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Codemasters sets legal dogs on file-sharers

Colin McRae videogames firm barks cash demands

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Codemasters has fired off legal threats and cash demands to net users who it accuses of illegally distributing its videogames over P2P networks.

People have been hit with multiple demands for hundreds of pounds in settlement, or face a lengthy legal battle.

The development means a payday for Davenport Lyons. The London-based rights protection law firm was behind similar tactics aimed at net users who it accused of sharing Dream Pinball 3D earlier this year.

Codemasters' lawyers have obtained a court order under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act for ISPs to hand over an unknown number of customer details.

It is known that BT and PlusNet subscribers have been targeted. PlusNet has posted advice to its users in its blog here.

Davenport Lyons employs a Swiss firm called Logistep that offers "anti-piracy solutions" via a modified version of the Shareaza P2P client. It does the digging on the lawyers' behalf and claims the user identifications it sells are "fully accurate".

A worried recipient of several of Codemasters' letters denied any wrongdoing in an email to The Reg. He wrote: "I have received a letter... saying i have downloaded a file called Colin McRae Dirt for the Xbox 360 and they want me to pay £511 to them.

"Having checked my computer to my knowledge I have not downloaded any such file and do not have it on my computer. They sent me 5 letters all about the same game but with different IP addresses and different times. I'm not sure what to do they want a response in 14 days and they want me to sign saying I did it and won't do it again."

The time that Logistep links a customer to an IP address is key; in a dynamic IP address pool, getting it slightly wrong could easily mean identifying the wrong person.

The Codemasters demands also accuse their recipients of committing a criminal offence by file-sharing. No such offence exists for copyright infringement for non-commercial use.

Involving such a high-profile games developer, the case raises a lot of questions about the legal climate on file-sharing. Codemasters has not responded to our calls and emails. Davenport Lyons' receptionist told us that its lawyers don't talk to journalists about this matter. ®

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