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Chipping PlayStations isn't illegal, says Italian court

'We know you're only doing it to fight monopolistic business practices…'

By Christophe Guillemin

Published: Wednesday 21 January 2004

Calling the limits put on the PlayStation 2 by Sony "absurd", the Italian authorities have ruled that it's illegal to prohibit certain uses of commercial products.

While Sony is boasting about PlayStation sales breaking the 70-million barrier, the Japanese giant has suffered its first significant legal defeat in Europe. On 31 December, a court in Bolzano, Italy, ruled that the authorities' seizure a few days earlier of mod-chipped PlayStation 2s was illegal - officially landing chipped PlayStation 2s on the right side of Italian law.

The ruling could create complications for other manufacturers, notably Microsoft, which gives access to certain services - for example, Xbox Live online games - only on condition that the console's components aren't tampered with.

Chipping a PS2, as with other consoles, changes limitations set by the manufacturer on what the machine can and can't read - including allowing the owner to read discs from other geographical regions and play pirated copies of software.

The Bolzano court decided that the purpose of converter chips is to "avoid monopolistic positions and improve the possibilities for use of the PlayStation". Moreover, when considering if the Italian civil code permitted a company to prohibit a specific use of one of its products, the court decided: "The response is negative; the product's owner can use it as they see fit." The report on the case was published by the Alcei (Association pour la Liberté dans les Communications Electroniques Interactives), which is affiliated to the EFF in the US.

The court also labelled "absurd" the limits that Sony puts on its console's disc-reading ability. It noted that as well as acting as an antipiracy measure, the limits disable any homemade copies of games, restricting players to those published by the Japanese manufacturer; and that even then, only titles from the specific geographical regions unlocked on the machine will work.

"It's a little like Fiat marketing its cars while banning them from being driven by non-European citizens or outside towns," the court said. It remains to be seen if this interpretation will affect technological locks in place on other commercially available products.

Christophe Guillemin writes for ZDNet France.

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