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Federal Agents Raid Homes for Modchips 537

Posted by samzenpus
from the throw-away-the-key dept.
Lunatrik writes "Invoking the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, Federal Custom's Agents have raided over 30 homes and businesses looking to confiscate so-called 'mod chips', or other devices that allow the playback of pirated video games. This raises an important question: Are legitimate backup copies of a piece of software you own illegal under the DMCA?"
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Federal Agents Raid Homes for Modchips

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  • We've been over this (Score:5, Informative)

    by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:02AM (#20083971) Homepage
    The DMCA doesn't prohibit having a backup, just creating, obtaining or distributing the tools to make or to use one. That's the risible position that the DMCA puts us in.
  • Of course Not (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Kranfer (620510) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:03AM (#20083989) Homepage Journal
    I am going to have to say no... The reason is.... Media degrades over time, and get scratched to hell and such. I own over 500 DVDs, however some of them are "unwatchable" either from storing them in those cheesey folder cases or just letting them sit around on my desk... Some of them are backed up some I bought anew... But I think making personal backups of software SHOULD be legal.... the companies that make this stuff could make money off this by selling an option to make backups for say... a dollar per backup and has to be registered to yourself with a separate backup serial key... DMCA goes too far sometimes....
    • by mwvdlee (775178)
      My Audio CD collection contains a fair number of CD-R discs in original sleeves, because the original discs got damaged too much (usually still plays, but with "dents" and hic-ups). So I just burned my own MP3 rips to a quality CD-R and use the backup disc. Proof enough for me that backups are both required and a good solution to the problem of damage to the physical carrier of the purchased media.
      • Re:Of course Not (Score:4, Insightful)

        by dwarfking (95773) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @08:29AM (#20084911) Homepage

        But now you are impacting another part of a manufacturer's business model: planned obsolescence [wikipedia.org].

        If the original CD does not wear out, then the manufacturer can only make money off of you one time on the original sale.

        So obviously fair use copying is just another form of piracy!

    • I wonder why a rider wasn't put into the DMCA forcing all content providers to provide free replacement copies upon request? Oh right... the content providers wrote the bill.
  • welp; (Score:5, Funny)

    by sniepre (517796) <sniepre@gmail.com> on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:04AM (#20083991) Homepage
    I guess it's back to stealing games the old fashioned way - under a shirt.

    Seriously. Persecution of the hackers only makes them stronger.
  • by Chmcginn (201645) * on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:04AM (#20083993) Journal
    Since making backups wasn't criminalized by the DMCA.

    If you could make a perfect 1-to-1 copy of a DVD, and have it run, that would still be legal. But since that doesn't work, because commercially available DVD are neutered, you have to crack the encryption - which is what is illegal.

    • Making backups was not outlawed per se. But its spirit, and the way it is implemented, pretty much outlaws it. It's like telling you you may go wherever you want, but must not step on red paint, then everything but your home is painted red. You're still free to go wherever you can go, you just can't go anywhere anymore.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      1 to 1 copies don't work? That's odd, because I've made a disk image of a DVD in OS X and burned it (using a dual layer burner), and had it play absolutely fine in a DVD player. Not once did I crack the CSS.
  • WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Slithe (894946) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:04AM (#20083997) Homepage Journal
    The fed doesn't seem to want to raid businesses for hiring illegal aliens, but they spend their time raiding businesses and homes for having mod chips. I thought this line was especially funny. [quote]"Illicit devices like the ones targeted today are created with one purpose in mind, subverting copyright protections," Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for ICE, said in a release. "These crimes cost legitimate businesses billions of dollars annually and facilitate multiple other layers of criminality, such as smuggling, software piracy and money laundering."[/quote] There may be a tenuous connection to smuggling (i.e. bootleg video games disks), but how in the hell do modchips facilitate money laundering. This is just laughable, if it wasn't so pathetic.
    • by camperdave (969942) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:11AM (#20084053) Journal
      how in the hell do modchips facilitate money laundering.

