Console Modification Now Illegal in the UK

Bad news for gamers who like to play import titles on their consoles – the UK high court has ruled that it is illegal to sell, advertise or even possess mod chips for commercial purposes. Mod chips are small circuits used to circumvent region locking schemes on consoles, but can also be used to defeat copy protection systems.

The ruling came from a case against David Ball – it was judged that the trader acted unlawfully by selling 1,500 Messiah 2 mod chips, under the new European Union Copyright Directive. The EUCD is seen by some as even more restrictive to consumer rights than the American Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The case was brought against Mr Ball by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

Mod chips are used by gamers to play import games – many prized Japanese games do not see a release in the UK, or are months behind. Often a mod chip is the only way that a gamer can have the opportunity to play a title from another market. Animal Crossing is a splendid, released in Japan two years ago, the game is only just getting a European release – and only after campaigns and protests to Nintendo convinced them to release it. Needless to say I myself have been happily playing the game for some months.

“This case, together with the recent successful criminal case against chippers in Belgium, confirms in the clearest possible terms that Sony Computer Entertainment Europe has the right to protect the illegal infringement of our intellectual property rights, and those of third party game developers,” said SCEE president David Reeves. “We are sending a clear message to manufacturers and distributors of mod chips throughout the PAL territories that we will continue to pursue legal action against them.”

Implementations of the EUCD tend to be inconsistent however – Sony recently lost a case in Spain and an Italian court recently ruled that it was up to the console owner what they did with their console, not the manufacturer – and indeed ruled that the chips are essential to preventing monopolies.


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Fraser Lovatt

Fraser Lovatt has spent the last fifteen years working in publishing, TV and the Internet in various capacities, and believes that they will be seperate platforms for at least a while yet. His main interests at the moment are exploring where Linux is taking home entertainment and how technology is conferring technical skills on more and more people. Fraser Lovatt was born in the same year that 2001: A Space Odyssey was delighting and confusing people in the cinemas, and developed a lifelong love of technology as soon as he realised that things could be taken apart, sometimes put back together again, but mostly left in bits or made into something the original designer hadn't quite planned upon. At school he was definitely in the ZX Spectrum/Magpie/BMX camp, rather than the BBC Micro/Blue Peter/well-behaved group. This is all deeply ironic as he later went on to spend nine years working at the BBC. After a few years of working as a bookseller in Scotland, ("Back when it was actually a skilled profession" he'll tell anyone still listening), he moved to England for reasons he can't quite explain adequately to himself. After a couple of publishing jobs punctuated by sporadic bursts of travelling and photography came the aforementioned nine years at the BBC where he specialised in internet technologies and video. These days his primary interests are Java, Linux, videogames and pies - and if they're not candidates for convergence, then what is?