Labour calls for law change to allow rental of computer games: An MP wants alteration to copyright legislation in the wake of brothers' courtroom victory over Nintendo. Susan Watts reports

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The Independent Online
THE Labour Party is calling for a change in copyright law to allow rental of computer games after the courtroom victory by two Britons over Nintendo, the Japanese giant.

In the US, enthusiasts can rent games such as those from Nintendo and Sega, the companies that dominate the market for computer games. In the UK, however, customers must pay the full price if they want to try out the latest Nintendo game. If a shop wants to rent out a Sega game, it must pay a licence fee of over pounds 400 and a premium of around pounds 5 on each game.

Nigel Griffiths, Labour's consumer affairs spokesman and MP for Edinburgh South, said the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988 restricted rental of some computer programmes. 'In my opinion, companies like Nintendo are therefore able to charge unjustifiably high prices, starting at around pounds 40 and going up to about pounds 120.'

Mr Griffiths said this situation could exploit British children, and called for government action. 'The law should be changed to protect the consumer, not the multi-million pound computer games industry,' he said.

Yesterday, in a formal statement, Nintendo UK said it had 'adopted a firm stance to prevent rental and retail outlets from offering Nintendo game packs illegally for hire.

'Under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act 1988, the renting of computer programmes such as Nintendo game packs is not allowed without prior permission of the copyright owner. Nintendo's policy is not to give permission to rent. With the law firmly on its side, Nintendo intends to rigorously pursue litigation wherever necessary.'

As part of his protest, Mr Griffiths is tabling an early day motion in the House of Commons on Monday to congratulate the British brothers from Warwickshire, Richard and David Darling, who won a pounds 10m judgment in the US Supreme Court against Nintendo. The company had tried to ban the sale of the Game Genie - a device the brothers invented that lets people change the level of difficulty of Nintendo and Sega computer games.

Yesterday, Richard Darling said the three-year court battle with Nintendo taught him the value of challenging the law when it is used to protect new technology. 'You have to be quite brave to be the person to get the legal advice that a product is safe and then go ahead. But then this kind of case is always going to be precedent-setting.'

Mr Darling, 26, said Nintendo swathed its products in legal protection, including patents and copyright, to try to ensure it kept maximum control over its intellectual property. But he said he believed that this sort of stance was being eroded as people challenged companies through the courts.

'We think Nintendo have done very well and have got a lot of good products. But in the last few years they have had an advantage that you don't normally get in business. A mature business where there is competition doesn't have what I consider to be inflated prices.'

The brothers have been entrepreneurs since their early teens. 'We were interested in making a business out of it from very early on. The games industry as a whole was really hotting up and starting to get exciting,' Richard said.

The boys' games business began when at 13 they got frustrated with the simplistic 'table tennis' computer games on offer. They dropped out of school early to devote their energies to full-time development of their entrepreneurial talents.

'It's hard to imagine now because computers are so commonplace, but at the time they were really the stuff of science fiction films . . . massive cabinets with flashing lights. If you were keen enough you could get a computer of your own for pounds 200 and try to program it. Programming is a form of artistic expression.'

The brothers are paper millionaires. Last year their 50-strong company, Codemasters, made a profit of nearly pounds 3m on an pounds 8m turnover.

(Photograph omitted)