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Yo-ho-ho and a pile of ROMs

The RIAA is going after music miscreants, but it seems that game pirates are being ignored. Should they really go free?

This morning, I read a story about the Recording Industry Association of America and how it uses James Bond-like techniques to try to cripple music piracy over the Internet. Get this: Court papers reveal that a Brooklyn woman’s computer was found to have nearly 1,000 songs that the RIAA claims she downloaded from Napster. She insists they are merely copies of CDs her family purchased. But the RIAA, after examining her PC, testified that the files “contained digital fingerprints that traced the songs back to the former Napster file-sharing service.”Digital fingerprints? Shades of “CSI”! How impressive is that?

The RIAA must consider music piracy to be quite a serious issue to go to such lengths. And, indeed, one of its recent press releases read: “…because of the nature of the theft, the damage is difficult to calculate but not hard to envision. Millions of dollars are at stake.”

Millions? Heck, that’s just a spit in Davy Jones’s Locker compared to the $13 billion in music industry sales in 2001. If you want to discuss problems, the Entertainment Software Association (formerly known as the IDSA) says U.S. game manufacturers were ripped off to the tune of over $3 billion in 2001. That’s billions, with a B. Out of a total of $6.35 billion in sales. Talk about a problem.

We’ve all witnessed the shrinkage of the games industry in recent years; some of our favorite publishers have vanished forever. Clearly it’s more difficult to make a buck selling games…and piracy surely has had its impact. So what is the industry doing about it? According to the ESA, its program’s “primary components are policy work, education, and enforcement, including direct investigation and enforcement actions.” I’m not sure what that means, but if the problem is as large as the ESA says it is, maybe it’s time to start buying digital fingerprint kits.

If you don’t think gaming piracy is alive and well, you’ll enjoy this story: I stumbled across a Web site the other day that has to be run by one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. I’ll call him Mr. Concerned, and I’ll call his site, even though that’s not its real name (but it’s something like that). In any case, Mr. Concerned’s site says it “supplies information and tools necessary to make a personal backup of legally owned game CDs” which, he contends, “you are legally allowed to do…as long as you are the owner of the original game CD.”

In other words, Mr. Concerned loses sleep at night worrying that I might not be able to make a second copy of the games I bought. Aww, that’s sweet. But I’m willing to bet that his readers have other things on their minds, like getting their hands on games illegally and not paying one red doubloon for them. And this is just one site among many, operating openly and accessible to everyone. (It’ll be interesting to see how many e-mails I get asking for the actual URL of that site.)

One last thought: Recently, hordes of kids started their freshman year at college. At one Ivy League school with which I’m very well acquainted, a restriction was placed on students whose parents pay to have them connected to the university’s computer networkÑthey’re not allowed to download more than 2GB of data each semester. Two gigs? Why would they need that much space just to download research information? On the other hand, two gigs is hardly enough to download 600 cool songs or a couple of really good first-person shooters. Bummer.

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