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Console modding: Right or wrong?

Modders in 16 states were recently brought down for allegedly selling and distributing "circumvention devices." Don Reisinger asks whether noncommercial modding is bad.

In a recent blog on CNET it was learned that modders in 16 states were brought down for allegedly selling and distributing "circumvention devices."

While federal agents, including U.S. Customs officials, are heralding the capture of these "criminals" as a mark of significant progress in the fight against modding, I'm not so quick to agree.

At its very core, what is so wrong with modding, or modifying, one's gadgets? While I admittedly don't know as much about the techniques involved, because I don't own any modded devices, I still have trouble understanding why companies (and officials) have such a hard time with people making products better.

Now, I'm not saying that individuals should be allowed to sell and distribute a modded Xbox 360 to the highest bidder, but I am saying they should be able to mod the system for their own benefit. Yes, I can hear DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) proponents crying out in disgust already, but to be honest, I think those folks need to get a strong lesson in logic.

Banning modding is nothing more than a business ploy. And although organizations like the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the U.S. government claims that it raises our prices and maintains an unhealthy business environment, I'm not sure where John Doe, modding his PlayStation in the comfort of his home so he can play overseas games, is contributing to the "facilitation of multiple other layers of criminality, such as smuggling, software piracy and money laundering."

Isn't John Doe buying that software from an American importer? And isn't that American importer paying taxes on the profit it makes at the end of the year, which, in case you were wondering, comes from guys like John Doe?

I am strongly against the sale and distribution of modded video game consoles, but I can't help but be a proponent of modding video game consoles for your own pleasure, as long as you use it for the benefit of those who hold the software copyright. In other words: buy the legal software, not the pirated stuff.

But what makes modding so awful? Is it because you agreed to an implied contract upon breaking the shrink wrap that you wouldn't own the rights to the system, no matter how much you paid for it? If so, that's a bunch of garbage. If I paid my hard-earned money for a game system, then I should have the legal right to open it up and make it do whatever I want. And if that means that my American Xbox 360 will be able to play a Japanese Xbox 360 game, then so be it.

The never-ending copyright protection that can be found on just about every kind of media today is simply outrageous. Does it serve the purpose of protecting the copyright holder's material? Obviously not. If it did, we wouldn't have pirating that, according to the Entertainment Software Association, costs the video game industry billions of dollars each year.

In fact, you might be surprised to know that pirated material typically sells better than something that isn't pirated. You know why? Nobody wants the stuff that isn't pirated. Besides that, I believe that most people are honest and want to have both copies.

Maybe it's just me, but I believe that the DMCA and government officials at home and abroad underestimate our ability to be pillars of society. If you read the DMCA, you will find a law that protects businesses and abandons all trust in the average citizen--it's sad, to say the least.

Sorry ESA, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony; I trust people. Maybe you should too--it might help your bottom line.