Sony goes pirate hunting

- Sony Computer Entertainment Australia (SCE) fired a warning shot at anybody dabbling in software piracy by successfully completing a Federal Court civil suit against a Victorian home entertainment dealer last week.

In awarding $68,000 in damages and costs to SCE for registered trademark infringements last week, the court found that Orce Nikoloski and Malson Nominees P/L trading as Total Home Theatre had imported and sold counterfeit copies of PlayStation games.

While pleased with the outcome, SCE's managing director Michael Ephraim told ARN that this is just scratching the surface of the problem and that several more civil and criminal actions are in the pipeline as well as increased surveillance of suspected operators.

"There is a definitely a directive from us to pursue this even harder," said Ephraim. "We now have our trademark registered with Customs along with the names of companies legitimately trading in PlayStation product. Anything that doesn't match up we are informed about."

Suggesting there might be some sort of organised reselling ring present in Australia, Ephraim said: "In the last nine months we have seized more than 10,000 illegal discs so there might be some kind of underground network of distribution going on."

The heightened attack on what Ephraim described as "blatant theft" is two-pronged. Sony's vast resources are reinforced by other independent actions from games publishers and those of the Australian Visual Software Distributors Association (AVSDA), of which Ephraim is the vice-chairman.

"These people are basically stealing other people's property and we are committed to taking them to court and hurting them financially. It is not a matter of a multinational trying to keep the prices up; it is business protection and a real problem for many legitimate companies.

"With the PlayStation trademark embedded in the game, we have a cut and dried case of trademark infringement and counterfeiters cannot replicate discs manufactured using Sony's exclusive black dye injection technology."

To assist in tackling the problem, sources indicate AVSDA has hired the Australian Film and Video Securities Office (AFVSO) to watch the marketplace. AFVSO has 20 staff on the ground walking into shops, looking at the print media and Internet trading sites as well as stalls at car park computer markets looking for illegal operators.

Meanwhile, the Federal Minister for Justice, Amanda Vanstone, was set to announce government support for the fight against piracy by increasing the penalties for offenders as a softener for the recently announced easing on parallel importing of music titles.

No specific research calculating lost revenue to the industry has been conducted on games or the Australian market, but Ephraim said the cost to the industry is escalating exponentially and was estimated back in 1996 to be worth $US11.2 billion globally.