Sony Patent Application Takes On Used Game Sales, Piracy With Embedded RFID Chips In Game Discs

from the Sony-obviously-feels-it's-not-hated-enough-already dept

As has been covered here before, many game developers and publishers are actively searching for ways to scuttle the used game market. Efforts to date have usually included some sort of online requirement (which doubles as DRM) or withholding additional content from secondhand purchasers through the use of one-time download codes.

The argument that used game sales are adversely affecting the profitability of games would seem to be debunked with each year of record-breaking sales, but somehow major publishers are still able to convince themselves that no one should be allowed to purchase games for anything less than the full retail price. Also ignored is the fact that money made from trade-ins is often put toward the purchase of new games -- and that the secondary market gives new purchases additional value, as they can be traded in down the road.

Ars Technica reports that Sony seems to have found a way to prevent secondhand sales without having to rely on one-time codes or any sort of online component that could potentially be circumvented. Sony's patent application details the deployment of embedded RFID chips as a weapon against secondhand sales.
A newly published patent application filed by Sony outlines a content protection system that would use small RFID chips embedded on game discs to prevent used games from being played on its systems, all without requiring an online connection. Filed in September and still awaiting approval from the US Patent Office, the patent application for an "electronic content processing system, electronic content processing method, package of electronic content, and use permission apparatus" describes a system "that reliably restricts the use of electronic content dealt in the second-hand markets."

The used-game blocking method described in the patent involves a "radiofrequency tag" and a type of programmable ROM chip that are paired with each game disc and can communicate wirelessly with the game system. The tag and chip can be used to store "unique information" about each console the game has been played on. Thus, when the game is used on a second system, the unique information stored on the disc can be compared to the information stored inside the new hardware, and in turn checked against "use permission" data stored on the EEPROM chip itself. As described in the patent, this "unique information" could be a system identifier or some sort of unique user ID that is somewhat portable between systems.
As Ars Technica points out, this could double as an anti-piracy device, ruling out off-the-shelf media for copying. In addition, the patent mentions using the RFID tag to "decrypt content" on the disc, which could be used to lock up certain content until its paid for. In theory, this would allow secondhand sales, but allow the publisher to charge purchasers a fee to unlock the full game.

Two concerns pop up immediately. There's a possibility that the still-theoretical RFID system would make games unplayable if lent to others or taken to a friend's house and played on their system. This seems a bit extreme, but publishers, who are actively seeking to destroy the secondhand market, very likely wouldn't mind if these two options were taken off the table. This leads to the second concern: creating discs that are "locked" to a certain system would seem to violate the right of first sale. This means reselling or lending the game would no longer be an option, both of which are currently permitted by law. (Although under debate at the moment...) As Ars Technica points out, though, there are ways publishers and developers can skirt this issue:
While this kind of resale-blocking technology would seemingly run afoul of the first sale doctrine codified into US law, legal experts seem unsure about whether that doctrine would be enough to overcome the end-user license agreements common to video game sales. After all, the practice of restricting game resale is already taking root through the wide adoption of digital distribution, which prevents players from reselling downloadable games in almost all cases.
If this patent is granted and results in any of the above scenarios, we'll have finally reached the point where physical items are just as ethereal (in terms of rights granted to the purchaser) as the "licenses" currently being sold under the name "ebook," "digital download" and "mp3." This would be great news for overreaching copyright holders, not so much for the rest of the public which is being asked to shell out larger amounts for AAA titles with each console generation.

It seems unlikely that Sony would pursue this hardline against used sales, but it's not like it hasn't run up a string of bad decisions in the recent past. Not only that, but the additional "anti-piracy" features of the system, combined with curbing secondhand sales it receives nothing from, may be just too irresistible to turn down.

Filed Under: patents, rfid chip, used games
Companies: sony


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jan 2013 @ 6:44am

    Re:

    "you can be quite safe in saying that any measures taken by industries to curtail file sharing and piracy is due only to the real issues of piracy and file sharing, in other words "congratulations, you brought this on yourself, you are the only ones to blame"."

    This has NOTHING to do with piracy and a great deal more to do with the secondhand (used) market.

    By tying down games to a single system they are by default forcing all users to buy new games, rather than giving away or selling old ones, or being able to purchase previously used games.

    "I think it is a great idea, it will stop making copies or "lending to your friend", legal or not it's not really ethical."

    You sir are an idiot. It is perfectly ethical to lend a game to a friend, also perfectly legal. Besides, making copies of games, in the manner of piracy, is rather tedious and time consuming. Not to mention the fact that it requires modifying the consoles in ways that the majority of people would be uncomfortable with. By this I mean there are several risks involved, most of which if done incorrectly can lead a person to having a nice multi hundred dollar paperweight of a system. So yeah, video game piracy isn't as large as people like you would make it out to be.

    "but if piracy was not a big problem this much effort would not have been put into reducing it. i.e. you put this on yourself.."

    Again, this is aimed more at the used games market than piracy. Besides, piracy is by and large unaffected by this. Workarounds will be found and released, like always. The only ones hurt by this type of thing are legitimate customers.

    "Good luck in trying to get around this one :)"

    I believe Sony said the same thing about the firmware on the PS3. How'd that turn out? Oh yeah, we've got the latest custom firmware at 4.XX something already. Which hardly matters as CFW 3.55 is by and large the de facto standard and capable of playing even the newest games (many of which are unplayable without having the latest firmware from Sony). Not that that matters, as workarounds are released regularly.

    I should know. My PS3 is running CFW. Mostly to enable the playback of any and all video files, as I prefer to transfer my movies to digital versions and watch on my PS3 with a USB hard drive for convenience. But because I'm running said CFW I cannot play any new games I purchase. Or better said I'm not supposed to be able to. But COD Black Ops 2 and Twisted Metal Black (the latest games I've purchased) are both played regularly on my PS3. Cause I got "around this one" when Sony said the same thing.

    DRM of any kind will always be beat. It's sad that you darryl think otherwise when the facts and history prove you wrong.

    "I am sure someone will go to the great effort of trying to hack it, but at the end of the day, it's going to be much simpler and easier just to buy your own legit copy, and right reward to manufacturer of the product with him rightly deserved profit.. Profit I might add is required to improve the product and develop new products, both are good things.."

    Yeah, can't wait to play Guitar Hero 20 or COD Black Ops 5 Zombies at War. Real improvements there. Definitely using all that money to develop new products. /s

    Sorry, but like I said, DRM of any type can be beat. A few minutes research and it's not actually that hard (assuming you bother to do the research, otherwise you will fuck up your systems in almost no time).

    But again, this isn't about stopping piracy and more about stopping the sales of used games. Thereby forcing people to purchase everything new, repeatedly. It's another attempt to save a faltering industry. Games used to be amazing and innovative, but they've stagnated the past few years. For every one or two great games you've got a plethora of sequels for something that was once good but has since become an easy cash cow.

    "so the pirates will miss out of their freebee's but in the end everyone wins."

    In the end no one wins. Legitimate customers will not like this and they drive sales of consoles and game development. If they can't sell their used games or purchase used ones they'll have a much harder time wanting to part with their money, which in the end leads to less revenue streams for the console makers and game developers. At the end of the day everyone loses.

    And all because of greed and stupidity. You'd know all about the latter.

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