Sony loses PlayStation modding battle

Sony has lost a legal ruling over the ‘chipping’ of PlayStation consoles. This is the practice whereby the games console is modded to enable it to play unauthorised versions of games.

An Australian court has confirmed that ‘chipping’ consoles did not breach the country’s copyright laws, reports Reuters.

The ruling is the latest twist in a long running battle between the Japanese electronics giant and an Australian businessman, who had modded consoles for customers in order for them to play cheaper overseas versions of PlayStation games.

The charge that Eddy Stevens faced was that by bypassing encrypted access codes he was infringing copyright protections. In the US, for example, the Digital Millennium Copyright act made it illegal to circumvent anti-piracy measures built into commercial products. In the UK, it has been made explicitly illegal to mod chips since July 2004. A landmark Hgh Court ruling declared that using mod chips to bypass the PS2’s technical protection is also unlawful, thus criminalizing anyone who knowingly uses PS2 mod chips. This was the first case of its kind brought after the UK’s adoption of the EU Copyright Directive in October 2003.

But Australia appears to have viewed things differently, with the case turning on the definition of ‘technological protection measures’.

According to the news agency, the court criticized Sony on the basis that its different access codes in PlayStations restricted both the rights of consumers and market competition. It rejected Sony’s claims that bypassing such codes was equivalent to circumventing copy protection, and confirmed the previous ruling of a Federal Court.

‘[The Court] accepted Justice Sackville’s construction of a “technological protection measure” as a device which denies access to a copyright work or which limits capacity to make copies of a work and thereby prevents or inhibits the undertaking of acts which would infringe copyright. The Court upheld the finding by Justice Sackville and the Full Court majority that computer programs are not reproduced in a material form in RAM and copies of cinematograph films are not made in RAM when games are played.’

You can read a pdf of the court ruling online at

Sony has long fought a battle against an unofficial ‘grey’ market for its powerful PlayStation console, which has helped spread ‘chipped’ versions.

Indeed, such is the widespread nature of the problem that at the end of 2004 Sony even traced large numbers of modded PlayStations back to a Chinese prison.

Following a five year investigation, Sony found that the productive prisoners were part of a criminal network turning around up to 50,000 modded PS2s a week. The company said that it discovered that 10 distributors were involved in the operation to sell on the machines.

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