This week the games industry have begun a major ‘crackdown’ on peer to peer sharing after the case against Isabella Barwinska by Pinballs Dreams who won with a £16k payout. This precedent now gives the industry license to go after all those folk out there who are pinching the wares.

While I reckon the verdict is somewhat extreme I do actually appreciate that the games industry has a job on it’s hands, with PC piracy seriously taking a dent out of profits. You could even argue that it’s the reason why there are so few independent developers left and the vast majority of gaming software is safe bet sequels and licenses.

Apparently Atari & Codemasters are about to start issuing £300 fines to a ‘sample’ of their 25,000 strong pirate hit list. I’m quite curious on the methodology they are going to use to select that ‘sample’. If Isabella is anything to go by this isn’t about trying to stop the ‘professional’ pirate networks but to make a point: If you are sharing at home we can get you.

I expect little11 year old Sharon to be turning up in The Sun for sharing the latest Sims with her mates with her shamed parents saying ‘they knew nothing about it’ and ‘she’s such a good lass’.

Now don’t get me wrong as a well documented gamer I am very much in the’ if you use it you pay for it’ camp. For the most part Games don’t have the same long-tail as other forms of media – they cost a lot to produce and date pretty badly. Their long-tail comes with the I.P, sequels, add-ons and relatively recently, platforms. For instance a movie currently has Theatrical, Rental, Purchase, Broadcast channels. Games don’t.

At this point there isn’t enough info to know for sure but we have seen what happened with the RIAA in the States and I’m just hoping we have a little more common sense over here.

Another piracy related event happened this week – much closer to home. We had a visit from those fine people at The Federation Against Software Theft (FAST). We get contacted by this lot every few years and historically it’s been pretty painless. If anything it’s a good excuse to make sure our licenses and documentation are up to date.

This time round was a bit different. We got a letter outlining the agenda of the meeting:

• Perception of FAST
• Who are we?
• IT compliance & corporate UK
• Risks concerning organizations in the UK
• Our Mission
• Guidance

All of which seem fair enough actually. Always good to know when things change, what’s happening with the laws etc. etc.

However when the two folk turned up the meeting very rapidly degenerated into a heavy handed rant:

• Showing multiple newspaper clippings of folk getting busted for piracy.
• That somebody can come in and audit every machine in the building at will
• That we could to be liable for hundreds of thousands of pounds in fines.
• That both employee’s and employer’s are responsible via a signed acceptable use policy that everyone has to sign
• That we could even go to prison.
• But if we sign up to F.A.S.T corporate services for a mere £2,500 per year we can avoid all this

And there’s the rub – these guys weren’t actually from the enforcement arm – they were from corporate services and it was really unclear what the purpose of the meeting was – until it turned into what amounted to an insurance sales pitch.

Now I’m not entirely clear how protection rackets work in reality but from watching enough gangster movies I’m pretty sure this is as clear a case of extortion as you get.

What’s frustrating is that I suspect these scare tactics do actually work on the majority of the creative industry – I mean if you get a letter from F.A.S.T. you tend to take it seriously and Corporate Services sneaking in under false pretenses is just really out of order.

I suspect by even mentioning this we’ll be hit by an audit - which we’ll ‘pass’ of course but it will still cost us a bundle in time doing paperwork, machines being unavailable, etc.

I would love to hear if anyone else has found themselves being bullied by this lot or whether we are just a one off. If we can find a few more examples perhaps we can get the fine folk at Digital Arts to do a bit of a feature on the Software Mafia vs the creative world.