Sony wins landmark case against mod chips

A UK court has ruled that modifying a PlayStation2 to get around copy protection and regional restrictions infringes on Sony's intellectual property

Sony has won a landmark judgment against a man who sold modified PlayStation2 chips that circumvented copy protection.

The UK high court ruled on Wednesday that Sony's intellectual property rights were being violated by the practice of "modding", also known as "chipping".

Sony had brought its case against David Ball, a UK citizen, who was accused of selling some 1,500 mod chips. Users could install them in their PS2 to play imported games from other regions as well as pirated copies.

Like many console and DVD-drive makers, Sony uses regional encoding that prevents European hardware, based on the PAL standard, from playing software from the US or the Far East.

Mr Justice Laddie ruled that Ball had violated the European Union Copyright Directive, which came into UK law in 2003. He further found that the sale, advertising, use, or possession of such mods chips for commercial purposes was also illegal.

This is the first time that the UK's copyright laws have been used to prevent the circumvention of copy protection.

"We are sending a clear message to manufacturers and distributors of mod chips throughout the PAL territories that we will continue to pursue legal action against them," said David Reeves, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

Sony recently won a similar case in Belgium, but has also lost cases in Spain and Italy. An Italian court ruled that console owners have the right to modify their hardware once they have bought it.

Sony is now expected to step up its fight against modding in other EU countries on the back of the UK ruling.

Back in 2002, Sony was awarded damages against Newport-based Channel Technology, which had been manufacturing the Messiah mod chip -- the same chip that Ball was accused of selling.

Messiah allowed owners of PlayStation2 consoles to play NTSC games on PAL consoles, allowed PlayStation2 owners to play DVD disks from any region, and provided colour correction for PAL consoles. It also enabled PlayStation2s to play backed-up copies of video games.

Critics of regional copy-protection claim it is actually a way of increasing profits by preventing consumers from importing a cheaper product from another territory.