Mod Chips Found Legal In The UK

from the mod-away dept

For many years, we’ve wondered why some folks considered the process of mod chipping to be illegal. After all, if you own a device, why shouldn’t you be able to modify it? It’s not illegal to modify your computer, so why would it be illegal to modify a game console? Well, thanks to the DMCA in the US, the question wasn’t entirely clear — because console makers use encryption, they consider any modification to be a circumvention of that encryption, and the DMCA has that pesky anti-circumvention clause. In the US, it’s become even more bizarre, with federal officials taking up the cause and fining mod chippers while claiming (seriously) that mod chipping was a national security issue.

Luckily, it looks like the courts in Europe are a lot more reasonable about all of this. A few years back, we noted that an Italian court ruled that mod chips were perfectly legal (Update: Well, darn. As a commenter notes, the Italian decision was later overturned). And, now, a tipster alerts us to the news that a UK appeals court has found the same thing, tossing out all of the charges against a mod chip seller, noting that mod chips do not circumvent copy protection systems. Not only that, but the defendant was awarded legal fees. This is a big deal, as the lower court had found the guy, Neil Higgs, guilty for selling mod chips he had imported from Hong Kong. So, now that’s Italy and the UK that recognizes modifying your gaming consoles shouldn’t be illegal. Anyone else?

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Comments on “Mod Chips Found Legal In The UK”

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alex (profile) says:

i get the feeling we’re having such issues with copyright, overzealous company lawyers and rock-bottom stupid politicians because they, for the most part, are significantly older than the generations that have grown up with digital media instead of analog. theyre still trying to apply physical constraints to virtual products because they cant wrap their tiny little minds around the concept of infinite goods.

as for modding, and the whole gaming industry in general, i see no reason why their products should be “illegal” to reverse engineer, take apart, or modify.

is someone going to sue me if i take apart a tennis racket to figure out how they made it, and then make it better?

PaulT (profile) says:

Of course, the game industry could do a lot to stop mod chips from being sold just by being fair to their customers. For example, it’s not unusual to have to wait 6 months for a game so that it can be translated into 5 European languages. English speakers are blocked from simply importing the US release instead of waiting because of region coding. So, a lot of people get their consoles modded so that they can play import releases – not pirate copies, legit releases from other parts of the world.

Remove the ridiculous, unnecessary region coding from consoles and demand for the chips will drop.

chris (profile) says:

the national security issue

i used to think that was laughable until i read “little brother”.

it’s changed the way i look at homebrew software forever.

also, the problem with modchips isn’t piracy or even technical restrictions, after all you can play pretty much any conslole game ever invented in an emulator on a PC and not bother with modchips at all.

the issue is loss leadership. if you sell a console at a loss, then if someone buys your consoles strictly for homebrew purposes, without buying any of your high profit margin games, then you have lost money. it’s better to sell your console at cost or at a small profit and fully embrace the homebrew community since they create incentive to buy your consoles. everyone will be better off.

Chronno S. Trigger says:

Re: the national security issue

Not necessarily. Think about the “long tail”.

A few years ago my dad got his choice of a free Xbox or Gamecube. He doesn’t care about console games so he asked me which one I wanted. I said initially the Gamecube because it had more games that I wanted to play at the time. He said that he heard that one could mod an Xbox and put Linux on it. I’m not a fan of Linux but I’m a huge fan of making something do something it’s not supposed to do, I got the Xbox. I now have an Xbox360, 3 controllers for both boxes, remotes for both, the 360 camera, had XBLG, and I have over 60 games. All because I could mod an Xbox.

Jawdy says:

Re: Re: the national security issue

I did hear a little story before the release of the 360, which I take with a pinch of salt, but is a nice idea none-the-less.
As far as the story goes, an intern at Microsoft brought in his modded Xbox, which could do FTP, different codec playback and all sorts of other goodies – of course there was the piracy-circumvention thing in there too. Anyway, what is “supposedly” what happened was that Mr Gates became aware of this modded box and rather than flipping out said “How can we attract this market?”. How indeed, but then I suppose we wouldn’t have XNA for PC or 360, probably wouldn’t have WiiWare… or any other of the “official-homebrew” SDK’s.

