazines and gaming websites and hard core gamers? These days, it seems like game developers want to be like rock stars more than businessmen... 

Anyone who keeps track of how many PCs the "Gamer PC" vendors sell each year could tell you that it's insane to develop a game explicitly for hard core gamers.  Insane.  I think people would be shocked to find out how few hard core gamers there really are out there...

So why are companies making games that require them to sell to 15% of a given market to be profitable? In what other market do companies do that?

While Wardell's games don't include CD-based copy protection, he's certainly not advocating piracy:
The reason why we don't put copy protection on our games isn't because we're nice guys. We do it because the people who actually buy games don't like to mess with it... We know our customers could pirate our games if they want but choose to support our efforts. So we return the favor - we make the games they want and deliver them how they want it. This is also known as operating like every other industry outside the PC game industry.

When Sins [of a Solar Empire] popped up as the #1 best selling game at retail a couple weeks ago, a game that has no copy protect whatsoever, that should tell you that piracy is not the primary issue.

ESA, Mexican Police Raid Video Game Bootleggers

March 18, 2008 -

The Entertainment Software Association reports via press release that Mexican law enforcement authorities recently staged a crackdown on video game bootlegging operations in Mexico City.

Working with ESA representatives, more than 500 Mexican police coordinated raids on four game duplication facilities and three storage locations. The haul of contraband was impressive: 290 DVD/CD burners, 28,800 bootleg game copies and over 900,000 video game cover inserts. Said Ric Hirsch, the ESA's senior vice president for Intellectual Property Enforcement:

Mexico is an important market for ESA members due to the enormous popularity of entertainment software. Unfortunately, Mexico also has an alarmingly high rate of game software piracy that by our estimates reaches 88%. We are very grateful for the efforts of [the Mexican authorities] in attacking the sources of pirate video games circulating in Mexico City markets, as such enforcement actions are the best way to reduce high levels of game piracy.

The raids, which followed months of investigation by the ESA, took place in Mexico City's Tepito market area, which, according to the ESA, is "one of the most popular shopping areas in Mexico City and is a local center of black market activity."


Japanese ISPs to Cut Service of File-sharers... Game Biz, Big Media Pressure Behind Move

March 15, 2008 -

Could it happen here?

AFP reports that Japanese Internet Service Providers will sever the Internet connection of those who illegally download files. It is said to be one of the strictest online piracy measures anywhere.

And the video game biz is right in the middle of it. From the AFP story:

Faced with mounting complaints from the music, movie and video-game industries, four associations representing Japan's Internet service providers have agreed to take drastic action, the Yomiuri Shimbun [newspaper] said...

The Yomiuri Shimbun estimated that 1.75 million people in Japan use file-sharing software, mostly to swap illegal copies...

One [ISP] considered two years ago a plan to disconnect people who swap illegal files but dropped the plan after the government said it may violate the right to privacy, the Yomiuri said.

Japanese government officials were unable to be reached for comment by AFP.

GP: While we don't condone illegal file-sharing, ham-handed moves like this one just leave GP shaking his head. Internet connections are as ubiquitous - and as necessary - as telephone connections in developed nations. Would the Japanese government permit its citizens' phone service to be yanked out over pressure from Big Media?


Report: China's Official Olympics Website Rips Off Games

March 14, 2008 -
The video game industry has long complained that China is a nation where copyrights don't mean much.

But in what would appear to be a new low, the Chinese government's official website for the upcoming Beijing Summer Olympics seems to feature online games lifted from Western creators.

As reported by Ars Technica, the IP theft was outed when developer Cadin Batrack scanned the Online Games section of the Chinese site and noticed what appeared to be an altered version of one of his designs:
According to Batrack, the Olympics' game, Fuwa Fight the Winter Clouds, looks like someone downloaded and decompiled the SWF file from his site, swapped out some of the graphics, and then published it as their own game. Since this information was unveiled, Fuwa Fight the Winter Clouds has been removed, but it appears as if a couple of other games might also be copies.

Ironically, as Ars Technica reports:
The Beijing Olympic Committee have a stern warning on its site to deter anyone from stealing any of the IP posted therein (with fines up to $7,000 or five times the "illegal income" generated by the theft), but the site was developed by Sohu. Sohu is currently being sued for allegedly promoting online piracy (by providing links to illegal file-sharing web sites)...

