Anti-piracy software firm Starforce has been accused of posting links to pirate copies of Stardock's PC strategy title Galactic Civilizations II on its official website, in the latest in a series of PR blunders for the controversial company.
The post, which has since been edited to remove the links to pirate software, was made in response to public comments from Stardock which argued that applying draconian protection measures to PC software was an ineffective way of reducing piracy.
Unlike many PC titles, Galactic Civilizations II has no copy protection - but Stardock has reported strong sales of the game, and believes that its decision not to place heavy restrictions on how people use the software has encouraged additional sales.
Instead, the company provides each copy of the game with a unique serial number which can be used to install multiple copies of the game (as long as only one is being played at once), to download regular updates from the developer, and even to re-download the entire game if the original CD is lost.
Moscow-based firm Starforce, however, clearly disagrees with Stardock's assertion that its lack of protection hasn't encouraged piracy - and while it has now removed the pirate software links from its site, the text of the original post remains.
"Right now several thousands of people are downloading the pirated version only from that web-site," the post reads. "Is it good for the sales? Unlikely."
Stardock responded to the astonishing move on the part of the copy protection firm in a remarkably measured fashion, by contacting the owners of the torrent website to which Starforce had linked and asking for the Galactic Civilizations II torrents to be removed (a request which was honoured within hours), and then by posting a follow-up explanation on their website.
"Our primary weapon to fight piracy is through rewarding customers through convenient, frequent, free updates," the firm explained.
"If you make it easy for users to buy and make full use of your product or service legitimately then we believe that you'll gain more users from that convenience than you'll lose from piracy."
The decision to post links to pirate software on its website isn't the first time that Starforce has made headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent months. The firm's software has also been the subject of calls for a user boycott of games using it for copy protection, following widespread reports that it could reduce the functionality of PC systems and even damage some hardware permanently, even after the game it was ostensibly protecting had been uninstalled.
The Starforce software's silent and unauthorised installation of a special device driver on users' systems drew particular ire from users, who reported problems ranging from crashes when audio CDs were placed in their drives to software issues that made CD and DVD burners unusable.
Starforce responded to reporting of the boycott and of the technical problem with legal threats, with one memorable example being a letter sent to Cory Doctorow, author and founder of the popular BoingBoing website, in which Starforce PR manager Dennis Zhidkov threatened to press charges, claiming that BoingBoing's reporting had violated "approximately 11 international laws" and claiming to have reported the site to the FBI for "harassment."