Playstation

Australian Court Rules Modified PlayStation LegalMichael Perry, Reuters

SYDNEY—The High Court of Australia ruled on Thursday that modifying Sony PlayStation consoles so they can play overseas versions or copies of games did not breach Australian copyright laws.

The ruling was a victory for Sydney retailer Eddy Stevens who has been involved in a four-year battle with consumer electronics giant Sony Corp. after he modified Australian-made PlayStation consoles for customers so they could play cheaper overseas versions of games.

Sony had sued Stevens because he had sold PlayStations with modified chips, overcoming regional coding blocks that stopped the machine playing imported or copied games.

Sony claimed Stevens violated its copyright by bypassing encrypted access codes aimed at protecting copyright.

While PlayStations are sold in many parts of the world, the format of the consoles and the CD-ROMs on which games are played varies. The format depends on the television system standard that operates in the market where the console is produced.

In Japan, Southeast Asia and North America the format matches the National Television Systems Committee (NTSC), while in Australia and Europe it matches Phase Alternating Line (PAL).

The result means a PlayStation game bought in Japan or the United States will not be loaded by a PlayStation console in Australia unless an access code is bypassed.

Sony lost an initial court battle against Stevens, but won an appeal. Stevens then appealed to the High Court of Australia in Canberra, the national capital, which ruled in his favor.

“This is a hell of a victory for the consumer—that’s why we did it,” Stevens told Australian television.

In a unanimous decision, the High Court accepted the finding of an earlier Federal Court that Stevens’ “mod chips” would only breach copyright if they were designed to circumvent systems in the machine which prevented or inhibited copying of games.

Sony had argued that by making imported or copied games unplayable on PlayStation, the unit had included “technological protection measures” and that modifying the consoles removed its copyright protection. But the High Court rejected the company’s definition of “technological protection measures.”

The court criticized Sony saying the different access codes in PlayStations restricted the rights of consumers and restricted global market competition.

“There is no copyright reason why the purchaser should not be entitled to copy the CD-ROM and modify the console in such a way as to enjoy his or her lawfully acquired property without inhibition,” said the court in a ruling posted on its Web site (http://www.hcourt.gov.au).

“Sony sought to impose restrictions on the ordinary rights of owners, respectively of the CD-ROMs and consoles, beyond those relevant to any copyright infringements,” said the judges.

“In effect, and apparently intentionally, those restrictions reduce global market competition.”

Copyright © 2005 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in PC Magazine.