Canadian Legislator: We Don't Want a USA-style DMCA

March 11, 2008 -

Here in the United States, entertainment industry lobbying groups such as the ESA, RIAA and MPAA have wielded the Digital Millenium Copyright Act like a club against consumers. A member of Canada's Parliament does not want to see the same thing happen north of the border.

As reported by Boing Boing, New Democratic Party member Charlie Angus (left) has ripped Industry Minister Jim Prentice over Prentice's push for a DMCA-like law in Canada:

Prentice has consistently refused to allow public consultation into his bill, and instead has drafted a kind of wish-list representing the fondest fantasies of US entertainment giants.

Instead of marching off the same cliff that the US fell off of in 1998 with its DMCA, Canada could adopt a balanced copyright approach that will pay artists without criminalizing the public...

Indeed, Angus pulls no punches:

We are in no way obligated to go down the same dead end road as the United States with their restrictive legislation... However, if Mr. Prentice is going to let Canadian copyright legislation be written by U.S. trade interests he will certainly face a major backlash from both artist’s organizations, consumers and Canadian business groups.



Why is National Institute on Media & Family Jumping into the File Sharing Debate?

March 5, 2008 -

In an unusual move, the National Institute on Media & the Family issued a newsletter alert last Thursday under the heading, "Does your teen understand illegal downloading?"

We found this both surprising and unsettling, for a couple of reasons.

First, the file sharing debate is a hot button issue between media content owners and consumers, and it's not one that's going away any time soon. Nor is it a simple issue. And while reasonable points can be made by both sides, the tactics of the content owners and their apparatchiks have been little short of draconian at times.

But even beyond the various arguments to be made, our question is simply this: Why is an organization founded and operated by a child psychologist (Dr. David Walsh), an organization which has historically attempted to relate modern digital media to developmental and emotional health issues, getting involved in a fight which is fraught with elements of politics and class struggle?

We note that the non-profit NIMF recently agreed to partner with Microsoft on PACT, a video game usage contract between parents and kids which also enjoys the backing of the National PTA. It is unknown whether NIMF's relationship with Microsoft is related to the non-profit's position on downloading. Figures compiled by Microsoft, however, are cited in last week's newsletter:

Parents have understood for millennia that they must teach their kids values like honesty and that you cannot just walk into a store and take stuff. Modern parenting includes preparing kids for honesty in the digital age.


Microsoft released results from an online survey showing that teens are less likely to illegally download or share content from the Internet when they understand the laws protecting intellectual property. However (and here’s the heads-up for parents and teachers), 49% of those surveyed said they did not understand the rules for downloading music, movies, images, literature, and software. Only 11% of teens surveyed said they “understood the rules very well.”

Attempts to reach NIMF for comment were unsuccessful. However, we will update if we hear from the organization.

GP: Let's be clear: we don't support copyright violation or illegal downloading. Nor, on the other hand, can we get behind many of the heavy-handed tactics employed by content providers. The bottom line? NIMF should stick to what it does best and let the wealthy media corporations fight their own battles.

ESA Boss Talks Politics, Prez Candidates, Piracy

March 3, 2008 -

GameDaily BIZ serves up a lengthy interview with ESA CEO Mike Gallagher (left). It's definitely worth a read as the first-year CEO dishes on a number of topics, starting with piracy:

For video games, [piracy is] a $3 billion issue, and that's from an industry that has $9.5 billion dollars in sales. That's a huge amount of leakage... and it's only going to grow as broadband speeds increase and as the hackers are more adept at circumventing [console] security preventions. It's already just a disaster in the PC space...


How do we send the message?... we have an anti-piracy division within ESA... it works on enforcement very aggressively... we're going after the sources of the material in Malaysia, Uruguay, and Mexico. We're working together in Canada... North Korea... We're also collaborating for the first time with MPAA...

Gallagher also mentioned last summer's controversial Homeland Security raids on mod chip dealers inside the United States:

Domestically, we had a sting where we used 20 different locations, 16 different U.S. Attorney offices, which simultaneously busted a network of traffickers of pirated goods here in the United States.

