The virtual universe of the online game “The Legend of Mir 2” is full of warriors, monks, assassins, and wizards, but in the real world, much of the game is run by pirates.
Usually, “Mir 2” players log in to official servers, which require fees to unlock certain parts of the game, but in China unofficial versions of the game that connect to cheaper, pirated servers are also available. The game developers lose income, and the pirates get the booty.
The game’s immensely popular but divided virtual world was the center of a recent court case heard by the Shanghai Intermediate People’s Court. The defendant, Wu Yunhua, was accused of copyright infringement for running “Mir 2” on pirate servers, which earned Wu 160,000 yuan ($23,000).
The court sentenced Wu to six months in jail, followed by six months of probation. It also ordered Wu to pay a 100,000-yuan fine, state news agency Xinhua reported Sunday.
“Legend of Mir 2” is a 2001 release developed by South Korean developers WeMade Entertainment Co. Ltd. Players navigate a virtual world, collect items, complete quests, and battle one another. Despite its relatively advanced age, the game has remained remarkably popular in China, where it is operated by Shanghai Shanda Network Development. In 2015, a mobile version became available through internet giant Tencent, which operates messaging apps QQ and WeChat.
Unauthorized servers steal a sizable chunk of the industry’s potential income: A 2011 estimate put pirate income at one-seventh the size of the legal market. In an attempt to outsmart pirates, Shanda in 2005 made the game free to play, earning money from in-game purchases only.
While Wu’s servers were located in the eastern Chinese province of Anhui and the southern province of Guangdong, the case was heard by a court in Shanghai. In an effort to centralize authority, a 2014 policy provided designated courts with expanded jurisdiction over internet companies’ intellectual property.
“They want the most experienced judges to handle this kind of case,” Liu Dan, an intellectual property consultant and lawyer with Elzaburu Consulting Company in Beijing, told Sixth Tone. “It’s a hot topic, and right now China wants to incentivize the protection of intellectual property.” Though the defendant confessed and paid 80,000 yuan in compensation to Shanda, the court sought to make a “model example” of the case, the Xinhua report said.
Pirate servers allow fraudsters to charge cheaper rates and even modify the game. A game like “Mir 2” is normally designed to require hours upon hours of game play, and to compel players to make in-game purchases on special items or features to reach the highest levels. But those running the program through a pirate server can easily circumvent the monotony of leveling up characters, making the game more attractive — and cheaper — to players.
In 2011, police in the southwestern city of Chongqing busted a piracy network called “The Knights of Attack” that operated as a portal for pirate servers and had netted gains of 70 million yuan. All told, the group advertised for almost 200 servers across China.
Last year, one of the men involved in the 2011 case, Hu Xiaowei, was arrested for reopening pirate servers for “The Legend of Mir 2.” His former lawyer said that for Hu, the opportunity to profit by using these servers was “more addictive than drugs.”
Contributions: Yin Yijun; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: A promotional image for the video game ‘The Legend of Mir 2.’ From the game’s official website.)