In a major assault on game-software piracy, six video-game companies and an industry trade group have filed a federal racketeering lawsuit here against several alleged rings of software pirates.
Such anti-piracy efforts are becoming increasingly common, but the trade group said the three alleged hacker rings they uncovered are some of the most sophisticated yet, employing hundreds of people around the world in global counterfeiting operations. "It's the most significant action we've taken to date," said Doug Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, a game-industry trade group. "They were pirating most of the most popular [personal computer] and video games available."
Six companies joined the association in filing the suit in US District Court in San Francisco. The companies are: LucasArts Entertainment, a unit of Lucasfilm; Acclaim Entertainment, 3DO, France's Infogrames; Bethesda Softworks, and Interplay Entertainment. The suit alleged numerous violations of law, including wire fraud, copyright and trademark piracy, mail fraud, interstate transportation of stolen property, counterfeiting, unfair business practices, and racketeering.
Lowenstein said the defendants belonged to hacker groups known as Class, Paradigm and Razor 1911. Defendants couldn't be reached for comment.
Lowenstein said the companies have learned in depositions of witnesses that the rings operated with businesslike efficiency. For games such as LucasArts' top-selling game of the year, "The Phantom Menace," the alleged pirates had counterfeit copies available for sale the same day as the game launched, he said.
The alleged pirates were able to acquire preproduction versions of the games and crack the anti-piracy mechanisms in the software within days, Lowenstein said. They would then upload the games to the Internet and other ring members in Russia would copy the games onto compact disks, he said, which were then available for sale the same day as the game was released officially.
The rings operated in a number of cities, the suit alleges, including San Francisco; Austin, Texas; Dallas; Minneapolis; Philadelphia; Buffalo, N.Y.; Los Angeles and Champaign, Ill.
The IDSA estimates game-software companies lose $3.2bn (£2bn) a year due to piracy.