Piracy is back: pushing more buttons than ever. In reaction to this button-pushing, Microsoft has promised “vigorous action” against those who illegally downloaded complete copies of Gears of War: Judgment. The pirated versions of GoW: Judgment appeared on popular Internet torrent sites more than a month before the March 19 release date. By the morning of February 19, 2013 Microsoft discovered the leak and that some of those pirates had the not-so brilliant idea to play their illegally obtained copies online.
What does Microsoft mean by “vigorous action”? Microsoft has promised a lifetime account and console bans for people caught playing the game early. To any who would call Microsoft’s bluff on this, it would be wise to look at the history the company has with pirated copies of non-released games.
Halo 4 had similar issues with piracy and Microsoft took the same approach in that case as well, banning gamers for life. Halo 4 had leaked online 3 weeks prior to its November 6th release date. In the span of a weekend from being leaked, Microsoft made good on its promise, issuing a warning email that informed those caught playing the game online early that they will receive a “permanent suspension” a.k.a cancellation of their account. The email further clarified that the “Xbox Live privileges will not be reinstated” due to “illegitimate prerelease title play”.
In addition to rejecting the more non-conventional avenues for coping with piracy as a reality, Microsoft’s approach is also far different than the previous attempts at regulating Internet piracy in the United States.
Since 1982, 15 Anti-Piracy Laws have been passed by congress. Many of which employed increased statutory damages, civil penalties and criminalized pirating behavior. Any of these existing legal avenues would allow for Microsoft to recoup lost revenue due to the pirated version of Gear of War: Judgment leaking online.
The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 made it crime to “republish” copyrighted materials, either by downloading, uploading, or sharing different types of digital media. If you download or upload copyrighted materials you are subject to a lawsuit. Lawsuits brought by the Recording Industry Association of America and the Motion Picture Association of America using this law have settled for between $4,000 and $5,000. This could be one of the many options Microsoft has available to them instead of issuing lifetime account and console bans.
Other previous, albeit failed attempts at regulation include the Senate’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its House of Representatives counterpart, the Protect IP Act (PIPA). Both pieces of legislation failed due to extensive online protest; including disapproval from the big kahuna, Google, who slated over 7 million signatures against the legislation. If SOPA had passed, it would have allowed copyright holders and the Justice Department to seek court injunctions against websites associated with copyright infringement. It meant that an entire website could be condemned without a trial or a traditional court hearing. Though Microsoft’s tactics are different, punishing the downloader, rather than the uploader, the promise of lifetime bans for user accounts and consoles is similar in severity to the would-be penalties in SOPA/ PIPA.
Its understandable that Microsoft would want to strike fear into the hearts of potential Internet pirates, however a lifetime ban would be inflicting a harsh penalty simply for downloading and playing a game that someone else leaked onto the Internet. To hardcore gamers a lifetime ban may actually be worse then getting sued and reaching a settlement. Many gamers work on their accounts and some even develop reputations and become identifiable to other gamers. A lifetime ban is the gamers version of a death sentence.
Although the gamers who moronically decided to play their pirated version of Gears of War: Judgment online probably deserve a lifetime ban for sheer stupidity, it doesn’t make Microsoft’s promise of a severe penalty necessary. My suggestion would be a 3-strike rule where in the 1st violation Microsoft issues a warning, the 2nd will result in a temporary suspension (3-6 months), and the 3rd violation would result in a “permanent suspension.”
No video game company, including Microsoft, wants to turn gamers away with harsh penalties. Therefore, there should be some consideration of the other avenues available to punish those stupid enough to play pirated versions of games online, without inflicting overly harsh penalties.