Sony wins mod-chip ruling in English High Court

Out-Law News | 29 Jan 2002 | 12:00 am | 1 min. read

Sony has won a High Court ruling against Channel Technology, a British importer of what are known mod-chips, technology which could be used to bypass the regional and piracy protections on PlayStation 2 consoles.

Sony divides the international market into three parts: Japan, the US and the rest of the world. A console bought in one area would not run games purchased in another area, ensuring regional control.

Channel Technology and others imported a type of mod-chip from Russia known as "the messiah". It could be inserted in a PS2 to bypass the regional controls, meaning that any region's CD or DVD would play on a UK console. More importantly for Sony, however, the chip meant that a PS2 would also play pirate copies of original discs.

Sony sued under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. A provision of the Act protects against a person who knowingly made, imported or sold any device specifically designed or adapted to circumvent copy-protection.

Channel Technology argued that the messiah chip allowed the use of four categories of software on the PS2 in the UK, and only one of the those categories consisted of "infringing works." The importer argued that the Act covered devices which could only be used to assist copyright infringement and that, as the messiah chip had other uses, it should not be banned.

However, Judge Jacob saw piracy as the overriding concern. He ruled last week that:

"it did not matter one way or the other whether there were uses of the messiah which did not involve such infringement of copyright. The relevant factor was that there were uses of the messiah which did involve infringement of [Sony's] copyright."

Judge Jacob awarded Sony damages of £15,000 and costs of £45,000. Channel Technology has since ceased operating. Its web site now bears the message:

"Unfortunately we have faced our final curtain, but DAMN, we gave a fine final performance. We proudly take a bow and bid farewell!"