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Poll: Modifying game consoles a no-no?

August 4, 2009 |  4:20 pm

Matthew Crippen, a Cal State Fullerton student, was arrested on federal charges of modifying videogame consoles for profit. The 27-year-old pleaded not guilty and was released Monday after posting $5,000 bond. If convicted, Crippen faces up to 10 years in prison.

The feds say Crippen modified Microsoft Xbox, Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation consoles to play pirated disks, violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Federal prosecutor Mark Krause told KPCC that Crippen “advertised online and had a large clientele.” 

Bringing charges against such alleged pirates as Crippen is a divisive issue. One the one hand (I'll get to the other side in a bit), you have the companies that expend considerable resources developing and selling the games and understandably want to see robust enforcement of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. In 2005, four commercial retailers with Pandora’s Cube, a Washington-area store that sold modified consoles pre-loaded with games, were each sentenced to a few months in prison.   

The console manufacturers are guarding not just the integrity of their products, but also their business models. If modifiers were merely specializing in improved performance of the product, the issue wouldn’t be so important to the console producers. Surely Ford and GM wouldn't go after the show “Pimp My Ride” for decking out their companies' cars with louder stereos and more powerful engines.

Pirated disks can be bought for $10 or less, while the real things (brand new, of course) fetch $50 to $75 a copy. Just by looking at this price difference, it's easy to see that for game and console makers, this is indeed a lucrative business easily threatened by pirated software. 

On the flip side, some wonder why console buyers aren’t allowed to upgrade systems that are bought legitimately for as much as $600 apiece. Then there's the more pressing issue over whether locking up an otherwise harmless 27-year-old for a decade is the best use of resources (though, judging by past cases, Crippen stands to receive a much lighter sentence if convicted).  

In the battle between the rights of the creator and the freedom of the owner, which side of the game are you on?

--Kevin Patra

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