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

Reader Comments

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  1. icon
    ChrisB (profile), 4 Jan 2013 @ 6:47am

    Re: Stupid

    There is no way I'd shell out $60 for a game if I knew I couldn't sell it. Maybe $20 - $30. Right now, I buy dozens of $1 games for my android phone, and each of them gives me many hours of entertainment. Many people are in the same position. We realize that games can be fun and $1, and movies and games can be rented at Redbox for a few dollars. Sony and Microsoft are going to be in for a rude awakening when they release their new console, sales are crap, and consoles like the OUYA take a big chunk of the casual gaming market.

    One final note: Sony is going to have a huge lawsuit on its hands because in their online store, they say you can "Buy" movies. They don't say "License". "Buy" is a specific term that means the first sale doctrine applies.

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