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Nintendo wins Hong Kong anti-piracy case

Nintendo won one of its "most significant anti-piracy judgments ever" last month when the High Court of Hong Kong ruled against Lik Sang International Limited, a worldwide distributor of technology that could be used to back-up Game Boy Advance cartridges to a PC - but also to copy them.20 Jun 2003

Lik Sang sells Flash Linkers in addition to other games-related products. The company has been around since 1998. But Flash Linkers are controversial.

For those who use cartridge-based consoles, like Nintendo's Game Boy Advance, a Flash linker allows the user to back-up a cartridge to a computer - which is helpful if it is lost or damaged. But it is more commonly used for piracy. Flash linkers can also be used to copy games from a PC to blank Flash RAM cartridges for playing on a Game Boy Advance. Again, while this facilitates amateur games development, it also encourages piracy.

In practice, the technology that Lik Sang sold was being used to make Nintendo games available as free downloads from peer-to-peer networks like KaZaA. In 2002, Nintendo claims that, together with its publishers and developers, it suffered nearly $650 million in lost sales as a result of the illegal copying of Nintendo products.

The decision follows a lawsuit filed by Nintendo against Lik Sang last year. Nintendo was granted a seizure order on 17th September, 2002 by the High Court of Hong Kong. The court then gave Nintendo authority to confiscate all offending products and related business documentation that could lead to further lawsuits against offending manufacturers and distributors.

Nintendo obtained an injunction order against the worldwide assets of Lik Sang including a seizure of its bank accounts. Following the raid, Lik Sang International Limited ceased distribution of the products.

Nintendo announced yesterday that Judge William Waung in Hong Kong's High Court has ordered that an interim payment of HK$5 million (US$641,000) be made to Nintendo in addition to legal expenses. The final award of damages will be decided at a later hearing.

The basis of the court's ruling is a local copyright law preventing people from selling video game copying devices used to make illegal games.

Hong Kong copyright law is directed not at the person who made unlawful copy but the person who furnished the means to make the illegal copying occur. By analogy, "With drugs, it is not aimed at the drug addict but at the drug trafficker," noted Judge Waung. "I have no doubt that the reason they sell like hotcakes is because they delivered the means whereby a person would be able to steal the games of [Nintendo] housed inside the Game Boy cartridge of [Nintendo's] and then illegally put the stolen games into [Lik Sang's] Flash Card."

Lik Sang International Limited has yet to comment.