A court in Italy has ruled that PlayStation 2 mod chips are entirely legal under Italian law. The case was brought to court after the seizure of a number of modded PlayStation 2s by Italian police.
In the ruling mod chips were described as being used to "avoid monopolistic positions and improve the possibilities for use of the PlayStation". Further, Sony’s attempts to limit the use of the PlayStation 2 to software release specifically for the European market was described as "absurd".
Yay. Finally. :)
Even inside the industry, I'm amazed how many people do not question the authority of the console manufacturer. Nintendo, Sony, et al. have long been manufacturing hardware which makes it impossible to create and release new content without copying some of their content. By using copyright law this way, they get approval rights on all software that interacts with their device. There are arguments that this is reasonable, but I want to at least note that it's not what the law they are using exists to protect. They are forcing someone to copy something copyrighted in order to do something that would otherwise be legal. I consider this abuse of copyright law.
This is how the games industry works: You buy a DVD player that can only play movies released by Sony (or approved by Sony). If you want to watch a Disney1
movie, you have to buy a different player, because Sony doesn't like them. Sorry! Imagine if TVs worked that way. (Imagine how VHS almost did. ;) It's laughable in the context of a TV only because we are used to a device and sales model which separates the medium from the content. The separation is always not as clean as it seems... Sony owns copyrights to DVD technology, and as such, makes money on every DVD. But they do not get content approval. The censorship is more of an issue to me than the fee. (I also disagree with regional restrictions, as they serve no useful purpose but encouraging piracy, but I think everyone who cares already dodges them... so whatever. :)
Any moral objections to censorship and monopolies aside, other industries have shown repeatedly that a more open market wins in the long run. Personal computers are the nicest example, where both the hardware and software can be made by damn near anybody and published freely. There is no approval required. There have been many failed attempts (the first by IBM, mmm PS/2) to replace the open PC market with a more closed one.
Changing the console video game model would turn the games industry upside-down in some ways. Many (but not all) console manufacturers run a losing business on the hardware, planning to make it up on software. They might want to fix that. But there are more things it would not change. Publishers and Wal-mart are still going to control what gets released and marketed, and thus sales. The lone wolf is only less screwed legally, capitalism is still the beast.1. It took me non-trivial brainpower to think of two publishers which are not in fact the same publisher. :)</small>