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UK High Court Rules Modchips Illegal 987

Posted by timothy
from the perfectly-reasonable-don'tcha-think dept.
PhotoBoy writes "The Register has an article about the UK's High Court ruling PlayStation 2 modchips to be illegal. This means all homebrew and hobbyist coders in the UK can no longer modify their consoles to run games they have written. Gamers who like to mod their consoles to play games on import early are also out of luck. It's like saying you can't modify your car or your house or your clothes! Would Ford sue you for removing the rev limiter from your Focus?"
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UK High Court Rules Modchips Illegal

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  • by Samir Gupta (623651) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:02PM (#9762337) Homepage
    It seems the UK court ruled on the basis that modchips can be used to circumvent copy protection by allowing the use of recordable media. However, the other use of modchips is to play purchased import games, and there exist so-called "anti-piracy" modchips that allow the latter, while disallowing the former.

    Bypassing region codes (as opposed to copy protection) is certainly not illegal, at worst, ambiguous under UK law -- for example, the vast majority of DVD players sold in the UK are modded to be region free as well.
  • car safety (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gears5665 (699068) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:05PM (#9762377)
    well, modifying a car involves the safety of the people around you and should be illegal if this is illegal. The problem always lies in enforcement. So many stupid laws aren't enforeced as it is. Why not just add another.
  • by afidel (530433) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:05PM (#9762379)
    Since region free and Macrovision free players are so plentiful in Europe that they are sold in supermarkets I wonder what would happen if this logic were applied to DVD players?
  • Re:No. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by iamacat (583406) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:05PM (#9762387)
    You mean they wouldn't sue you if you just killed their little girl with a regular, unmodded car?

    More likely, government will have a beef with you for flunking smog test, noise standards or some safety parameter. Bill Gates had to go through a lot of trouble to import his dream car once.
  • by mblase (200735) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:07PM (#9762411)
    It's like saying you can't modify your car or your house or your clothes!

    Modchips serve one purpose: to circumvent technology designed to keep your box from playing pirated or otherwise illegal software. So it's really more like saying you can't modify your car to violate local pollution laws, or that you can't modify your house to violate zoning regulations.
  • by flossie (135232) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:09PM (#9762426) Homepage
    Given that the judge ruled that mod chips are illegal due to the European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD) and that other EU nations (Italy, Spain) have already ruled the chips to be legal, is there any scope for this ruling to be challenged in a higher court because of misinterpretation of the directive?
  • Is that PS2 only? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KDR_11k (778916) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:09PM (#9762431)
    I wonder if this ruling also affects Gamecube modchips? After all, the GC copy protection hasn't been cracked by modchips and the only thing the chips do is circumvent the region lockout (can be done with a certain disk too). I wonder if region lockout is also considered a "copy protection" under the EUCD.
  • Huh? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cK-Gunslinger (443452) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:09PM (#9762436) Journal
    It's like saying you can't modify your car or your house or your clothes!

    No it's not! You can still paint your car, add a garage to your house, and rip holes your clothes. But you can't put missle launchers on your car, coat your house with crack cocaine, or staple dead babies to your shirt.

    Similarly, you can paint your PS2, add NO2 stickers, and attach a bobble-head doll on it. But you can't purchase MOD chips. See? =P

    Anyway, I was just pointing out that the submitter got a little carried away with his/her outrage and over-generalization...
  • Swap Disks..? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by maskedbishounen (772174) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:10PM (#9762450)
    I have a flip-top case on my PS2, so I can pop it open, drop in a swap disc, and play my imported games. It can also be used for "back-ups", though (never tried it, personally). Would such a system also be ruled illegal? I'd assume so, but there's no physical "modification" except for replacing the case.

    There's also another little swap disk solution which involves removing the CD cover and using a little plastik hook to force the drive open. No "modification" there, just a bit of removal. Still illegal?

    I'd be quite interesting to know the court's thoughts on these.
  • by thewldisntenuff (778302) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:11PM (#9762458) Homepage
    The Messiah chips were offered as a way to allow UK PS2s not only to play legitimate US and Japanese games, but pirated titles and back-up copies made by users, which Sony forbids in the UK.

