Sony has sent letters to two UK companies telling them to stop selling modchips -- chips that let PlayStation2 owners play DVDs and games bought in other countries.
One site, Playstationmods.com, has complied with Sony's demands. On Tuesday the site posted a message saying; "Due to recent legal proceedings by Sony towards our sale of the NEO4 chip we have decided to close down all our modchip operations indefinitely." The company said, "At the end of the day we work hard on our main games and repairs businesses and it is simply not worth jeopardising our staffs' futures just to do modchips." The company said this is the first time it has been asked to stop supplying modchips by Sony, and added that it plans to comply without reservation and without prejudice.
Another site, Newport, Wales-based ChannelTechnology.com, is more vociferous about the legal action, and is accusing Sony of restricting the rights of consumers to create and run backup copies of software as guaranteed under the Copyright, Patents and Designs Act.
Channel Technology's Sony PlayStation2 DVD Multi-Region upgrade is an internal modification for PS2 consoles bought in Europe that use the PAL television standard. According to the company, Messiah was the world's first non-swap PlayStation2 modchip.
Messiah would allow a PlayStation and PlayStation2 to play games backed up onto CDR, and what are called Hong Kong Silvers--factory-pressed disks that are usually silver-bottomed. Channel Technology acknowledges that HK Silvers have a reputation for being pirated software, but says this is not always the case by any means, as many "slide show" adult titles in Asia are sold in this format.
Channel Technology notes on its Web site that under UK law, individuals are allowed to make a backup copy of their software--for most people this would mean using a CDR. It poses the question: "If the owner... tried to boot this 'where necessary' backup on an un-modified console, would the 'restrictions' imposed by the console actually be denying him of a legal right?"
Aside from allowing people to make backups of games, and play NTSC games on PAL consoles, the Messiah chip also allows PlayStation2 owners to play DVD disks from any region, and provides colour correction for PAL consoles.
The issue of whether people should be able to play a DVD bought in one country on a DVD player bought in another country is as old as the technology itself. When the DVD standard was being developed, the Motion Pictures Industry Association of America, of which Sony is a member, lobbied successfully to ensure that consumer DVD would be encoded according to the region in which they were manufactured. Hollywood divided the world into six regions: Region 1 is the US and Canada; Region 2 is Europe and Japan; Region 3 is the Orient; Region 4 is Australia and New Zealand; Region 5 is Asia and Africa; and all other areas fall into Region 6.
In theory, DVD players will only play DVDs encoded to the same region. But the practice has met such widespread opposition that hacks are readily and cheaply available for most DVD players and many manufacturer now sell multi-region players as a matter of course.
Sony did not return calls for comment.
Staff writer Matt Loney reported from London.