In order to comply with the new free-trade agreement with the United States (the AUSTA), the Australian government is leglisating to make modchips, and any other Technological Protection Measures (TPMs), illegal. It’s already illegal to sell or distribute devices aimed at overcoming copy control technology, but it will soon (next year) also be illegal to use such devices. Simply having a modchip in your console could attract a fine of up to $6600.
Previously modchips (for the original Playstation) were deemed legal because they weren’t necessarily used for subverting copy protection schemes. In Stevens vs. Sony, Eddy Stevens argued that modchips are also used to play imported games encoded for different regions. The ACCC in particular views region-locking as an artificial anti-consumer practise, and considers that region-locked hardware owners have every right to disable such restrictions. It’s good for business, but bad for consumers. I had my own rant in this article I wrote for Aeropause.
In helping to direct drafting of the new legislation, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs (LACA) was asked to consider any exceptions that should be introduced. Its report recommends a number of exceptions mostly focussed on educational uses, archiving, and national security. The proposals that look destined to fall flat are calls for disabling TPMs for making backups, correcting errors in computer program, and (suprisingly) assisting people with intellectual disabilities (apparantly, we still don’t regard them in same way that we regard physically disabled people). Amusingly the report mentions the term “abandonware“.
The consoles typically subject to modchipping in Australia are Microsoft’s XBOX and Sony’s Playstation 2. In order to avoid the same sort of justification for Playstation modchips (playing imports), it seems that both companies are being fairly cautious with their new consoles. Sony is not region-encoding their Playstation 3 games and most of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 games will be region-free. Moreover, Microsoft will be using two separate protection schemes: one for games and one for DVDs. So wanting to remove the region encoding for DVDs cannot be used as justification for also modifying the console to play pirated games.
Aside from games consoles, the generality of the TPM definition could cause significant problems for consumers. I can imagine manufacturers packing all sorts of other restrictions into their TPM chips or software and asserting that consumers can not remove such technology. For example, they could make their TPM “call home” and send a significant amount of personal data gathered from the user’s computer. It could not only be illegal for you to stop this happening, but it could also be illegal for you to try to find out exactly what it is doing (and what information they are gathering).
Note: I wonder if I should have posted this to Aeropause? It’s fairly local information and almost more “newsy” than “gamesy”. Plus, I couldn’t really be arsed finding a nice picture to go with this post.