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Koei wins China lawsuit over pirated 'Three Kingdoms' games

Operator of website 3DM forced to end distribution and pay $230,000

Chinese website operator 3DM inserted its own name on a bootleg version of a "Samurai Warriors" game, right above Koei Tecmo's copyright. (Photo courtesy of Koei Tecmo Holdings)

TOKYO -- Japan's Koei Tecmo Games has received over $200,000 in damages from a website that unlawfully distributed a popular video game in China for free, halting the piracy in a case that may aid other companies struggling with copyright laws in the country.

Koei said it released "Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIII" in Taiwan in late January 2016 through legitimate channels, but found that the game was illegally uploaded by Chinese website 3DM, which is suspected of distributing pirated versions of many games. Website records show the new game was downloaded 1.6 million times a day after it appeared on 3DM, according to Koei.

The Japanese company took 3DM's operator to a Beijing intellectual property court in May 2016, alleging copyright infringements of five video game series including "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" and "Samurai Warriors." Koei demanded that the website cease distribution and that the operator pay damages.

Koei sends over 100 warning notices per year for pirated games in China, but this was the first time it brought a case to court.

The court ruled in favor of Koei in September 2017. The 3DM website operator appealed to a higher Beijing court, which upheld the decision in May. The order that the Chinese company end distribution and pay damages of 1.62 million yuan ($233,000 at current rates) became finalized when it chose not to appeal further.

Liable parties often have failed to pay compensation in China, but Koei acknowledged receiving payment from 3DM.

The amount of ill-gotten profits from the unlicensed use of the games was difficult to determine, as the website likely receives revenue from advertisements and pirated downloads are free. The court's awarding of damages means that it "recognized [3DM's] maliciousness," said Yoshifumi Onodera, a lawyer representing Koei.

But Koei's legal costs surpassed the compensation for damages.

"We put profitability aside," said Tomotoshi Nishimura, an executive officer at parent company Koei Tecmo Holdings. "We were able to appeal for strict punishment of infringement cases."

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