Games firms pursuing innocent file sharersPeople told to pay up for game they didn't play

30 October 2008

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Innocent people are being accused of illegal file-sharing, which carries the penalty of high fines and court action, according to a Which? Computing investigation.

The magazine was contacted by Gill and Ken Murdoch from Inverness who were pursued by games firm Atari for allegedly sharing the game Race 07 on their computer.

Ken and Gill, aged 54 and 66, have never played a computer game in their lives. But they received a letter from Atari’s solicitors, London law firm Davenport Lyons, which said it had identified the Murdochs as illegally file-sharing from an IP address – the unique number which identifies a particular computer.

Firms fight copyright theft

The couple were given the chance to pay £500 compensation and £25 costs for infringing the copyright of Atari, with the threat that costs would be much higher if legal proceedings were started.

After Which? Computing’s intervention, the case was dropped but many more could find themselves in a similar position as firms step up their fight against copyright theft.

While most of these cases are valid, it is estimated that many hundreds are innocent victims who have failed to secure their computer against file-sharing, and may have had their IP address hijacked by a third party.

In Gill and Ken’s case, Atari’s lawyers argued that it’s a consumer's legal duty to secure their network, but this is untrue.

Secure your wireless network

Which? Computing editor Sarah Kidner said: ‘It’s outrageous that lawyers are falsely accusing people of illegally file-sharing and we think they should cut out the heavy-handed tactics. But consumers need to be aware of the dangers of having their computer address piggy-backed and take some basic common sense steps to protect themselves.’

Which? Computing gives the following tips for ensuring you’re not one of those wrongly accused of breaking copyright laws:

  • Wireless network: Many routers come with weak passwords like ‘admin’ as default, and can have security functions turned off. Enable Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) passwords. This is the easiest step to guard against 'piggy-backing' or having your IP address used illegally by a third party.
  • Parental controls: Set parental control software to block children accessing P2P sites – and adult content; some ISPs, such as BT and AOL, include this. Or install software such as Net Nanny. Make sure you are the administrator.
  • Broadband use: Most ISPs offer tools for monitoring downloads. Check regularly to make sure there are no sudden hikes in usage that might suggest someone is using your connection.
  • Think security: A firewall and anti-virus software are a must, but these are no guarantee as you won’t be able to rely on the failure of security software as a defence to copyright infringement.
  • Disable file sharing: If you use P2P software for legal downloads, disable file sharing. To date, only uploaders – people who make games available – have faced court action.

For more information see our reviews of security software and wireless routers plus our advice on safety online.

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