Ever since we have had gadgets, people have been finding alternate ways to use them, often unintended by the manufacturer. Rooted Androids, jailbroken iPhones, custom Firmwares for the PSP; I have even seen homemade NES games and flash carts for playing them on the original Nintendo. Most of these modifications are innocent, such as a rooted Android, thus giving a user full access to their device. At first that seems reasonable enough – allowing you to make your device do what you want, why not? But often people make mischief, and ruin a good thing with bad intentions.
Console modding may very well become a criminal offense in the near future. This last Tuesday, a trial began in Southern California that could begin the creation of a much larger definition as to what a person is legally allowed to do with the products they buy.
Matthew Crippen, a 28 year old man, has been charged with violating the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, by installing mod chips into peoples XBOX 360’s. It seems that he had a pretty decent business of it too. What is a “mod chip” you ask? Let me see if I can break it down.
Mod chips are electronic chips designed to circumvent a devices normal circuitry, often to bypass security “checkpoints” in the programming. In short terms, the system no longer checks to see if the game is a legal copy, or in some cases a disc is no longer even needed, and almost any content can then be run on the device. I remember knowing a guy growing up, with a region-free modded PlayStation. He had purchased the mod kit online, and installed it himself just so he could play Japanese RPGs on his North American PSX. Why he felt it necessary to pay the exorbitant importing fees, just to play Clock Tower: The First Fear, I don’t think we will ever know. I mean, it was an OK series… but really? That was a pricey purchase just for a game! (I think in the end, it was like over $100) – – (read a Wiki HERE to learn more about the history of mod chips and their purpose)
I always saw that as a perfectly sensible thing to want to do, but as I said, there are bad apples, every time. These chips evolved to primarily allow people to make media copies of games, and play them like a store purchased title. This is better known as PIRACY, and I cannot stress enough how much this pisses me off! Now I told myself I wouldn’t go on a rant (and I won’t), but I really don’t like thieves. Modding your device so you have features the device should already have – *cough* iPhone *cough* – is one thing, but modifying the device in an effort to deprive the software designers of their well deserved paycheck, while you enjoy the efforts of their hard work… Yeah, I hope you burn in hell! That is a messed up way to appreciate someone.
How does this all pertain to the case? Well, what exactly defines “legal modifications”? We don’t know, the law isn’t really clear, and that is why this guy’s case is such a big deal. Recently, there were laws created protecting iProduct users right to “jailbreak” their devices, but how does that apply to a persons rights to modify another device through similar software modifications (aka “Soft Mods”), or to go so far as to alter the hardware all together? What is legal to do, and what is going to land you in jail for aiding and abetting, or committing software piracy? I really don’t think this is so hard to define, in fact it should be common sense! The mod chips this man was installing were intended to allow pirated games/unlicensed software to be run on the machine, and that was wrong.
I realize this subject is much bigger than this one guy, and that there are many legitimate reasons to modify a system, and many people still pay for software even though they could just as easily steal it (This is actually part of the guy’s defense in court). It seems that this case is such a complicated mess of legal definition that even the judge is having trouble understanding it all. I strongly believe in both sides of the argument, but I know that the people making poor choices will likely be the reason this situation will become a criminal offense for everyone. I guess the easiest way to avoid ending up facing a 5-10 stretch, is to just wait until the system isn’t on the market anymore. I mean, really, who cares if you run custom software on your Dreamcast, the thing is ANCIENT!! I could ramble on and on about both sides, all night, but I promised NO RANTING, and I have said enough already.
Read the original article on Wired.com and this follow-up article, and let me know how you all feel about this subject. I know it is a really complicated one, but I am interested to see how this all pans out, and what it spells for the mod scene. Again, I absolutely do not advocate piracy, in any way! I am, however, an advocate for reasonable customization. What do you think?
The trial was dropped after less then a week, though it really wasn’t related to the issue at hand. The prosecution really mishandled the pre-trial proceedings, and botched their case in doing so.
Read HERE for the update news.
<seriously, nobody likes a thief, you sticky fingered bastards>