    What the hell? Does Sony allow this kind of crap anywhere else? I suppose they don't forbid this kind of use in Japan, eh? Don't want to piss off the local markets.....

    Rant aside, I don't see the problem with modchips. People still buy the games, and no one really loses out at all. If you like screwing over your customers, I guess this is a surefire way to go....
  • Re:Don't Forget (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shawn(at)fsu (447153) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:22PM (#9762606) Homepage
    This story has the typical /. slant. I wonder what the numbers are for people who use a mod chip to develop homebrew games vs. those who use it to pirate games. I'd be willing to bet that the percentage has to be very very small. I already see the replies about "just because it can be used to do something illegal doesn't mean that it should be illegal to own"

    I think we need to face the facts many people use mod chips to pirate software, as the law stands right now pirating software is wrong and IMHO rightly so, many of the people who alter their direct TV box do it to obtain channels without paying for them which is also illegal. people who use fully automatic weapons don't use it to hunt wildlife, the list goes on. I think benefits need to outweigh the potential for abuse, sure you could use a mod chip to make your won games and sure you could use an ak47 to hunt deer but I think we need to face up to the facts that most people who use these items aren't using them for legal purpose and until we all mature to the point where we aren't using them for legal purposes they will and should remain illegal.
  • Re:Don't Forget (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Abcd1234 (188840) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:29PM (#9762694) Homepage
    Okay...

    1) If I purchase a piece of equipment, it is my right as the owner of that equipment to do what I please with it. This includes bashing it with a baseball bat, ripping it apart for it's components, or chipping it.

    2) The people who are distributing these games, and the people who are downloading them, are breaking the law. Your average homebrewer is not. Otherwise, why not outlaw the Internet for making distribution of these games possible? Or CD burners for making it possible to play these games? Hell, why not outlaw VCRs for making movie piracy possible?

    3) Despite the use of baseball bats in crimes, they are not illegal. Why? Because, like the Internet, CD burners, and VCRs, they have substantial, non-infringing uses. Making "backup copies" of games is, in fact, an excellent example of non-infringing use. I can't tell you how often I've scratched a CD beyond playability. The ability to reburn that CD (whether it be a game, music, etc) is invaluable to many people. And that doesn't include all the other things a modchip can be used for.
  • In Asmovs robot stories, it was illegal to perform maintenence/certain modifications a robot because US Robotics never sold their robots, they leased them and retained the rights to those actions themselves.

    Microsoft and other software companies retain the rights for copying and modifying their code for the similar reasons. They don't sell you the product, they give you a license to use their product.

    This is worse than either of those instances because in those cases, a contract/license agreement is icluded and uderstood at the time of the purchase.

    Have we already entered the age when posession of property is no longer assumed by law to belong to the purchaser?

    Or, to put it differently, are we seeing the end of our right to own property?
  • Re:bah (Score:3, Interesting)

    by maximilln (654768) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @03:31PM (#9762723) Homepage Journal
    Once I buy something, it's mine

    I didn't want to get into the argument about what mod chips are used for, or the argument about rights of companies vs. rights of consumers, or the argument about whose best interest copyright laws are really in. It all really boils down to this point.

    Is it really ethical for Company A to lobby for legislation which prevents any anonymous consumer from purchasing Product B? Is it really ethical for Company A to lobby for legislation to prevent any anonymous consumer from physically connecting Product A with Product B?

    This isn't about houses (building safety codes), or cars (transportation safety). There is nothing physically harmful about a silicon chip and there's no significant threat in a soldering iron for most people. Regardless of the usage of these mod chips why is it a crime to be in possession of case of 5000 of them? This is not about guns which are easily used as weapons.

    This is clearly political graft by a corporation to cement in its ability to continue to ride inflated prices. These are taxpayer dollars being allocated to the benefit of a corporation where any profit will be unscrupulously raided by the CEO, executive board, VPs and major shareholders before the janitor ever sees a $0.10 raise.

    If Sony is worried about piracy why not do what the rest of the industry does: DRM the software.
  • by kaybee (101750) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @04:11PM (#9763199) Homepage

    Would Ford sue you for removing the rev limiter from your Focus?
    I wouldn't give them any ideas -- I'm sure they would like to... and I wouldn't be surprised if it became illegal to do so one day...