As for the ruling – hoo-f’in-ray! I completely agree that the chips and modding should be legal, it’s whether the user then furthers the action by downloading/burning/purchasing/selling pirated material. If that’s the case, then get the user NOT the tool!

Bob says:

I don’t really want to get into a Console vs PC debate, but this is one of the reasons I’m clinging to my PC. I own a 360 and I hate it. I hate paying for Live, I am not impressed with the graphics (Vs PC) and the unmodibility. Why can’t I upgrade my storage, or add better video or cooling?

But it is not all roses here in PC land. Looking at Mass effect, EA was gracious enough to allow my to change my system three time. So if I re-install my OS or swap out to a bigger chunk of RAM in the future, I’m going to burn an activation of Mass Effect. I’m sorry, I thought when I place place the order for the parts and supplied my CC to newegg, I was purchasing those parts for myself. My mistake Mr EA… Seriously: it is my friggin PC, if I wasn’t to re-install my OS I will M***** F****r!!. Idiots wonder why we pirate the shit, *sarcastic tone* it has nothing to do with having control over the game we purchased or even the PC we assembled.

Someone has to start stepping up for the rights of us consumers already. Everything from movies, TV shows, video games, we are getting screwed.

Just Me says:

Why should it be illegal? Ad mentioned it’s not illegal to “mod” a vehicle.
I just bought a house last year, is it illegal for me to expand my deck in my own backyard? What if I was to knock down a wall inside?

I get the warranty invalidation issue – naturally they should be off the hook for a warranty if you mod a device (being outside what they say you are allowed to do), but aside from voiding your warranty why should there be any further restrictions??

If it’s a “circumvention” issue for copyright then maybe they need to look at each mod chip separately; does this chip circumvent encryption? If yes – maybe they have a case, if no then it’s legal.
End of story.

If I can buy a chip that lets me play (unencrypted) PS/PS2 games on my PS3 (hypothetical) then what’s illegal about that? Especially if I already OWN the games.

Nobody says:

No. 9...

Actually, it might be illegal for you to expand that deck or take down that wall.

Before doing any structural changes an existing property you have to get permits. If they deny the permits you can’t legally make the changes. If you make the changes without the permits, then you can’t sell the home until you get the unauthorized changes approved and pay penalties/fines/fees or remove that extension/replace that wall.

Do I think it is right?

Yes, but only to the extent that it is used to protect a person from serious injury or financial harm caused by an idiot that either ripped out something that was a load support, or building something that is going to fall apart.

What if you never plan to sell?

Well, with a house you can not really guarantee that the property won’t change hands for one reason or another.

Other than that, I agree completely with the rest of your post.

The Team (profile) says:

If I own it, why can't I tweak it?

Wouldn’t it be a simple fix for US manufacturers to place a clear warning on both the inside & outside of whatever device – that modification voids any real or implied warranties, if there is so much “risk” .. ?

Or go a step further, and make registering a product mandatory for any warranty at all to become valid, and force registrants to at least check a box they’ve read and understood this caveat?

Or as we suspect; It’s really all about the perceived/potential lost revenue…

The Team

Daniel R says:


That region thing is a joke, I hate the fact that I can’t play music videos from europe just because the media industry wants to play good-ol boys.

Seriously, how are region standards helping humanity? How are they uniting people? If anything I think they are driving people further apart.

I just wonder whats its going to be like in a few years.

CastorTroy (profile) says:

A Thought

Ok, so modding is quasi-legal illegal depending on the courts and the companys and everyother political hack with a brain cell… clear enough (sarcasm). But my thought is that if I where to sit down and build a console that was region free and mod-friendly, basically a do what ya want but if you screw it up, we ain’t fixing it kinda console you could pretty much own the market. The bad side would be sony and Commusoft (Microshaft?) would pound you to pudding and the big game markets would not put games out for you. The other thing would be you would have to sell (*gasp*) the system at a profit… kinda a tangent from the article but hey its a thought…

James (profile) says:

What does it matter either way?

The majority of people who mod-chip/flash their consoles do so to play so called backup games – which are downloaded from the web. This is already illegal, but it happens.
So if they make mod-chips illegal what difference will it make? I will still be able to find a good mod-chip by reading the right forums and find out where to purchase it over the web from the east. So nothing will change if made illegal or legal as the main use is illegal.

