Australian High Court rules mod chips legal

— 10:57 AM on October 7, 2005

This past Wednesday, the High Court of Australia (equivalent to the US Supreme Court in terms of its position in the Australian legal system) unanimously overturned a Full Court of the Federal Court decision that had ruled mod chips for Sony’s Playstation to be illegal. According to the High Court, the combination of boot ROM and CD-ROM access code do not, in and of themselves, function as a "technological protection measure" designed to protect copyright. The purpose of the ROM/access code system, rather, is to ensure that only games purchased in certain regions can be played on certain PS1 consoles. Sony’s appeal (now overturned) argued that its boot ROM/access code system made the playback of unauthorized (though not illegal) copies impossible, and thus deserved to be considered as a technological protection measure. The High Court rejected this line of reasoning based on the fact that neither game copies nor cinematographic data can be copied or reproduced in material form after being transferred into RAM.

The implication of this decision (though the court does not address this point directly) is that mod chips that allow games to be copied to a console hard drive and played later without the original disc do qualify as illegal attempts to circumvent a built-in technological protection measure. This decision has no practical impact on US citizens, but it's still a significant development in the increasingly international battle over fair use. Although this particular case focused on the now-obsolete Playstation, but the court's decision could open the door for next-generation mod chips for the Xbox 360, Revolution, and PS3.

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