Video Game Piracy and the DMCA

So according to the news, video game pirates have more to worry about. A student is facing 10-years in prison for modding consoles and a video game pirate in Japan who created a website that hosted DS roms, is looking at 2 years in prison and fines totaling up to $96,000.

I just wanted to voice my opinion on the matter. First of all, I think criminalizing modifications to a console is a terrible idea. There are two purposes for modding a console, playing homebrew(home made applications, which is perfectly LEGAL) and playing pirated games. While I acknowledge that perhaps the majority of people who mod, do it to play illegal copies, I think its despicable that people are imprisoned SOLELY for modding, whether or not they played illegal copies. We, as consumers, OWN the console after we buy it and therefore have the right to do whatever we want with any products we BOUGHT. Playing homebrew involves no copyright infringement. Often, console features which publishers don't bother to release, are unlocked by hackers, like in the case of the homebrew DVD player on the Wii. The Mplayer team took it upon themselves to create a software for the Wii that would play dvd movies, which the Wii cannot do yet still.

The DMCA(Digital Millennium Copyright Act) criminalizes any attempts at circumventing any measures at controlling access to copyrighted material. But, this is in itself an unfair act. It doesn't criminalize copyright infringement (because that was already illegal), it criminalizes any method which gives the user the ability to illegally use copyrighted materials. This sounds okay until you realize that modding consoles isn't so much making a console piracy enabled as it is freeing up the device to do any number of things which the console maker deemed was "undesirable". The DMCA, most recently, has been used by Apple to justify their argument in criminalizing the unlocking of their Iphones. They have even stated that an unlocked Iphone is a threat to national security as it can be used to take down cell-towers and used by "drug dealers" to make anonymous calls, never mind the fact that a regular computer is much better tool to use to take down a tower, and that option was already available to "drug dealers" in the form of pay phones.

The second case which I stated above brings to mind my feelings about how the video game industry, and publishers especially, need to reconsider their profit-driven business models. It seems like every month, the MSRP for video games goes up by another $10. I know that publishers getting $0 for their work is not a solution, but neither is prosecuting everyone who downloads an illegal copy of their games. Maybe the studio should be looking at what would attract a user to buy the game rather than download it. About half a year ago, Steam did some research by adjusting their prices and found that when they cut Left 4 Dead's price by 50% then net profit increased by %3000, and that was in only one weekend. This reignites the whole discussion of whether the price point for games is "broken" and needs to be readjusted. I think if the prices are readjusted, more people would buy games, then we would see a drastic reduction in piracy. We have to see copyright piracy for what it is, and that is a symptom of the problem, not the cause.

UPDATE: So Activision CEO Bobby Kotick further shows that many video game companies haven't grasped the concept of lowering prices to reach a wider audience. He makes a comment about his desire to increase prices on games despite the fact that the economy is in shambles and unemployment is rampant.


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