Matthew (user link) says:

Mod chips are legal in Australia

In a shockingly sensible move, Australia’s High Court ruled that mod-chips are legal in 2005. It was Sony vs a modder.

They were found not to breach copyright, but more interestingly the Australian courts seem to take issue with any built-in tech that restricts products by region. Mod-chips were seen as a valid means for people to be able to play imported games.

Asawani Moore says:

Piracy on the High Seas

It is not uncommon for internet sellers to try and sell a modified console with 50 “not original” games and 2 original games with their modded xbox. So don’t feed me that line about modchips don’t circumvent copyrights because they do.

I’ve been given the impression that the only reason people modify their consoles in is to make and play unauthorized copies OF imports.

I agree, region codes are anti-consumer, it should be a first-come first-served market.

chonago (user link) says:

Modchips also legal in Spain

The same happened in Spain three months ago (article in Spanish), and after the trial against ChipSpain, a modchip seller, the jury declare that shop not guilty, so there’s an important legal precedent in our country too that supports the free modification of your console once you have bought it. Absolutelly logical, from my point of view.

Vapula says:

What is a modchip abour

You have several kind of people using modchips (as for many other things)
– copyright violators (*) who are anyway breaking the law by making illegal copy of copyrighted items
– Import-players, for example, Jap-fans who want to have origina Japanese version of some games or who want to play a game that has not been translated and imported by official shops
– Homebrew hackers, who want to get the most of their console… (I’m in that category : SMS allows me to play my videos on the TV, HDLoader allows me to store my games on the HDD, which allows faster loading, no wear on the DVD laser (the weakest part of the PS2) and not having to change the DVD everytime), but also to put my savegames on the HDD (no more memory card hassle), to export my savegames to the PC, …)
– true backup usage (for example, when you’ve young children)

So it’s not a matter of black and white, as with many TOOLS, the most important is the use you make of it… An hammer may be used to drive a nail in the wall… A Gun may be used to hunt (both legally and illegally), to participate in competitions or to commit a murder… P2P software are both used for copyright violations and for (legal) downloads of linux distribution or World of Warcraft updates (WoW uses Bit Torrent for the patch distribution)

(*) I refuse to use the word “Pirates” because Pirates are the one who used to kill and shipwreck to steal the goods on merchand’s boats… It’s about COPYRIGHT VIOLATION and not about piracy !!!

kim says:

It goes beyond copyright

These Technological Protection Measures (TPM’s) in the US and now Australian Copyright Act go well beyond making the copying of copyrighted material illegal. So now you don’t actually have to copy some material or game to be committing a crime, you merely have to look like you were intending to copy something. So while you may mod your console to allow you to play imported games you are deemed to be planning to obtain illegal copies of games.
The new laws too, totally disrespect the consumers right to free access to copyrighted material once the copyright expires, it is still a crime to circumvent a technological protection measure to access/copy materials even for which the copyright has expired. The manufacturers who build in these TPMs have no obligation to make them recognize the term of the copyright.
And when you finish marking off the years on your calendar when you can finally freely copy that Donkey Kong game they arbitrarily extend the term of copyright for another 20 years anyway without consulting you.
Its all about supporting the commerce nothing to do with consumer’s rights.

Lion says:

I love these debates I have moded all my consoles and still I buy games. To tell the truth I have bought more games now with my modded stuff then ever before due to imports and the fact that my psp keep me awake while I’m on the bus to 2 hours a day. The fact of not having to carry all the UDMs and cases makes my life easier. Just think about this, if a company made a game console where you could run anything you wanted to on it would you buy it? I would just to see what can be done. Most of the people I know that have modded stuff like to find out what the system can do.

L.Bieniasz says:

response-legal console modding

finally- fresh air, after all that smoke and litigation.
priorly said, once bought, its your to use,right?? Not according to corporations. And as for emulation- if you look closely- not all consoles can be emulated !! Ho-ray for the making mod chips accessable now. maybe now i can
back-up my console game cd’s (DMCA won’t like that-dispite the fair use doctrine). Maybe-just maybe someone in corporations can help lead the changeover to a more consumer friendly format for sold games!!!

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