Australia's competition watchdog has welcomed a federal judge's finding that Sydney-based Eddy Stevens had not contravened section a116A of the Copyright Act by selling "mod chips", which enable gamers to circumvent copy protection technology built into Sony's PlayStation2 and Microsoft's Xbox consoles.
Stevens, who elected to represent himself, saw his case benefited substantially from representations made on behalf of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which sought leave to appear in the court as amicus curiae or friend of the court.
Describing the decision as a win for console owners, ACCC chairman Professor Allan Fels said Sony's arguments had failed because the copyright protection measures used by Sony placed limitations on the right of console owners to play games they had purchased overseas.
"The ACCC has long believed that region coding is detrimental to consumer welfare as it severely limits consumer choice and, in some cases, access to competitively priced goods. The ACCC was concerned to ensure that technology which can overcome these unfair restrictions remains generally available for consumer use," Fels said.
In the first case of its kind in Australia, Federal Court Judge Sackville ruled that mod chips sold for the original PlayStation do not infringe on Sony copyright protections. However, Stevens was found guilty of having infringed various Sony trademarks, by selling computer games for use on Sony PlayStation consoles which were "substantially identical with or deceptively similar to the Sony trademarks".
Sony's argument, that the mod chips "had no other purpose other than overriding the anti-piracy devices", was rejected by Judge Sackville on the grounds that they also enabled the console owner to play back-up copies of legally acquired PlayStation games.
Sony Computer Entertainment Australia (SCE) said it was predictably pleased with the finding against Stevens, but disappointed that the court failed to uphold its claim that the supply of "mod chips" breached Sony's copyright.
In a statement to the press the company described the case as part of a global campaign, pointing to a decision handed down in the UK in December 2001 which found in favour of the company.
SCE has yet to decide whether or not to appeal the decision.