      Perhaps because people with mod chips are so engrossed in playing their pirate games that they don't empty their pockets thoroughly before dumping their clothes in the wash.
    • Simple. Trade 101 teaches you that.

      Illegal aliens work in the country for cheap. For dirt cheap. They don't care about minimum wage or labour laws. And if, where should they go? Court? They also get the "jobs" nobody else would want, because it's risky or so crappy paid that even the burger flipping crowd sneers at them. And if a company doesn't have to give you gloves or goggles when you're cleaning that fluorine tank, they safe a lot. Should that immigrant get sick because of it, well, dump him, next is a
      • Re:WTF? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Slithe (894946) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @08:47AM (#20085179) Homepage Journal

        They also get the "jobs" nobody else would want, because it's risky or so crappy paid that even the burger flipping crowd sneers at them.
        The funny thing is that these jobs are low-paid because of the wage lowering effects of mass immigration. (supply and demand, anyone?) This article [vdare.com] has a very interesting paragraph about the meatpacking industry that sums up the situation nicely:

        Thirty years ago, meatpacking was one of the highest-paid industrial jobs in the United States, with one of the lowest turnover rates. In the decades that followed the 1906 publication of The Jungle, labor unions had slowly gained power in the industry, winning their members good benefits, decent working conditions, and a voice in the workplace. Meatpacking jobs were dangerous and unpleasant, but provided enough income for a solid, middle-class life. There were sometimes waiting lists for these jobs. And then, starting in the early 1960s, a company called Iowa Beef Packers (IBP) began to revolutionize the industry, opening plants in rural areas far from union strongholds, recruiting immigrant workers from Mexico, introducing a new division of labor that eliminated the need for skilled butchers, and ruthlessly battling unions. By the late 1970s, meatpacking companies that wanted to compete with IBP had to adopt its business methods--or go out of business. Wages in the meatpacking industry soon fell by as much as 50 percent. Today meatpacking is one of the nation's lowest-paid industrial jobs, with one of the highest turnover rates. The typical plant now hires an entirely new workforce every year or so. There are no waiting lists at these slaughterhouses today. Staff shortages have become an industry-wide problem, making the work even more dangerous.
  • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) * on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:05AM (#20084003) Journal
    Prohibition in the Roaring Twenties. "Bootleg" discs, Elliot Ness - like tactics. It will never work, it will just alienate an entire nation again.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by couchslug (175151)
      "it will just alienate an entire nation again."

      Er, no. The "entire nation" can still buy legal games, and the fair-use folks don't have political pull.
      The only way to influence the game companies is a boycott that addicted consumers will never support.
  • Homeland Security (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KiloByte (825081) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:08AM (#20084031)
    From TFA:

    "Illicit devices like the ones targeted today are created with one purpose in mind, subverting copyright protections," Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for ICE, said in a release. "These crimes cost legitimate businesses billions of dollars annually and facilitate multiple other layers of criminality, such as smuggling, software piracy and money laundering."
    From Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

    The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), commonly known in the US as Homeland Security, is a Cabinet department of the Federal Government of the United States with the responsibility of protecting the territory of the United States from terrorist attacks and responding to natural disasters.
    Shouldn't they be sued for wasting taxpayers money for doing things they are not authorized to do? And yeah, even though I'm a Polack I did pay a tribute^Wtax to the US treasury once, so it's my money too.

    But oh wait... comparing them to the Commissariat of Homeland Security (KGB), Bureau of Security (UB) or Securitate, I should be thankful they're not participating in mass murders... yet.

  • Since the original Katamari Damacy isn't available at all in the UK, I had to import it from Japan and use a PS2 modchip to play it. The follow-up game was released in Europe months after appearing in US/Japan, so I also imported that one.

    The fact that I could do this at all shows that there is no technical reason for the region coding in this game - it's purely an illegal tactic to control market prices.

