No Freedom To Tinker: Arrested For Modding Legally Purchased Game Consoles
from the no-innovation-allowed dept
This is hardly a new issue, but it’s still troubling every time we hear a story like this. For years, there’s been a fight over whether or not it should be legal to modify a legally purchased game console. Those in favor of the right point out that if you’ve legally bought something, you should always be free to tinker with it. That’s just common sense. Those against it say that modifying a gaming console is done mainly to play pirated games or to cheat, which can cause problems for legit players. I find the latter responses unpersuasive, as those are technological or business model issues that can be solved in other ways, rather than a legal issue. But, thanks to that good old DMCA, that’s now how the law works.
Instead, we get stories about students getting arrested for “jailbreaking” a video game console. It’s interesting to see the use of the word “jailbreaking” here, as that’s more commonly been applied to iPhones — where it’s common. Usually, this action has been referred to as “modding” or “modchipping” when it came to consoles. But the basic fact is that the actions are effectively the same — and both should be perfectly legal. Modifying legally purchased hardware should never be against the law. It’s possible that you could then use that modified hardware to break the law — and no one’s saying that’s okay. But the act itself of modifying the devices should never be against the law — especially where it could lead to a ten-year prison sentence, as in this case.
This particular case involves a student who would modify game consoles to let people make use of backup copies of their own games on the consoles. Making a backup copy, by itself, has been well established as being perfectly legal. The problem here (once again) is the DMCA’s anti-circumvention clause, which makes it illegal to circumvent any kind of DRM, even if it’s for a totally legal purpose. It’s difficult to see how that’s constitutional. Making it illegal to do something that’s perfectly legal, just because someone puts any kind of DRM in the middle doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s a ridiculous scenario that this kid is now facing 10 years in jail for making video game consoles more useful, allowing people to use perfectly legal backup copies of their games. But, such is the state of the DMCA and copyright laws these days.