Lawyers brace innocent PC users

Hundreds of innocent computer users are getting caught up in the games industry’s renewed battle against copyright thieves.

Letters from lawyers appointed by Atari have been received by one couple in their sixties demanding £500 for allegedly sharing its ‘Race 07’ title on their computer.

The letter accuses the couple, Gill and Ken Murdoch, of breaking the law by sharing the game over the internet from an IP address traced to their home in Inverness.

Authored by Davenport Lyons, the letter invites them to pay £500, plus £25 costs, for infringing Atari’s copyright, or face much higher costs if legal proceedings begin.

Investigators at consumer group Which?, which took up the couple’s case, told the London law firm that the Murdochs have never played a computer game in their lives.

After the watchdog’s intervention, Atari dropped the case but not before arguing, in vain, that consumers each had a legal duty to secure their computer networks.

Their claim stemmed from the fact that the Murdochs, and “many hundreds” of innocent PC users like them, may have had their IP address hijacked, the group said.

Editor of Which? Computing Sarah Kidner said it was “outrageous” that lawyers were using “heavy-handed tactics” to falsely accuse people of illegal file-sharing.

Yet she said consumers should be aware that their computer address can be “piggy-backed” by a third party intending to carry out unlawful activities in their name.

The watchdog issued the following steps to help consumers protect themselves and their computer networks from falling victim to lawyers and criminals:

• 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.


6th November 2008

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