7.10 Sony v Owen (UK anti-circumvention case)

This case came to court in January 2002, after The Future of Ideas was published. It involved the importation into the UK of a so-called ‘Messiah’ chip which could be used to circumvent Sony's PlayStation 2 copy protection codes. The copy protection system allows the PlayStation 2 to search CDs or DVDs for embedded codes identifying them as authorised games which the console will play. If it can't find the codes, it will not play the CD or DVD.

The defendants argued that the ‘Messiah’ chip could be used to facilitate making back-up copies – not just for infringing copyright on Sony's games. The judge ruled in favour of Sony and issued an injunction banning the importation of the chips, as well as awarding damages to Sony.

The European Union passed a copyright directive in the spring of 2001 requiring member states to implement laws similar to the DMCA by December 2002. However, the UK already had anti-circumvention provisions written into the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. Section 296 of this Act was the basis for the judge's decision in this case.

A transcript of the Sony v Owen UK anti-circumvention case was posted on the ukcrypto mailing list in May 2002.

The Playstation, the Xbox and the mod chips

There have been other so-called mod-chip developments in Hong Kong, Australia and the US. Kabushiki Kaisha Sony Computer Entertainment v Stevens in Australia was similar to the UK Sony v Owen case. Sony lost the first round in the Stevens case, in July 2002, with the court ruling that Playstation 2 mod chips could be imported and sold without breaching Australian Law. The judge decided that the combination of the game CD access code and the chip in the Playstation 2 machine that identifies these approved CDs did not constitute a ‘technological protection measure’.

By a majority decision, in July 2003 the Court of Appeal overruled that decision, ordered Stevens to stop selling the mod chips and referred the case back to the lower court to assess what damages Stevens should pay Sony. Stevens appealed and the case was heard by the Australian High Court in early February 2005. The court ruled in favour of Stevens in October 2005.

In April 2003, a US court jailed David Rocci for importing (from the UK) and selling ‘Enigmah’ mod chips for the Microsoft XBox game module. Rocci is one of the first people to be jailed for violating the DMCA. His sentence was five months and a fine of $28,500 (he had been facing up to five years and half a million dollars in fines).

7.11 Copyright Bots, OLGA and the power to monitor and police content on the Net