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Nintendo wins landmark court case against Lik-Sang

Popular importer ordered to pay significant damages and expenses.

Hong Kong based Lik-Sang, a mail order company which distributes videogame software and hardware worldwide, has lost a crucial court case brought by Nintendo over the sale of devices which could copy Game Boy software.

The ruling in the High Court of Hong Kong sees Lik-Sang ordered to cease distribution of the devices (Flash Cards and Flash Linkers), as well as paying Nintendo's legal expenses and preliminary damages of HK$5 million (€550 million), with final damages still be be decided. Lik-Sang had already ceased distribution of the devices, following the granting of an injunction against it in September 2002.

The court's ruling is a noteworthy one because in general, the law has previously targetted the pirates themselves rather than those who provide equipment which can be used for pirate purposes. Local Hong Kong copyright law, however, prevents people from selling video game copying devices - although this law has been enforced patchily at best in the past.

"With drugs, it is not aimed at the drug addict but at the drug trafficker," commented Judge William Waung in his statement on the case. "I have no doubt that the reason they [the copying devices] sell like hotcakes is because they delivered the means whereby a person would be able to steal the games of the plaintiffs [Nintendo] housed inside the Game Boy cartridge of the plaintiffs and then illegally put the stolen games onto the defendants' Flash Card."

Of course, there are legitimate uses for Flash Cards, in the field of homebrew game development - a growing niche interest area on the Game Boy Advance. However, Nintendo is unlikely to particularly care about dampening that particular sector, since at a corporate level homebrew development can be seen as sucking away precious revenues in much the same way as piracy; and besides, despite the protestations of some homebrew fans, the fact remains that the vast majority of Flash Linkers were used for piracy, not development.

Nintendo believes that it lost $650 million worth of sales as a result of piracy in 2002, with the United States entertainment industry as a whole reckoned to have lost $3 billion through piracy in the same year. Of course, these figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt, since they come from anti-piracy bodies and as such are likely to be rather inflated in order to emphasise the problem. However, even at that, those are huge numbers.

The effect of the ruling on Lik-Sang is not clear, and probably won't be until final damages are decided - however, it's not inconcievable that this ruling could drive the popular importer out of business, given the size of damages already announced.

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