  • Interesting note: the bone to pick is actually with the "is" as opposed to a more correct "are." The way it's written, the only correct meaning is that the sale/advertisement/commercial/use IS illegal--that is, the singular "is" defines the set as one action, and so doing them together is illegal, but individually doesn't meet the judgement's criteria for illegality. If the judge had written "are," then it would be clear that the sale and adv. (et al) are illegal, whether done together or not. This is all regardless of whether there is an "or" or an "and."

    Just thought you looked like a guy that cared about his grammar :)
  • by MacGod (320762) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @04:19PM (#9763277)

    How is this a big blow to piracy? Piracy was _already_ illegal. What does making a potential piracy tool illegal accomplish? Is piracy somehow now "more" illegal now that the digital equivalent of a lockpick has been outlawed?

    It doesn't make it "more" illegal, but I'll bet it makes the mod chips much harder to find, thus making the illegally-burned games that much more difficult to play.

    It also means that careful pirates, who keep their bootlegs hidden, can still be busted just for owning a modchipped console. To use your analogy, if you're caught with a lockpick, you can still be arrested, even if you're not breaking into a house at the time.

    And those who get caught with the games can have an additional charge added on (posession of the modchip). So while it isn't more illegal, it might mean stiffer fines for those caught.

  • by phorm (591458) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @05:42PM (#9764221) Journal
    While I don't know a lot of people using modchips in order to play customized or homebrew games, there are quite a few that use them for copied games of owned originals.

    I myself just finished dumping a bunch of my old PS1 games to ISO images. The images will go on a single DVD, and I can use them on my emulators etc without the original. I still own the original so I haven't deprived anyone of a sale (and no bitching about legality of emulators, I have a PS2 it's just not as portable as a laptop).

    Unfortunately, I'm too late for two of the disks as a few bad sectors bork the extraction on them - however I'm getting a copy of those off emule.

    Gee, look at that. I'm downloading copyrighted material, ripping copyrighted material, using an emulator... I could even use a modchip for that - and ya know what NO "PIRACY" HAS OCCURED because I bought and paid for the original media.

    If half the people with modchips do any of the above, I'd say there are a lot of legitimate cases of use. So unless you've got proof that everyone using these is definately pirating, I'd suggest that your eyes might be clearer if your head wasn't up your rear end.
  • *ring* *ring* (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Fortyseven (240736) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @06:07PM (#9764460) Homepage Journal
    While you were out, Jack Valenti called from 1982. He said he wants his argument back [google.com].

    He's also wants to hire you as his star witness against the VCR.

    Go get 'em, Tiger!
  • Re:So what? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cc_pirate (82470) on Wednesday July 21, 2004 @11:29PM (#9766615)
    You are either an absolute idiot or someone who doesn't have a clue about history, even incredibly RECENT history.

    Some objective facts that are PROVABLE:

    All governments lie to their subjects.

    All governments become bad/corrupt over time, requiring their removal if citizens want to keep their rights.

    Amendment II
    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    "No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms." (Jefferson Papers, p. 334, C.J. Boyd, 1950)
    "The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government." (Thomas Jefferson Papers p. 334, 1950)
    "And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms...The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants." Letter to William S. Smith 13 Nov 1787 (Jefferson, On Democracy p. 20, 1939; Padover, editor)

    " Defenseless people around the world killed in the 20th Century in part because they had no means of self defense (gun control) - 56 million. This total does not even take into consideration the recent genocides occurring in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia." - Unknown

    "Number of physicians in the US = 700,000
    Accidental deaths caused by physicians per year = 120,000
    Accidental deaths per physician = 0.171 (U.S. Dept. of Health & Human
    Services)

    Number of gun owners in the US = 80,000,000
    Number of accidental gun deaths per year = 1,500 (all age groups)
    Accidental deaths per gun owner = 0.0000188 (U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
    & Firearms)
    Therefore, doctors are approximately 9,000 times more dangerous than gun
    owners." -Taken from the Benton County News Tribune of November 17, 1999.

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