April 24, 2014

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Australian DMCA Does Not Prohibit Mod Chips

An Australian judge has ruled that the Australian version of the DMCA does not apply to the sale of “mod chips” for Sony PlayStation game consoles.

Technological background: Sony PlayStation is a game console that plugs into the back of a TV. PlayStation games come on a compact disk that is plugged into a CD drive on the PlayStation console. The disk contains a kind of authentication code that can be verified by the console, and the console refuses to play games that lack the authentication code. The “mod chips” sold and installed by Mr. Stevens change the console so that it will accept CDs that lack the authentication code.

I read the judge’s ruling as saying that under Australian law, mechanisms that merely authenticate content, as opposed to preventing it from being copied or from being accessed on standard CD drives, are not really copy control devices, and thus the Australian DMCA does not apply to them. Under the judge’s reasoning, a scheme that encrypted the CD’s contents (as opposed to merely authenticating them) would be covered. So this decision appears to be of limited application.

Laws like this are often vague about what they cover and what they don’t. I suspect that this vagueness reflects the drafters’ confusion about what they were trying to do. (Sometimes vaguely worded statutes reflect an artful compromise between legislative factions, but I don’t think that’s the case here.)