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Australian high court: PS2 chip mod OK

It's legal for retailers and users to install chips modified to make imported games work on Sony PlayStation, court rules.

In a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for Sony, the High Court of Australia ruled it is legal to install modification chips in a PlayStation 2 that allow the console to play imported or copied games.

PlayStation game CDs come with a special access code that can be read only by the unit's read-only memory. This meant games bought from overseas or copied games couldn't be played on factory-equipped PS2s. But installing a modification chip circumvented the security measure, allowing gamers to play games from overseas or copied titles.

The High Court today upheld an appeal by Sydney retailer Eddy Stevens, who has been involved in a four-year legal battle against Sony Computer Entertainment. Stevens was found in 2001 to have sold unauthorized copies of the games "Croc 2," "MediEvil," "Motor Races World Tour" and "Porsche 2002," and to have sold modification chips, known as mod chips, to PS2 owners and installed them for customers.

Sony argued that the mod chips were a breach of copyright under Australian law. But the Federal Court ruled in favor of Stevens in a 2002 decision, which found that mod chips were not in breach of copyright because they did not circumvent measures Sony had put in place to prevent illegal copying of their games. Simply put, while mod chips could allow you to play copied games or overseas titles, they did not actually make the copying of PS2 games possible.

Sony appealed to the full bench of the Federal Court, which found in its favor. Stevens then appealed to the High Court of Australia, whose decision Thursday landed firmly in Stevens' favor.