    Rich.

    • Yes, the customer is the one that suffers from this practice. And of course, no distributor is happy about it when the customer defends himself against that practice and cracks open this cartel.

      Because what this allows is cross financing. If you already have a stranglehold on a market where you can gouge whatever you want because your competitors don't dare to hunt on your turf, you can take the revenue from there to make the products dirt cheap in another market where you're battling for sales. And of cour
  • "Legitimate" (Score:3, Informative)

    by cfulmer (3166) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:11AM (#20084049) Homepage Journal
    Are you talking about copies of software that are unprotected by any copy-protection scheme? If so, that's probably OK. If, however, you're talking about copies of copy-protected games, that's a different story. Their creation, at minimum, is an infringement of the DMCA (17 USC 1201(a)(1)), and your possessing them is evidence that you created them. It's vaguely conceivable that the "backup" copies are fair uses even though you had to break the law to make them, but I wouldn't bet on it.

    The mod chips themselves are a pretty violation under the DMCA:

    No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that . . . is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing protection afforded by a technological measure that effectively protects a right of a copyright owner under this title in a work or a portion thereof;

    • No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that . . . is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing protection afforded by a technological measure that effectively protects a right of a copyright owner under this title in a work or a portion thereof;

      So why are photo copiers still legal? And CD-burners? Why is a mod-chip different from those other two?

    • by redelm (54142)
      So perhaps modchip designers/producers should advertise their product prominently with the warning "In compliance with US DMCA, this product has been designed and produced to enable legally authorized "fair use" rights of creating and operating from backup media. No other purpose is intended. Any other use is a violation of Federal Law."

      The sincerity of this intent could be demonstrated if the modchips were _not_ interoperable and/or refused to make copies of copies (AFAIK, not fair use).

      Manufacturers

  • by Himring (646324) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:11AM (#20084051) Homepage Journal
    This raises an important question: Are legitimate backup copies of a piece of software you own illegal under the DMCA?

    I believe the more important question is: what's happening to our liberties?...

    If we're not losing them in the name of fighting terrorism, then it's in the name of copyright laws. Between Hollywood and the middle east, liberty is bleeding.

  • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:11AM (#20084055) Homepage Journal
    This raises an important question

    Don't you mean, begs the question?
  • by pandrijeczko (588093) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:13AM (#20084071)
    The argument that's used for mod chips is that purchasers of games should be allowed to make backup copies of them. But I don't consider that the real issue here.

    Firstly, in the case of PC games (or indeed any system where games are installed to a hard drive), it should not be obligatory to have the CD or DVD in the drive to play them once installed as this creates totally unnecessary wear on the CD/DVD drive and the disc itself scratches a little more every time it's inserted or removed. Whilst I don't like the "spyware" concept of Valve's Steam, I do accept that being able to load my games on any PC I like without the disk is a good thing - though all praise to Stardock for just letting you get on and play Galactic Civilizations II without the disk once you've registered your product code with them. If every games company trusted me like Stardock does, I'd feel less inclined to rip them off at every opportunity (and, no, I don't work for Stardock).

    Secondly, if your original CD/DVD goes faulty, the games company charges you for a replacement. This strikes me as wrong - if they won't let you back it up, then they should provide replacements (within a reasonable amount of time) for just the cost of postage.

    • by Renraku (518261) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @07:28AM (#20084197) Homepage
      When you buy blank media they charge you for the media.

      When you buy any kind of software they charge you mainly for the licence to use the software and to get support/etc. However when you lose the media or it breaks, they want to charge you to replace the media.

      So which is it? Charging us for the media or charging us for the licence? One or the other.
    • "The argument that's used for mod chips is that purchasers of games should be allowed to make backup copies of them. But I don't consider that the real issue here."

      The real issue is that consumers need a bill of rights, if they had a self-funded corporate like entity to protect their interests lots of these attempts at private tyranny would be mitigated.

