Sega announced Thursday it had crushed more than 60 illegal Web sites and 125 auction sites selling pirated versions of its Dreamcast games which, until recently, was viewed as one of the most secure digital entertainment systems on the market.
“Sega supports a creative community of talented artists. Pirates are parasites that hurt this community and will not be tolerated by Sega,” said Peter Moore, president and chief operating officer of Sega of America Inc.
“This is just the first step in an even bigger action the company will undertake to stop this problem. We will continue to take aggressive steps to protect our business, consumers and the creative talent we have at Sega.”
Sega of America Inc. is a division of Sega Enterprises Ltd. of Japan.
In attacking Dreamcast, the pirates were taking on what many industry analysts regarded as the Fort Knox of online intellectual properties — equipped with far more complex protections than the relatively simple music, film and video files targeted by controversial services like Napster and Scour.
Sega’s Dreamcast system features both internal copy protection and a proprietary “GD-ROM” compact disc capable of storing almost twice as much data as an ordinary disc.
But earlier this month a shadowy group of computer hackers dubbed “Utopia” announced it had managed not only to copy Dreamcast games on to normal CDs, but also had developed “boot disc” software which would trick Sega’s own hardware into playing the pirated versions.
Since then, several dozen Dreamcast titles have been released on the Internet and traded on underground networks, such as Internet Relay Chat (IRC).
Sega said Thursday it was working closely with Yahoo! Lycos, Excite, eBay and Amazon to shut down auctions by people attempting to sell illegal games and pirated “boot” disks.
Going After the Big Guys
Charles Bellfield, Sega’s director of communications, said the company’s drive against the Internet trade of pirated versions of Dreamcast marked one of the first times that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 had been used to go after the Web hosting companies and Internet Service Providers used by pirate traders.
“We’ve done the first level, which is cease and desist orders to auction companies and also to Web hosting companies. If they do not comply then legal prosecutions will start,” Bellfield said.
“This is the first time this act has been used not just to stop piracy, but also physical sales over the Internet,” Bellfield continued. “It is the first time that Web hosting companies and Web auction sites are being held accountable for the contents of what is being sold.”
Doug Lowenstein, president of the Interactive Digital Software Association, said Sega’s attack on Internet copycats was an example of a new willingness to hit back at a pirate trade that cost the industry more than $3.2 billion in 1998, the latest year for which figures are available.
“Piracy is one of the biggest business threats our industry faces, and Internet piracy is especially virulent,” he said.
Since noticing the first cracks in Dreamcast’s armor, Sega has stepped up work to close software loopholes, Bellfield said, adding that CD space limitations meant that only a handful of the company’s Dreamcast offerings were capable of being illegally copied.
“There are only certain games which they’ve been able to pirate here. They haven’t been able to pirate all of our content,” Bellfield noted. “Looking ahead, both technical and legal measures will minimize the risk … and Sega will be extremely aggressive against people who try any kind of piracy.”