Piracy: The kiss of Death
"It's killing the industry" — so say all those who suffer from it and those who try to prevent it. But the pirates who actually break the law have their point of view too. Over the next four pages we let them all have their say...
PIC: If you buy and use illegal software you are contributing to the downfall of the Amiga industry.
PIC: Leading investigator John Loader uses his 30 year's experience in the MET to help FAST catch crooks.
PIC: A huge pile of 2,200 disks, picked up from a market stall, lies on FAST'S office floor. Among the disks were copies of games which had only been on sale for a week.
PIC: Bullfrog's Peter Molyneux has a strong message for pirates.
PIC: The latest Amiga games on sale for £1 a disk. But is it all above-board?
PIC: This software pirate makes a living from what he does. He has no interest in computers, let alone the Amiga, so if the market dies, he'll move on to another machine.
The Amiga games scene is dying. Like the Vic-20, the Sinclair Spectrum and the Atari STs did before it. But those machines all died out because they were made obsolete by newer and better machines like the Amiga. Users abandoned those machines in droves for the chance of owning a spanking new A500. The Amiga, on the other hand, is still the world's most powerful and flexible home computer. The Amiga isn't losing users to a new super-machine — in fact the newest super-machine is an Amiga, the A1200.
No. The Amiga games scene is dying because some Amiga owners are too selfish, and too stupid, to do anything about it. The Amiga games scene is dying because piracy is so rife that software companies can't sell enough copies of most games to make them pay. Companies are abandoning the Amiga in favour of the consoles because while cartridge piracy exists, it is infinitesimal when compared to piracy on the Amiga. The average Amiga game sells around 8,000 copies. There are over 1,500,000 Amigas in the UK alone. This means your average game manages to sell to a mere half of one per cent of all owners.
Pirates have long attempted to justify their actions by claiming that games are too expensive. This may be true, but there is no chance of prices dropping while games are selling in such low quantities. The fact that budget re-releases of games are pirated just as frequently as full-price product makes a mockery of this defence.
Pirates often claim that most games aren't any good. But if a game is no good, why pirate copy it? And the standard of Amiga games is as high or higher than that of the consoles — how many times do you spot the words "a conversion of an Amiga game" in console mags? Many of the best and most original games came from the Amiga. Sure, some games are crap, but a quick flick through a reputable mag like ***Amiga Format's review pages will prevent anyone wasting money on a dog.
Some pirates claim that they can't afford games. This may be true, but if you can't afford the petrol, you can't drive the car. Tough... but true! If you can't afford the software, you should make do with what you have, or use the PD, or magazine Coverdisk demos, or the local library, or swap with your mates — the options are endless, but for many theft is the easiest one.
Now, we here at Amiga Format are writing this feature to get one simple message through to all you Amiga users. If you use copied games you will be responsible for the death of the Amiga games scene. There will be no new games for the Amiga by mid 1995. Now that may sound a long way off, but it will come around sooner than you think, and then that £300 worth of cheese coloured 32-bit wedge will be just so much junk. We don't want the Amiga to die, and we're damn sure you don't either. So think as you tuck in to your Christmas dinner, those cheap games could work out to be very, very expensive indeed.
John Loader — Leading investigator for FAST
More than 50,000 illegal disks have been seized by FAST (Federation Against Software Theft) investigators in the past year. They have at least one new case of piracy every week and following a new prosecution initiative funded by ELSPA, they are now awaiting trial on 10 cases. We talked to leading investigator John Loader, who described how FAST came about.
"It was set up in 1984 as a result of the computer industry lobbying parliament to get the law changed. The software industry pushed for the law to include software, the government said OK, but you'll have to set up your own watchdog to keep tabs on it. So FAST was founded in the shape of one man — Bob Hay. The new Copyright Act of '88 actually made it a criminal offence to copy disks."
AF: What sort of sentences does it carry?
JL: For some offences you can get two years' imprisonment, others can be dealt with in a magistrate's court where it carries a six month maximum sentence. But in practice, it doesn't happen often. The alternative is a £5,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment in lower courts, or £5,000 with two years in Crown Court.
AF: What do you feel about the way the law stands at the moment?
JL: The punishments provided are adequate, I'd just like to see them deeper ranging. At the magistrates' court although they can punish over six months, it is seldom used. But one of the things we try to do is make courts aware of what a problem it is to the software industry... the Amiga is suffering very badly from piracy. You've only got to look at the number of games released last year against the new games that are released this year.