      The first thing is, a government body has to start treating consumers as co-owners and investors of the products they buy (i.e. invest in), this way corpora
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by spyrochaete (707033)
      I think Steam is about the best case scenario we could hope to expect. Yes they keep track of what you're playing and for how long, but they use this information to benefit game design as well. Check out the fascinating Half Life 2: Episode One statistics [steampowered.com] for an idea of how Valve makes the most of this technology to observe players' in-game behaviour to assist in designing future products.

      Another thing I love about Steam is the generosity of distribution model. You can download any paid-for product as
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      The main advantage that *I* see for mod chips (and I've installed them on some of my consoles in the past) isn't playing "backup" copies at all (I've never played a "backup" or pirated commercial game in my life). It's being able to install alternate operating systems (like XBMC) and emulators for playing old games like (MAME).
  • Since those same Federal Agents are financed from the taxes of US citizens, then the games companies who will be benefitting from additional sales due to the crack down on mod chips & piracy should therefore be taxed at a heavier rate in order to recover those taxes.
  • False Positives? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sasquatch6 (575574) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @08:02AM (#20084551)
    OK, so the FBI has just gone and raided a whole bunch of places looking for mod-chips. Presumably they would be looking for installed chips in consoles they raid at homes. How are they detecting these mod chips? Are they running a program to detect modified hardware (I would have thought MS, Sony, et al. would be doing that already). If not that, then they must be physically opening the cases to find the chips... Which brings me to my ultimate point: what happens if their information proves to be faulty, and the console is found chipless. Is the owner compensated for bother? Wear and tear? Damage? Loss of warranty after the console has just been opened? One would hope that the apology would extend to some sort of written proof that the console was opened for legal purposes, so that if that 360 red-rings, they can send it back without MS complaining.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    All of these companies that want to prevent backups should be required BY LAW to provide multiple backup copies of any content to the consumer with no questions asked and free of charge. Then there would be no need for the consumer to make backups. If I buy a DVD and I want a backup an hour later; dial a 1-800 number and the company should have one in the mail right away.

    It is put up or shut up time for the content industry.
  • Spam/Flood (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Renraku (518261) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @08:07AM (#20084619) Homepage
    Now that the FBI is handling this, everyone that knows their neighbor has a CD burner, mod chip, or unlocked DVD player should call and report them. After all, these things can ONLY be used to facilitate piracy.

    Maybe after a few hundred thousand calls they'd lay off. Shouldn't the FBI be doing more important things anyway? Like say, busting drug rings, killin' gangsters, thwarting terrorists, and making sure that all those school teachers don't have any child molestation charges?

    I don't see how busting people for having mod chips is going to help society beyond MAYBE a few video game purchases. Most of them probably got the mod chips in the first place to back up what they have or to avoid paying $59.99 for a piece of shit game full of bugs..I sure as hell wouldn't buy any more games for that generation if I couldn't make backups like I had done with all of my old ones, and I wouldn't start buying the games knowing that half of them will turn out to suck despite the hype/previews anyway.

    Busting a drug ring can save many lives, buttloads of money, and make society safer. Standing on top of a pile of cash/drugs/criminals and having your picture taken is a lot more glorious than busting some 19 year old in college because he pirated Madden '08.
  • by jskline (301574) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @08:25AM (#20084855) Homepage
    First off, I sure hope they got legal warrants to do that because if they start doing that to an average citizen in the US, it's a breach of constitutional protections afforded to all Americans.

    I can see this if they are going after "producers"; ie people who are marketing the chips, and such especially if it's intent it to circumvent copyright protections.

    But that is a big issue. Some of these manufacturers want these software mediums protected such that if it becomes non usable then you have to send it in and get it replaced. This too is an ok platform until the manufacturer begins to determine how long they will do that, and at what cost. Then what happens to a product after it's lifespan has ceased? No more replacements or updates???

