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Friday, February 15, 2002
Sony wins key PlayStation court case

Sony has won its court case against a British company that modifies PlayStation 2 games machines so they play imported discs and copies. The wording of the judgement, now released by the British High Court, sets a far-reaching precedent that Hollywood can use to stop people modifying DVD players so that they play imported movie discs.

Sony has split the PS2 world into three regions, Japan, the US, and countries in Europe and Australasia that use the PAL TV system. Discs and players contain electronic check Codes, which they compare before playing a game. The codes let the player reject unauthorised copy discs.

In 2001, Sony sued three companies that were selling "mod chips". These chips let a PS2 play a copy disc or unauthorised import. The chip, called Messiah and believed to come from Russia, fools the player into thinking it is getting correct check codes from the disc.

Two companies settled but the third, Channel Technology went to the British High Court and lost. The judge Mr Justice Jacob has now approved a transcript of what he said in court on 23 January.

Clear message

Sony's case was that mod chips fall foul of section 296 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This bans trade in any device that "circumvents" copy-protection; it even bans the publication of "information intended to enable or assist" circumvention.

Channel argued that privately importing a disc sold lawfully in another country is not covered by the Act. The judge held that "copying is inherently territorial - you need a licence in every territory".

Of most far-reaching significance, the judge also held that the simple act of loading a game into the a computer is "of course" copying.

David Reeves, senior vice president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, says: "We are sending a clear message to manufacturers and distributors of mod chips thoughout the PAL territories that we will be actively pursuing legal action against them".

Magazines at risk

The ruling that merely playing a computer game constitutes copying is signficant because the DVD movie system relies on interactive computer codes which are copied from the disc to the player before play begins.

So Hollywood can now outlaw mod chips that let European and Australian DVD players play movies imported from the US. Magazines that reveal how to defeat regional coding are at risk too.

Chris Jenkins, editor of Total DVD, warns: "If anyone tries to do this, they will be shooting themselves in the foot because they will be hurting the very people whose enthusiasm for movies has done most to make DVD such a success".

Channel Technology quickly stopped selling mod chips. Another British company, Techtronics, is however still offering DVD and PS2 mod chips that defeat regional coding and even the copy protection system used on movies. No-one from Techtronics was available for comment on the company's future plans.

Sony is still in dispute over the costs and damages it wants. The Japanese company has also called on Channel to hand over the name and address of anyone who bought Messiah chips before they were outlawed.

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