CD copyright protection sparks gaming furore

The use of physical copyright protection technology on compact discs has again created controversy – this time creating headaches for retailers and customers of a PC game distributed in Australia by Atari.

Atari (formerly Infogrammes/Ozisoft) recently released an extension disc to the popular PC game, Neverwinter Nights, called Shadows of Undrentide. Being an extension to what is already a very popular title, the extension sold well among retailers with 9000 units distributed in Australia.

Unfortunately for retailers of the extension, many customers took the title home only to find that it either froze their computer or did not work in CD/DVD-ROM drives.

Rob Beaumont, from Adelaide retailer Berlin Wall Software Supermarket, was inundated with complaints from customers after ordering in and selling around 100 copies of the extension. Testing the software on their own PCs, the retailer’s staff found that many if not most drives would not accept the extension.

Atari has attempted to dismiss the problem as a compatibility issue, not a fault, and has therefore issued no product recall. Mark Gilbert, group marketing manager for Atari said retailers made the company aware of the issue one day after release to the market.

“The game uses Securom copy protection which has some compatibility problems with a small number of CD-Rom drives and CD-Rom Writers,” he told ARN.

Gilbert said there was no need to warn consumers or retail partners about the copyright protection technology on the discs or the games’ packaging, as copyright protection on computer game software has become “standard practice”. Nor was there any need for a product recall he said, as the issue “has only affected a very small number of people that have incompatible CD or DVD drives.”

Atari has advised retailers to tell any customer with a complaint to contact Atari’s customer service department directly to obtain a fix, but has refused to send replacement discs to the retailers themselves. The vendor claims this was necessary in order to enable the company to establish the size and nature of the problem faster. “We now have a fix to this which we believe will help 99 per cent of affected consumers,” Gilbert said. “We believe all these steps have ensured minimal disruption to our retail partners’ businesses.”

Gilbert said Atari is in “constant review” of copyright protection technology but would not be drawn to comment on future use of the Securom technology that caused this particular problem.

The pros and cons of copyright protection aside, Atari’s attitude on the matter has ruffled the feathers of several retailers and gamers, who have voiced their complaints on a message board at a message forum at the website for the game’s publisher, Bioware. (http://nwn.bioware.com/forums/viewtopic.html?topic=231072&forum=49&sp=45#1941481).

Atari began emailing affected parties with a step-by-step fix for the problem during the investigation of this story.

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