GamePolitics was among those which questioned the ESA's radio silence on Fox News' January smear of Mass Effect. Gallagher spoke about why the ESA held back:

We have to be careful as an association that represents the entire industry, that our activities relative to specific companies and specific titles are very carefully selected. We certainly support the thrust of the industry activities and the reaction of the video gaming community to the distortion that Fox published...

Gallagher acknowledged the clout wielded by game consumers in the Mass Effect episode:

They pay attention, they are vocal, they are digital... they are heard immediately... That same power is what we want to harness when it comes to influencing policy makers. Policy makers are very gun shy about the Internet... they fear it because its mobilizing capabilities are outside their comfortable zones...

The ESA head diplomatically side-stepped GDB's question about how the industry viewed the current field of presidential candidates:

[The candidates] love technology, they love high tech jobs, they all worry about the economy... So we're going to focus on those and make sure that our profile as an industry is known to those campaigns... but the cultural aspect of video games, the historical [political] football nature of the industry in the presidential space means we have to be vigilant. I don't necessarily see the risk being something we can look past with any of the candidates...

Asked about a threat by watchdog group the Parents Television Council to target candidates who accept campaign contributions from the ESA's new political action committee, Gallaher was dismissive:

How many voices have you heard? The one. What we've heard in the meantime from other sources is many, many voices saying, "It's about time [that the industry began contributing.]" And the politicians, our policy makers in this country, will be very appreciative of our industry's support...



ESA Wants Govt Help Against Canada, Others over Game Piracy

February 12, 2008 -

Those pesky Canadians...

A press release issued yesterday by the Entertainment Software Association calls on the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to provide support to the video game industry in its ongoing struggle with software piracy. The ESA, of course, represents the interests of U.S. video game publishers.

Citing what he calls "persistent problems" in Canada, China, Malaysia, Russia, and parts of Europe, ESA CEO Michael Gallagher said:

Countries that support computer and video game piracy discourage publishers from establishing viable and legitimate markets... In 2007, our industry had a record-breaking year with receipts totaling $18.85 billion, but piracy closes off promising markets, artificially limiting our industry’s ability to contribute even more economic growth to the American high-tech economy and economies of our trading partners.

The ESA makes reference to a report issued by the International Intellectual Property Alliance which cites online piracy as well as factory production of discs, Internet cafe piracy, game cartridge counterfeiting and file trading. Regarding Canada, the ESA press release alleges:

Pirated copies of games and circumvention devices have permeated retail markets in Canada, due to legal deficiencies and that [IP] enforcement remains a low priority for public officials.

GP: We note that the IIPA report does not cite a figure for pirated entertainment software in Canada. The organization does, however, report a loss of $511 million worth of business software in the Canadian market in 2007.

Other nations highlighted for IP theft issues by the ESA include China, Malaysia, Russia, Italy, Spain, Poland, Sweden, Brazil, Paraguay and India. Said the ESA's Gallagher:

We look forward to working with USTR and other supporting government agencies to achieve tangible results and hopefully succeed in lowering piracy in these key countries. Freeing these markets from the pirates’ stranglehold will also help empower a local video game economy.

A similar report from the ESA was released in February, 2007 (see: ESA Part of Group Seeking to Blacklist Canada).


Who Are the Tech-Friendly Candidates?

February 6, 2008 -

Last week, GamePolitics reported on Yahoo! Games' recap of where the major presidential candidates stand on video game issues.

Cnet's Declan McCullagh has now penned an insightful article which outlines how the top candidates view some critical technology issues. While not game-specific, some of these issues will certainly affect gamers in a significant way. Writes McCullagh:

Who would be the most tech-friendly president?

The short answer: it depends. Do you like the idea of Net neutrality so much that you'd hand the Federal Communications Commission the authority to levy open-ended Internet regulations? Do you support pro-fair use changes to copyright law, which many programmers and computer scientists do--but which practically all software and video game companies oppose?

McCullagh sought the candidates' positions on seven key tech issues: Net neutrality legislation; Telecom spying immunity; DMCA fair use reform; Supports Real ID Act; ISP data retention required; Permanent Net-tax ban; and Increased H1-B visas.

