Mod your console for $6600

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).

Information gathered from various sources including this news alert from Minter Ellison via AusGamers via Sumea.

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.

2 thoughts on “Mod your console for $6600”

  1. Good news.

    I’m convinced that this sort of thing has to get a whole lot worse before it can get any better. GNU didn’t start until Richard Stallman’s printer driver became so encumbered as to be unworkable. The sooner the monopolists strangle creative culture to a complete halt, the sooner alternatives outside the monopoly system will reach the critical mass necessary to replace them.

  2. I agree.

    I also think that people need to be more assertive about very strictly *not* breaking the law to demonstrate how unworkable it is. I think that a lot of the media industry is dependent on consumers breaking the law. Look at VCRs, DVRs, MP3 players etc. that are used to illegally copy audio or video. If people refused to copy that material, their would be no industry.

    Actually following copyright law and the stupid licenses companies impose on their media would force the industry to change to something workable; like open standards, free software, and creative commons. Seriously, what if nobody would report items on a news site because its images aren’t creative commons (and they aren’t willing to go through the time and effort of acquiring permission as required for “strictly copyrighted” material).

    The problem is that the industry will sit on illegal activities when it suits them and pounce when they get scared. They (or government) should be responsible for uniform litigation of any breaches. On the other hand, maybe consumers should simply refuse to recognise laws that they (and wider society) deem to be unjust and dare the industry or government to charge them. I think you would have a hard time convincing the general public that people who copy TV programs or share CDs deserve massive fines.

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