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Court orders woman to pay £16,000 for file-sharing

A woman has been ordered to pay out £16,000 for engaging in the unlawful sharing of a computer game on the internet, according to the game publisher's lawyers. The payout could lead to games owners taking more action against file-sharers in the UK.19 Aug 2008

TopWare Interactive took the action against Isabella Barwinska of London over the sharing of its game Dream Pinball 3D, which can cost as little as £9 to buy. The Patents County Court in London ruled that the 32-year-old mother should pay Topware damages of £6,086.56 plus costs and disbursements of £10,000, according to a statement from the firm's lawyers, Davenport Lyons.

Barwinska is just one of many people contacted about the sharing of the game. Davenport Lyons said that it has plans to launch 100 cases in relation to Dream Pinball 3D alone. It said that it has court orders for the release of thousands more alleged sharers' identities from internet service providers (ISPs) in relation to the alleged sharing of other games titles or films and music files.

"Illegal file-sharing is a very serious issue resulting in millions of pounds of losses to copyright owners," said David Gore of Davenport Lyons. "As downloading speeds and internet penetration increase, this continues to be a worldwide problem across the media industry which increasingly relies on digital revenues."

TopWare had previously won four rulings against sharers of the game, but none of those cases was contested, making this most recent case the firm's first contested victory in the UK over file-sharing.

The four other file-sharers were ordered to pay £750 each and costs of £2,000. The cases involved the BitTorrent system of file-sharing, which automatically shares files once a user has downloaded them in order to make the system an efficient distribution mechanism.

Gore said that it was possible that the court rulings will reduce the amount of illegal file-sharing that takes place.

"The damages and costs ordered by the court are significant and should act as a deterrent. This shows that taking direct steps against infringers is an important and effective weapon in the battle against online piracy," he said.

Rights owners such as record companies and games publishers are increasingly taking direct action against illegal file-sharers, typically using software that identifies the internet address of file-sharing activity. They then obtain details from ISPs about what user was assigned that address at the time of the activity and contact those people directly.

Litigation specialist John Mackenzie of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said that the ruling made it more likely that others would take court action.

"This ruling will give rights owners comfort and confidence in the courts system, and the real message is that because it's been largely untested, rights owners are reluctant to be first into court," he said. "But when they can see a precedent coming through the courts they can use that precedent in tackling abuses of their rights."

The six biggest UK ISPs recently agreed to contact customers directly who were accused of unlawful file-sharing, reminding them of the legal position and asking them to stop.

The UK and French Governments have backed systems whereby internet users are cut off by their ISPs for persistent file-sharing, but so far no such system has come into effect in the UK.

Expertise in Copyright

Copyright is an extremely valuable, often unrecognised or misunderstood right which protects a whole range of original materials including written materials, software, artistic materials, music and dramatic works. It arises automatically without the need for registration in most countries and protects these materials from unauthorised copying. It is essential in business to identify such rights, ensure they are owned by the correct entity, properly protected, enforced and exploited.

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