Of these, Net neutrality and DMCA fair use reform are probably of the most immediate interest to gamers, so we'll look at those.

On Net neutrality, the question posed to the candidates was:

Congress has considered Net neutrality legislation, but it never became law. Do you support the legislation that was re-introduced in 2007 (S 215), which gives the FCC the power to punish "discriminatory" conduct by broadband providers?

Those strongly in favor of Net neutrality: Clinton, Obama
Those opposed: McCain, Paul
"Maybe": Huckabee
Ducked question: Romney

On DMCA fair use reform, the question posed to the candidates was:

The 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act's section restricting the "circumvention" of copy protection measures is supported by many copyright holders but has been criticized by some technologists as hindering innovation. Would you support changing the DMCA to permit Americans to make a single backup copy of a DVD, Blu-ray Disc DVD, HD DVD, or video game disc they have legally purchased?

Those probably in favor: Obama, Paul
Ducked question: Romney, McCain, Huckabee, Clinton

Read McCullagh's full article here...

ELSPA Denies 90% DS Piracy Quote

February 1, 2008 -
ELSPA officials have completely disavowed a newspaper report in which the organization's head of IP security is quoted as saying that 90% of American DS owners use a particular copyright circumvention device. has ELSPA's denial, quoting an unnamed spokesperson:
[IP security head John Hillier] didn't quote The Sunday Post on any figures whatsoever. ELSPA (which represents U.K. game publishers) would certainly never presume to comment about America or anywhere else outside of the UK.

The quotes from The Sunday Post were ascribed to his name from another article which originates from a website in Singapore. This, it appears, is where The Sunday Post first found out about the supposed R4 situation and for some reason unknown to John have quoted him on what this article said.

As far as Nintendo are concerned, the facts are completely spurious.

ELSPA: 90% of American DS Owners Use Pirate Device

February 1, 2008 -
An official with ELSPA, the European game publishers' trade association, has told a U.K. newspaper that 90% of American Nintendo DS owners are believed to be using a Chinese-made copyright-cracking device known as the R4 (left).

In an interview with the Sunday Post, John Hillier, who manages ELSPA’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit, said:
Legitimate business is at serious risk from the R4... It gets around the protection built into the Nintendo DS to prevent playing of unauthorised games. The R4 in effect blinds the console and makes it think it’s seeing a genuine game. Trading standards and police are finding these devices in raids on people who sell pirated games...

The implications are massive. In America it’s thought 90 per cent of Nintendo DS users are playing pirated games because of R4s. Takings from Nintendo DS games in the US are lower than any other console and no doubt it will have a similar impact here...

The R4 has shifted balance of power in the piracy industry to the consumer — and that is hugely worrying. That’s why we intend to stop trade in these chips wherever we can.

According to the Sunday Post, the R4 sells for about £40 in the U.K.

GP: While I don't doubt that the video game industry has legitimate concerns about the R4 (see video below), the 90% figure cited by John Hillier is absurd on its face. 

Seriously, does anyone really believe that nine out of ten DS users are jumping through these hoops with their handheld? This comment, posted on Next Generation by a reader, pretty well sums it up:
NINETY percent? As in a nine followed by a zero? I find that number completely impossible to swallow. That means MOST of the little kids out there who got a DS for Christmas immediately went online and bought a chip.

Stake out the Wal Mart or Target near your home, and take note of how many people buy a DS in one day, now try to imagine nine in ten of them even knowing what an R4 chip is. Doesn't work for me.

ELSPA is really overreaching in their bid to sensationalize this R4 boogeyman. I support their efforts to ensure that developers get paid for their games, but I suggest they make up a more believable statistic next time.

GP: I'm also wondering why ELSPA, which represents the European game industry, is issuing statistics on alleged American piracy. Why wouldn't this "information" come from the ESA? Why wouldn't ELSPA issue a percentage that relates to European use of the R4?

Early this morning I sent an e-mail to the ESA requesting clarification on this issue and will update the story when they respond.

Via: Next Generation


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Big PermBrad - Matt Lees was also quick to say the company "Gamers Gate" lies about getting abusive messages thinking they were an official GG channel08/29/2015 - 9:11am
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