AF: Do people inform you of pirates?
JL: We get complaints by telephone from all sorts of people — those who've bought pirated software and have just realised what they've done is illegal because they've seen the prices in the shops. You've got shopkeepers who see these stalls active, in action, and it's ruining their business. And you get everybody in between really.
AF: What's the next step?
JL: We used to direct those complaints to the Police or Trading Standards officers, but Trading Standards would say they couldn't do anything about it because they didn't have the resources. The Police would say they've got burglars to catch so they don't think it's serious enough for us. Last year Roger Bennett went to the ELSPA council and said we need to do it ourselves or we'll do it through FAST, but we've got to do something.
AF: So what happens now?
JL: I'm running a team of six investigators all over the country. They channel their actions back to me. I get big sacks of disks and notes as to how they got them and comments made by the pirate — all the facts of the case. I put them together, type out the summonses and send them off to their local magistrates court. They issue the summons and sign it and the guy has to go to court and answer the charge. Then I come along and present the facts. In such a case where he might say he's going to plead not guilty, he's going to deny the offence, I'd employ a local solicitor to handle the case for me.
AF: When do the Police get involved?
JL: The only time is when I need an officer to come with me, say to a market stall, mainly to prevent a breach of the peace. The presence of the uniform gives it the credence that he's being dealt with properly.
AF: Does FAST deal with serious software as well?
JL: You can subdivide it. Of course, there's a lot of spill-over because, for example, a guy might be selling PC disks and he'll always sell both business and games. Basically I deal with software for the Amiga, Sega and then a lot of the console stuff.
AF: What's the percentage of pirated to legal software?
JL: It's impossible to assess... it's a very large ratio, illegal to legal. You've just got to look around our office: there's 2,200 disks in that pile that we picked up in Camden Market two Sundays ago. One of my investigators was recognised and the bloke legged it abandoning all those disks. How many thousands of disks has he got elsewhere? In that bundle, there were 18 or 20 copies of Space Hulk, Hired Guns, Prime Mover, all the latest stuff which has only been out for a week or so.
AF: Are most pirates amateurs, or professionals?
JL: When you go right across the scene, you've got to start from the Bulletin Boards and the cracking teams. They do it for kicks. Then you get guys who are on the boards — they're on to get the software they want. They get the stuff off the boards or from modem-trading and they amass the software. They seem to go across into the market stall area where you get guys who are dealing with the modem traders — usually mail-ordering and the market stall guys are getting it from the modem-traders.
When it comes to the market stall traders, you're talking about people who're purely in it for the money. They're not the slightest bit interested in Amiga software — last year they were probably selling videos. There is a lot of money in it — there are some very heavy people involved in it now.
They're actually cartels, operating at a number of car boots at the same time. Look at the overheads — they've got 25-50p per disk and sell them for £1.50-£2 per disk. These guys are making £100,000 a week.
AF: Is it true that software houses and programmers are leaking the stuff to the pirates?
JL: There is more than a little truth to those sort of suggestions. That's all I can say.
AF: What about CD piracy?
JL: The latest I'm hearing about is a guy's selling a complete range of Nintendo software on one CD. It costs £620. You're talking about 600Mb of info. How many has he got to sell before he recoups the £3,000 for the CD presser? So he buys a CD manufacturing machine, makes the CDs, sells 500 and he's made more than his money back.
CD will be a problem, yes, because though you can't do it cheaply now, the technology will overtake it and no matter what you do, someone will find a way round it.
AF: Do you think if software was cheaper there would be less piracy?
JL: I don't know. Budget titles are still cracked. Budget titles are only £8-10 aren't they? And you get just as many cracked disks for the budget titles.
AF: What about games that cost up to £70?
JL: Well you could apply that argument but I would counter that by saying Jaguar motor cars are a lot of money, but I don't go out and nick one, I make do with a Nissan. If you can't afford it, you can't afford it, that's what life's all about.
Cases FAST has solved
- High Street dealer in Wales selling copied games to customers, four month suspended prison sentence and £1,000 fine.
- Youth In Cleveland selling copies by mail order, fined £250.
- Young man in Liverpool dealing copies from home lost 3,500 disks and fined £200.
- Employed Sussex man dealing in disks from home in spare time fined £650 at Crown Court, lost 2,500 disks and his computers.
- Swindon man selling at car boot sales, 80 hours community service, paid £250 at Crown Court and lost his stock of disks.