    "Sir; your product was discontinued last year and we have not yet seen your software disk returned to us. Send your disks back in to us now or face the penalty of the DCMA!"

    Just a thought.
  • Every time I see a debate about backups, I end up seeing one of the pro-backup people saying that the reason he needs to be able to play backups is that he can't afford full price for games, so he trades them with friends, or something like that.

    I think actual backups ought to be legal, but it seems to me that the well's been poisoned.
  • by dAzED1 (33635) on Thursday August 02, 2007 @09:14AM (#20085565) Homepage Journal
    This raises an important question: Are legitimate backup copies of a piece of software you own illegal under the DMCA?

    False question. You don't own the software. You have purchased a license to use, nothing more.

    I'm much against IP and such, but it is not helpful, at all, to rely upon this very weak, false, argument. You do not own the software!

    If you can't figure out the distinction, let me give you an analogy. Pretend you are a stripper. Someone pays you $40 to give them a lap dance. Do they own you while you are giving them the lap dance? Or are they simply borrowing your time?

    Now, replace "borrowing your time" with "license to use in a particular manner" and you have your answer. If you owned the software, you could change the license. Who owns World of Warcraft? Not you...Blizzard does. You merely have a license to use, in a particular way. I can't fathom why that is such a difficult concept for so many people.
  • Justifiable Reason (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stmfreak (230369) <stmfreak@gmail.QUOTEcom minus punct> on Thursday August 02, 2007 @06:37PM (#20094971) Journal
    I added them up. Over $1,000 USD spent on XBOX games since we bought our console in 2001. And that was just the discs that I could find. I have discs without boxes, boxes without discs and I know that I purchased some discs that I can no longer find boxes or disc for at all.

    But the rough value of what I was able to find and secure through the years is easily $1,000. I added them up. I think I cried a little. Because they were all, ALL of them, irrevocably scratched.

    I have children. Children don't do well with shiny plastic. We had trouble keeping the SNES games working, but at least I could order screwdriver bits from Hong Kong, open the cases and brush the food out with vinegar, a toothbrush and some compressed air. The Nintendo 64 was equally difficult to keep operational. When the industry unanimously went to DVDs with the Gamecube, the XBOX and the PS1, I knew we were doomed. But we settled on the XBOX because of Halo.

    Five years later, two XBOXes, four power supplies, twenty controllers, four DVD enablers/remotes, four years of XBM with sample DVDs (most missing), and over $1,000 in games, I did it.

    I broke the law.

    After installing mod chips, I managed to copy some, not all, but some of our dying games up to a Samba share on our network. I spent another $40 on a DMCA device known as a grinder along with some cotton polishing wheels and plastic polish and managed to restore a few more DVD discs to readability. I also destroyed one permanently learning how to do this slowly and carefully enough. We now have about 23 titles "saved" and usable, and at least another 30 waiting for me to attempt to restore them.

    Could we go to blockbuster, rent a game, save it and play it forever? Sure, but we don't. Just like I don't run around committing murder with my kitchen knives on a daily basis. We need to teach the industry that capability != intent. You'd think they would figure this out. When our XBOX wasn't working and I was staring at all our destroyed video games, we STOPPED BUYING GAMES.

    Now that I have a modded xbox that can make a permanent recording of the games I legally acquire and pay for, I don't mind buying games.

    This sort of rationale is why we still play Halo 2 on our modded xboxes. This is why we no longer have an xbox-live subscription (we'd be banned). This is why we have not purchased an XBOX 360. I am very concerned that the next gen consoles will drain my money away through easily scratched polycarbonate game media. It's almost as if they designed them to disintegrate upon contact with children.

    I hope someone in the industry is listening. I need a console that allows me to install software, then put the media in a safe place. Without this feature, my kids cannot play for long (some games only lasted one day) and we don't purchase as many games as we otherwise might.

That does not compute.

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