Exclusive Zuxxez, the German games software distributor, has hired lawyers to chase down about 500 British file sharers, launching the first in a series of swoops by computer forensic experts.
Law firm Davenport Lyons will use this case, its first "volume" job to stalk file sharers, to launch a specialist practice. A partner at the firm, who preferred to remain anonymous for "security reasons" said Davenport had other publishers in the pipeline.
File sharers were reported under court orders served on 18 ISPs at Davenport's request after computer forensic experts associated their IP addresses as sources for downloaders of Dream Pinball 3D, a computer game that's unleashed in the UK - it goes on sale in June.
Letters sent to 500 file sharers in recent weeks recommended paying a £600 fine for sharing the £16.99 computer game on a peer-to-peer file sharing networks. Failure to pay would result in prosecution and potential court costs of "tens of thousands of pounds".
Harry Bilbao, who has received a letter from Davenport, dated 6 March, which accused him of file sharing, said in an email to The Register: "BIG problem is... I have no clue when it comes to law, I have no idea where I stand. Can you help?"
He said he had no knowledge of the game, had found there was a virus on his computer, had appealed against the threat and supplied evidence that there were viruses around that could commandeer your machine.
"I have looked for the game on my computer and I don't have it... And I don't remember ever playing it as I don't like pinball," he wrote.
Davenport replied in a letter dated 21 March: "In relation to your claim that your computer was hacked into, we regret that the security of your computer is not our concern. It is your responsibility to ensure that your computer is protected at all times."
The law firm gave Bilbao seven days to pay and sign a declaration promising never to share computer games again.
Davenport has a phone service for people worried about the threatened action, but the firm has told staff not to tell anyone their names. The letters they send out are not named.
A Davenport partner told The Register: "We don't give out names to infringers because we don't want to end up getting abuse on the phone."
The partner, and another who spoke about the campaign, said they were also worried about being threatened or spammed, and were worried about the welfare of their female employees.
But they admitted that the only calls that gave them concern had been ones from people demanding that they "speak with the engineer and not the oily rag".
In one instance, a file sharer had appeared at Davenport's offices, he said, although in this case it was a woman who just wanted some answers.
The partner refused to say how much his firm was being paid for pursuit of the file sharers, but the letter sent to them said £250 of the £600 fine being levied against them was to cover the solicitor's fee.
Dirk Hassinger, sales director at Zuxxez Entertainment AG, which holds the European licence for Dream Pinball 3D, said it had tried to find lawyers prepared to charge low fees because he didn't want to "bankrupt" file sharers. ®