In stark contrast to Wednesday’s news that mod chips were to be formally legalized in Australia, British trade organization ELSPA has announced that a man in England has been sentenced to one hundred and twenty hours community service for running a “while you wait” modding service.
The conviction was made at Carlisle Crown Court on the Scottish border, where Stephen Fitzgerald pleaded guilty to nine charges relating to “chipping” games consoles, contrary to the British Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (copyright circumvention offenses). He was ordered to pay £2,500 towards prosecution costs and subject of a Proceeds of Crime Act (2002) confiscation order for £2,710, to be paid by May 23rd or face three months in jail.
Fitzgerald was picked up by Police, Cumbria Trading Standards and an ELSPA investigator in April 2004 when, trading as www.mods-and-sods.co.uk, he operated a stall at a computer fair held at the Swallow Hilltop Hotel in Carlisle, where he offered to modify PlayStation and Xbox consoles while people waited. His stall also offered and advertised for sale pre-chipped PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles.
This case stands as one of the first of its kind in the UK, as the criminal offense only came into effect in October 2003. Fitzgerald challenged this interpretation of the criminal law by asserting that a game was simply a computer program and therefore not covered by the regulations.
Michael Rawlinson, managing director of ELSPA, said: “We have always believed that ‘chipping’ consoles is a clear criminal offense and the result of this case has confirmed it. This means that people who modify games consoles to enable them to play copied games will now face the full force of criminal law which can lead to substantial fines or even imprisonment”.
The UK, and Europe in general, has one of the largest grey import markets in the world with hardcore gamers commonly using modified consoles to play games which are released months or even years later than the rest of the world – or in many cases not all.