- Man in York fined £320 plus £200 costs, lost all his disks, for car boot sales of Amiga games.
- Essex man selling at car boots fined £480, £75 costs, lost all his disks, plus Amiga 2000 and 1.2GigaByte hard drive which contained compressed files for every major Amiga program ever issued.
- Pirate BBS case is due for hearing before end of the year. This will be followed by more in the first months of 1994. Bulletin Boards will be the main target areas next year.
MD, Dimension Creative Designs. Responsible for Legends of Valour and Resolution 101.
We don't make much profit, but we do enjoy doing what we do. If Amiga piracy continues, then its up to the publishers who advance us development money against potential sales if they want us to develop for the Amiga.
Software publishers at the moment are not interested in developing for the Amiga, the CD32 yes, but not the Amiga.
People who pirate will suffer in the long run. They might have 200 games to play with this month, but in six months all of the big software houses will have pulled out and they'll be left with nothing.
A firm footv fan, Dino has produced Kick Off 2 and Goal!
I work for a living, not to provide entertainment for free. If the level of Amiga piracy stays the same, I will continue to support it, but only because I can also produce other formats as well. On its own, it wouldn't be worth it. Goal! is probably the last game I will develop on the Amiga first.
Pirates should see that there aren't as many new games coming out as there used to be. It's time to grow up and buy games. If they carry on like this, they can look forward to a future where the only software they can get for their Amiga is in the Public Domain.
Piracy is theft and is done by rather sad, juvenile misfits. It has no excuse. It will ultimately mean that the quality of Amiga software will decline. If pirates want good games, if they want the Amiga to survive, it's up to them.
Programmer, Graftgold. Andy has worked on Fire and Ice and Uridium 2.
The more piracy there is, the less able we are to develop new games. But the Amiga platform is moving on to be less piratable. With CD32 and the CD add-on for the A1200 there's going to be less piracy... The arrival of CD32 actually means we're going to stay in the market a lot longer than we would have done.
Software pirates only realise how much damage they're doing when it affects them personally. We get people who come into the office who suddenly realise how much what they're doing affects what we do for the Amiga.
MD, Bullfrog. Bullfrog have produced great games like Populous and Syndicate.
Piracy on the Amiga is a serious threat and to my mind the pirates have won. We didn't put copy protection on Syndicate — there's no point putting protection on games, because they only get hacked within a couple of days.
Here's a message for Amiga pirates: congratulations, you have now won over on the hacking side, and you have shown us how much better you are than us developers. Well done for making the Amiga a secondary marketplace behind the PC — we always used to develop first and foremost for the Amiga, but too much piracy means this is no longer the case.
Detective Sergeant Steve Littler, Computer Crime unit, New Scotland Yard
AF: What's the police's attitude in general towards software piracy?
SL: It's something that's left to a certain extent to FAST. They do a lot of the investigation and call upon our assistance when they need it. It's not an act that many policemen have to deal with. If you think of all the acts on the statute book, unless you know specifically where to go to, I could see the problems that would arise.
AF: What if you saw someone selling illegal software at a market, would you make an arrest or would you pass the info on to FAST?
SL: Not directly, because obviously we'd want to know a bit more about it and we would probably let FAST know something about that.
AF: Is there a procedure the Police go through with FAST?
SL: Because of where we are (Scotland Yard) we deal with them quite a lot so we tell them the information and then they deal with it. FAST have the knowledge that we could never gain, because we can't get any expertise in individual operating systems that they can, because we haven't got the resources, the manpower and generally things like that.
AF: What sort of cases have you dealt with?
SL: The ones that we've had and assisted them with are Bulletin Boards.
AF: Do you think the police take piracy seriously enough?
SL: Any crime is a crime, isn't it? I would say that very few people come to us complaining of software piracy or theft.
A special case
Police office Sergeant Mick Pearson, from Dudley, is one of those rare officers with the specialist knowledge required to recognise and deal with piracy. Sgt Pearson has an A1200, having upgraded from an A500 this year.
When he went to buy some Amiga games from a man who advertised in his local paper, he suspected him of dealing in copied software. After further investigations, Sgt Pearson pursued the case and his investigation resulted in an arrest. The case went to court, the magistrate gave the man a conditional discharge and ordered that he should pay the court costs, that all the disks should be confiscated and that his A1200 should be given to FAST to further their progress in fighting piracy.
