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Atari dumps Davenport Lyons' piracy nastygram campaign

'Nuts and sledgehammers come to mind'

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Exclusive Storied videogaming brand Atari has dropped a campaign of legal threats against alleged illegal filesharers run on its behalf by the law firm Davenport Lyons, The Register has learned.

Atari engaged London-based Davenport Lyons earlier this year to go after internet users it accused of illegally sharing copies of its driving game Race07. The alleged filesharers received letters over the summer demanding £500 compensation. They were told that if they refused to pay they would be sued.

Now, well placed sources reveal that High Court-backed requests from Davenport Lyons for more customer details from ISPs have been withdrawn.

Atari's legal department told The Register via email: "In relation to file sharing, our position is that we always retain and reserve the right to protect our intellectual property from illegal copying and piracy. Whilst we are no longer working with Davenport Lyons, we continue to work with legal advisers to protect our rights."

It did not respond to email and telephone questions over whether it would use another solicitor to pursue people Davenport Lyons had already threatened with legal action on its behalf. Atari did not respond to questions sent in response to its emailed statement. Its legal representative, Tom Weston, instructed the firm's receptionist not to put our calls through to him.

Davenport Lyons did not respond to requests for comment.

The law firm's filesharing accusations on Atari's behalf were based on data provided by Swiss copyright protection frim Logistep. It makes lists of IP addresses seen participating in infringing BitTorrent swarms, which Davenport Lyons uses to obtain names and addresses from ISPs, via court order. On receipt of a data retrieval fee of about £10, ISPs must hand over their customers' details or be found in contempt.

In October the consumer organisation Which? highlighted flaws in this process, however, and forced Atari to accept it had falsely accused a Scottish couple of infringing its copyright on Race07. The threat against them was quickly dropped.

Michael Coyle, a solicitor at the firm Lawdit, said he wasn't surprised Davenport Lyons had lost a client. "It's really horrible PR," he said. "Their strategy is so far over the top; nuts and sledgehammers come to mind. It was always inevitable it would backfire".

Davenport Lyons' anti-filesharing business was last week hit by fresh controversy when it emerged it had begun sending out legal threats on behalf of the owners of the copyright to hardcore gay porn movie Army Fuckers. Critics said innocent people would be likely to pay up to have the case dropped rather than face being branded as a porn downloader in open court.

Lawdit is representing more than 300 people who have been targetted by Davenport Lyons. Only about a dozen are accused of infringing Atari copyright. The vast majority are under threat from another Davenport Lyons anti-piracy client, Topware Interactive, also a videogames publisher.

Davenport Lyons first launched its bid to create a new market in chasing down alleged downloaders in March 2007. Since then tech-savvy internet users in the UK have argued that flawed Wi-Fi security protocols mean the IP address data was weak evidence "on the balance of probabilities" - the standard of proof required in civil hearings - that an individual infringed copyright.

The Atari letters followed a £16,000 damages award that Davenport Lyons secured on behalf of Topware Interactive in summer. Although the respondent did not appear to defend the case and the damages were awarded in default, Davenport Lyons went on a publicity blitz in the national press to warn the hundreds of others it had threatened or planned to threaten to pay up.

The strength of Davenport Lyons' accusations has never been tested in court. ®

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