A 22 year old Cambridge university graduate has become the first ever person in the UK to be convicted for the illegal modification of video game consoles, alongside more conventional game piracy charges, following a trial at Caerphilly Magistrates Court in Wales.
The unnamed offender was selling modified consoles with a 200GB hard drive filled with 80 pre-installed games for £380 ($666). The retail cost of this package, if genuine and unmodified, would be an estimated £3,000 ($5,269) each. ELSPA gathered the forensic evidence against him which led to the court result.
The sale of pre-installed games recalls recent arrests in the U.S.
over the sale of so-called 'Super Xboxes' in Maryland. Although sentencing has not yet been carried out in these cases the maximum penalty in the U.S., under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, is five years in prison along with a $250,000 fine.
By comparison, the penalty imposed yesterday in Wales comprises a 140 hour community service order to be carried out in the next twelve months, £750 ($1,315) in costs and forfeiture of all equipment seized, including three tower PCs, two printers, three Xbox consoles and thirty-eight hard-drives. This reflected the youth of the individual and the fact that this was his first offence.
Mike Rawlinson, deputy director general of ELSPA commented: "This case sets a major precedent which marks a milestone in the fight against piracy and in protecting the games industry's intellectual property. It sends a clear message to anyone tempted to become involved in 'chipping' consoles that this is a criminal offence and will be dealt with accordingly. The modification of consoles is an activity that ELSPA's anti-piracy team is prioritising – it is encouraging to see the UK courts do the same."
Although the sale of pirated material is indefensible, Rawlinson’s choice of language regarding the modification of consoles have inflamed some online commentators, especially relating to the note that the chipping process is one "which enables counterfeit games to be played on a console".
In the UK and elsewhere in Europe, modifications are commonly used to play games from other territories, either because they have not yet been released or will not be released at all. Although this is less true of the Xbox – the limited Japanese support for which means there have been few titles unreleased in the UK – for other consoles, 'modding' or other region remains the only way to play other games available in the rest of the world, though it also opens up piracy opportunities.
Nevertheless, the modification of consoles has been an illegal practice since October 2003 in the UK, after intense lobbying by ELSPA, the UK Patent office laid the Statutory Instrument for the introduction of the Copyright Directive. This Act made the whole process of chipping consoles illegal, including selling and advertising chips as well as providing a service for chipping.