A few days ago, Geek News reported that modchips for Sony’s PlayStation gaming console are declared illegal in the UK. This is a cumbersome development. I shortly explain: modchips allow buyers to circumvent the built-in copy protection of games, allowing them to:
- make copies or backups of their games
- passing by the region coding systems found in several games (cfr. DVDs)
- play pirated versions of games
- use the consoles for purposes they were not made for (cfr. the Sony AiboPet thing) and, in a next stage, even develop compatible technologies that hook in on Sony’s console or games.
So, when the author of the Geek News article asks:
[t]he ratio of modchipped consoles versus total consoles is amazingly tiny. Why is Sony so concerned about such a small segment of its population?, the answer has to be sought in Derek Slater’s entry on iTunes FairPlay and DRM lock-in of a few months ago. Although dealing with the DMCA and iTunes’ copy protection scheme, Slater’s analysis is perfectly applicable on the EUCD based modchip case – just replace the word ‘record’ with ‘game’ and ‘record player’ with ‘console’. Slater says:
[T]he copyright holder has gotten control of the record but never the record player; and the copyright holder’s control over the record has never given Apple or Sony and all the other involved vendors the right to dictate compatible technologies. All this done in a law whose purpose was to stop piracy.
So, to summarize: although Sony pretends it is cracking down on gaming piracy (thus dealing with the third point mentioned above), it also cuts into users’ rights (rendering the making of backups impossible and enforcing region code compliance). And even more importantly, it puts itself in a stronger market position by legally crushing any possible competition (cfr. the fourth and probably most threatening point). Creating compatible technologies around the PlayStation and other gaming consoles, that one day might threaten Sony’s or other companies’ business models,
are prohibited from now on (in the UK ea.).