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Codemasters pledges to stay civil on file-sharing

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Codemasters' anti-piracy law firm Davenport Lyons has promised that it will not pursue criminal proceedings against people it has accused of illegally sharing copies of videogames over peer-to-peer networks.

In a statement (reproduced in full at the end of this article) in repsonse to our report yesterday, the firm said its threats are aimed at recovering cash from sales that Codemasters would have made.

Davenport Lyons recently hit net users with multiple demands for hundred of pounds in damages for distributing Colin McRae DiRT for the Xbox 360. Codemasters has instructed Davenport Lyons to chase people who ignore the letters in civil court after 14 days.

A 2003 amendment to section 107 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 makes it possible that a criminal court might consider file-sharing copyrighted material a criminal offence.

Infringement for non-commercial use had been considered a matter for civil court, but the law now states (our emphasis), "a person who infringes copyright in a work by communicating the work to the public otherwise than in the course of a business to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the owner of the copyright." It has never been tested at trial, however.

It's also thought Davenport Lyons has not sued any of the 500 people it targeted in a similar campaign on behalf of the makers of Dream Pinball 3D. Our expert legal sources say the validity of the methods it uses to identify infringing IP addresses has never been tested in front of a judge.

Davenport Lyons said it has set up a hotline for people who believe they have been wrongly accused, on 0207 468 2600. It wrote: "Any person who has received a letter and who believes he or she has been sent it in error, e.g. if he or she cannot locate the file on their computer, should contact Davenport Lyons explaining the position and they will investigate it further."

An independent intellectual property lawyer we have spoken to advised people in that situation to seek their own legal advice.

Despite having sent individuals as many as ten separate demands for damages of more than £500, Davenport Lyons said it only wants each person to pay one of the charges.

Codemasters itself has not commented on its new campaign against file-sharing.

Next week we'll have a special report on how UK lawyers are gearing up for a big year in the movie, music, and videogame industry battle against file-sharing. ®

That statement in full:

Letters were written to a number of persons alleged to have illegally file shared or distributed Colin McRae: DiRT on peer-to-peer networks. We understand some individuals received more than one letter from Davenport Lyons. Multiple letters would have been sent if the person in question was identified on more than one occasion (and possibly with a different IP address) on peer-to-peer networks during the monitoring period. For clarity, any individual receiving more than one letter is required to pay one settlement figure, provided it is paid within the requested fourteen day period. Any person making payment in an amount greater than the sum claimed in one letter will have the balance returned to them.

The 'Notes on Evidence' contained within the letter details the basis upon which the sum claimed is broken down. This represents, amongst other things, damages for lost sales of Colin McRae: DiRT, which has been made available for download, and the legal costs involved in obtaining disclosure.

Although file sharing in this way constitutes a criminal offence under section 107 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1998, Codemasters has instructed Davenport Lyons to only proceed under civil law.

Any person who has received a letter and who believes he or she has been sent it in error, e.g. if he or she cannot locate the file on their computer, should contact Davenport Lyons explaining the position and they will investigate it further.

To address any further concerns or questions, Davenport Lyons has a hotline open on 0207 468 2600.

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