Small ad dealer
An ad in a local newspaper offered all the latest game releases for sale at £1 each. So we contacted the number in the ad to find out exactly what the seller was up to. We told him we were from Amiga Format, he agreed to talk to us. He said he worked for MicroProse and, as member of staff, that he could buy the games at a discount.
However, he also said: "I've got everything for sale on the market — all the latest releases. I can't go through 2,000 games with you really.
"My games aren't pirated — they're original stuff. They're not for sale at £1 each, they're £10. I know a lot of pirates. Everyone who's got an Amiga I reckon has got copied stuff, but obviously I'm against it because I work for MicroProse. Everybody who works for MicroProse is allowed a specific number of games a year and you can do what you like with them really. You hold your allowance for a certain amount of time and you can get a bulk order.
"I don't want you to contact MicroProse. They don't set any rules about what you're meant to do with the stuff, but it is a bit iffy."
When we contacted MicroProse, they said that although they were aware that staff receive free copies of some games, they do not have a staff discount scheme and were shocked by what this man was doing.
Roger Bennett, Gen Secretary, ELSPA
"Piracy," he says, "is a major source of loss of revenue for legitimate publishers — somewhere between £50 to £70 million loss in the UK alone.
AF: What can be done to stop it?
RB: Hopefully, the new technology will stop it. Although whenever there's new technology someone will always find a way of cracking it but it might be a lot easier to protect. At the moment ELSPA (European Leisure Software Publisher's Association) are investing very heavily in investigating software piracy in every possible area.
AF: What measures do you think they could take to tighten up on piracy?
RB: They must be wary of leaving review copies anywhere, in any circumstances. At the ECTS a software publisher left his stand for two minutes and within three days it was on sale in Europe. Security is the name of the game as far as software houses are concerned. I know there are problems in some software houses, and they have to get to grips with it. There's now little they seem prepared to do in terms of protection, at least on the disk. Manual protection, at least is still the most effective means.
AF: How do you think CD is going to effect piracy?
RB: It costs quite a lot of money to buy a machine to duplicate a CD, in which case it's easier to isolate those machines if anyone is actually duplicating on it.
AF: What do you think of the news that Frontier: Elite 2 has been released on a Bulletin Board?
RB: It's clear that as soon as games are released they're cracked and put on Bulletin Boards for distribution the same day. The Home Office Committee are investigating computer pornography and offensive material transmission by Bulletin Board shortly.
AF: Is the situation with the Amiga the worst?
RB: Yes, because a lot of product is easily piratable — back-up devices are available widely and legally — and on a single disk. PC product is multi-disk which makes it more difficult and it's manually protected as well.
AF: What would you say to someone who's pirating software, or using pirated software?
RB: There's always the risk if you've got a hard drive you could easily corrupt what you've got on it by using pirated software. Those who buy counterfeit software are likely to find that they won't have any software to pirate in the long term — the Amiga market has been substantially reduced as a result of piracy.
Director and project manager, Team 17.
Team 17 have an exceptional reputation for quality software — such as Body Blows, Alien Breed and Project X — often at very competitive prices. Because the main arguments of users of copied software are that games are too expensive, or too crap to warrant paying for, we thought Martyn Brown would have a more encouraging tale to tell. Not so...
"Price doesn't make a difference — the cheaper games are copied just as much. Our prime concern isn't for how much money we're making, we have to make a profit but I'm not bothered about getting mega-rich. I love the job.
"We're bothered about the future of the Amiga. There will be no games in the future if piracy continues. But people don't see what they are doing as an individual is affecting the industry. They just think 'well, it's just one copy. It can't do am harm'. But it does."
Ladies and Gentlemen... A real life pirate!
In the course of our investigations for this feature we came across a dot matrix printout that included a comprehensive list of Amiga games for sale for £2.50 for the first disk, and £1 for subsequent ones. We contacted the seller, who turned out to be an affable and intelligent man in his early twenties. He agreed to the following interview...
AF: How long have you been involved with software piracy?
About three months now.
AF: How did you get involved?
A mate of mine, he's a real entrepreneur, said to me that he could get the games, and did I want to sell them. I look after my sick father. I'd just finished my degree, and my mate knew I needed to make some extra money. He knew someone in one of the large piracy organisations, and they'd stopped dealing in software, so he got me all the letters and I replied to them.
AF: So did you have, or do you now have, any interest in computer games?
I'm not very interested in computer games at all, I used to be. I had a Spectrum, C64 and an Amiga. But my interest sort of died.
AF: How do you get the software?
My mate, he's got a modem, he downloads the games.
