Swap service founder vows to boot copyright violators

Sega is planning legal action to remove its video games from a new Napster-like file-swapping site, but the site's founder says he's planning to bar any illegal swapping activity.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Sega is planning legal action to remove its video games from a new Napster-like file-swapping site, but the site's founder is changing the nature of the service and says he'll bar any people caught illegally swapping software.

Sega has shut down 220 game-sharing sites in the last 10 days, and the new Swapoo service, formerly called RomNet, is no different, said Sega spokesman Charles Delfield.

"This would be considered one of the sites we would be going after. We will do everything possible under the law to shut them down," he said of the profusion of Internet sites that allow the distribution of copyrighted Sega games.

But Swapoo founder Jeffrey Freeman said that today he's changing the nature of the service, moving away from swapping the "ROM" (read-only memory) games used for video game consoles and barring people who violate rules against sharing copyrighted programs.

"We are no longer associated with game ROMs," Freeman said. "If a user is found to be sending illegal files, Swapoo will boot them."

Freeman, a 17-year-old Philadelphia resident and student at Camden County College, built Swapoo for his own entertainment and to have something good to put on his resume. The attention his site has drawn has been a surprise, he said.

Earlier this week, games available for Sega's older Genesis console included "Sonic the Hedgehog," "Golden Axe" and "Afterburn." Other games were available for Nintendo's Game Boy and Nintendo 64 gaming consoles as well. These games can be played on ordinary personal computers using emulation software.

Swapoo doesn't have a means of detecting what types of files are being swapped. Freeman plans to add a filter as soon as possible that will screen out illegal file types.

Freeman said no video game companies have contacted him yet. He has hired an attorney and plans to incorporate Swapoo on Monday, he said.

Sega's first approach in these cases is to contact the company hosting the Web site, Delfield said. When faced with the choice of going after "a 17-year-old who posted a site or a large corporation who would be financially liable if they do not remove this content, I think it's beneficial to go after the hosting company," he said.

Swapoo changed its name from RomNet because there's already a company with that name. The Massachusetts-based product development, marketing and support firm RomNet exerted legal pressure of its own, Freeman said.

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Sega has more than 10 people working to shut down the unauthorized distribution of Sega games, Delfield said, including personnel in the United States, Europe and Asia. "The borders of the U.S. are no barrier," he said.

The sharing of the content violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, he said. And unlike the Napster music-sharing service, there is no equivalent of the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992, which permits the copying of music a person already owns. "The video game market doesn't have such an act that allows a consumer to do that," Delfield said.

Sega, drawing on the opinion of a federal judge who ruled against Napster, believes it doesn't matter whether a service hosts files itself or, like Napster, enables "peer-to-peer" sharing of files among users of the site, he said.

Sega has noCourt: Let Napster music play on choice but to shut down all unauthorized file-sharing sites. "If we do not take a stance, we are essentially condoning this behavior. We need to protect the community of talented artists and developers we have at Sega and the content they're developing," Delfield said. "Obviously this effects the profitability and sustainability of the developers we currently support. Sega, and the industry in general, will not allow this to continue."

Sega and Amazon.com earlier this week announced that Amazon is searching its Zstore auctions "to automatically remove any content they feel is of a pirated nature," Delfield said.

Sega recognizes piracy never will vanish completely. "Within a certain core audience, we will never stop it," Delfield said. "We want to stop it becoming a mainstream consumer activity."