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Sony wins case against seller of mod chips

Britain's high court frowns on mod chips designed for PlayStation 2. But can Sony use the victory to quash "chipping" in other regions?

Sony has won a landmark judgment against a man who sold modified PlayStation 2 chips that circumvented copy protection.

The United Kingdom's high court ruled Wednesday that Sony's intellectual property rights were being violated by the production of modified chips, also known as "modding" and "chipping."

Sony's case targeted David Bell, a British citizen who had been accused of selling some 1,500 mod chips. Users could install these chips in their PlayStation 2, or PS2, console to play games imported from other parts of the world as well as pirated copies of games.

Like many makers of consoles and DVD drives, Sony uses regional encoding that prevents its European hardware, based on the PAL television standard, from playing software from the United States or the Far East.

The court ruled that Bell had violated the European Union Copyright Directive, which became part of British law in 2003. The court further found that the sale, advertising, use and possession of mod chips for commercial purposes is illegal.

This is the first time that Britain's copyright laws have been used to prevent the circumvention of copy protection.

"We are sending a clear message to manufacturers and distributors of mod chips throughout the PAL territories that we will continue to pursue legal action against them," said David Reeves, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

Sony recently won a similar case in Belgium, but the company has also lost cases in Spain and Italy. An Italian court ruled that console owners have the right to modify their hardware once they have bought it.

Sony is now expected to step up its fight against modding in other EU countries on the back of the British ruling.

Back in 2002, Sony was awarded damages against Newport-based Channel Technology, which had been manufacturing the Messiah mod chip--the same chip that Bell was accused of selling.

Messiah allows owners of PlayStation 2 consoles to play NTSC-standard games on PAL consoles and DVDs from any region. It also provides color correction for PAL consoles and enables PlayStation 2s to play backed-up copies of video games.

Critics of regional copy protection claim the practice is actually a way of increasing companies' profits by preventing consumers from importing cheaper products from other territories.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.