AF: So you don't have your own modem at home?
No. I don't have any gear at my house. I have a PO box, but that's registered at someone else's house, and the Amiga isn't there.
AF: These precautions are for fear of prosecution?
Not prosecution, no. You see in Scotland [where this man is from] the Prosecutor Fiscal has declared that it isn't in the public interest to prosecute software pirates. But the police can come round and confiscate all your gear.
AF: Does it ever strike you that piracy is wrong at all?
Yes, I consider myself very honest. I know piracy is wrong, but if I wasn't doing it, someone else would be in my place. I've got to make my money somewhere, I can't get a job. I'd rather not do it, I don't make a lot of money out of it.
I deliberately don't make a lot of money out of it. I don't want FAST on me. I don't think FAST are going to touch me, they've got plenty of other people to do.
AF: How do go about getting your custom?
I advertise in the local paper. We're advertising on cracked games now as well.
AF: Aren't you concerned that piracy will kill the games industry? In the end it will result in you having nothing to sell.
In my experience, pirates really don't care. There's always something else to copy. Cartridge piracy is increasing. Compact Disc copiers are only a few thousand pounds. No one cares whether it's the Amiga or any another machine.
Greats such as Elite and Frontier Elite 2 come from the Braben brain.
Piracy means that I may not be supporting the Amiga in the future. I've always liked the Amiga as a machine. The hacking isn't a problem, it's the people who sell the games in the streets who're doing the real damage.
So where do we go from here?
So there you have it, the view of piracy from those who really know. The games developers who will be forced to abandon the Amiga if it continues, the men who dedicate their lives to combating it, and the people who actually do it.
The impressive thing here is that everyone cares about the future of the Amiga. Except, of course, for the guys who are actually selling pirated software — they just want your cash.
The Amiga has more enthusiastic and dedicated bunch of users than any computer. This is you I'm talking to. The machine keeps getting better and better, as does the software, the customer support, (the magazine?). But it could all be brought down by a bunch of no good thieves who, in some cases are making more money than legitimate software shops.
FAST are doing their best, but only one group of people can really stop Amiga piracy, and save the Amiga from certain death. You!
Spread the message, save the machine.
The Bigger Picture
We'd like to put a stop to the speculation and get a clearer picture of the extent of Amiga piracy. So we're asking the biggest network of Amiga users in the world. Amiga Format readers, to give us the low down. This will be in complete secrecy, we don't want to know your name and address. Just answer these questions...
- Have you ever owned a piece of pirated Amiga games software?
Yes — go to question 2
No — go to question 10
- How many pirated games do you have?
- How did you get them?
Car boot sale
From a friend
From a Bulletin Board
Other, please specify:
- Do you still have any pirated Amiga games software?
- Why do you use/buy pirated software?
Games are too crap
Games are too expensive
I am an habitual criminal
Other, please specify:
- What do you consider would be a fair price for an Amiga game?
- Do you intend to continue practising piracy, even though it could mean the end of the Amiga?
- Are you...
Other, please specify:
- How much (on average) do you pay per disk for pirated software? Now go to number 11.
- Congratulations, you are an honest responsible Amiga user who shouldn't have to put up with inflated software prices because of all those selfish, stupid, conceited people who use pirated games.
- Now send this questionnaire to:
The Great Piracy Survey,
30 Monmouth Street Bath
Avon BA1 2BW.
In Amiga Format issue 55, a follow-up letter from MicroProse was printed, discussing the small ad dealer mentioned in the original article:
Simon Butler, the group marketing director of MicroProse, has refuted claims made in Amiga Format's Christmas Issue about software theft from within the company.
We printed an interview with a small ad dealer who claimed that he worked for MicroProse and that he was able to get cheap software for third parties through a company discount scheme which, in fact, does not exist.
Simon Butler states: "We strictly monitor the amounts of software requested by staff. In no instance would more than two copies of a game go to any one department.
"Earlier this year a member of staff was found to be taking damaged stock which he then sold. He was dismissed. We are satisfied that none of the stock offered was supplied via a MicroProse employee."
MicroProse were also keen to point out that they work extremely closely with both the Police and Federation Against Software Theft to track down software pirates and prosecute them.
"Piracy is killing the software industry," they said "and we will not stand for it."
Also in that feature we showed a copy of the small ads. One phone number was accidentally left in. We would like to point out that this person has nothing to do
with pirating software.
If you need to get in touch with FAST (the Federation Against Software Theft), contact them on 0628 660377.
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