“Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do…whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”
Thinking about modding that shiny new gaming console sitting by your television? Well, think again. Federal U.S. Customs officials raided more than 30 homes and businesses in 16 states on Wednesday looking for devices that allow pirated video games to be played on the Wii, PS2, and Xbox. All in all, 32 search warrants were served across the U.S. The raids were conducted in: California, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin. Although the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) did not release any names, the ICE (ice, baby) did comment that those targeted were responsible for importing, installing, selling and distributing the foreign-made chips smuggled into the U.S.
Industry experts from the Entertainment Software Association trade group estimate that sales of counterfeit or illegally obtained games account for a 3 billion (yes, 3 billion) dollar a year loss for the industry. The illegal mod chips and other devices were prohibited by the Digital Millennium Copyright act of 1998. Some readers might remember the days before the Copyright act of 1998. It was truly the Wild Wild West. Mod chips were being sold to kids in back alleys. Parents were playing modded systems right in front of their children! In other words, life was utter chaos. Luckily, federal agents have been cracking down on video game piracy to end the lunacy and lost lives involved with modified consoles.
As it turns out, the lovable little Nintendo Wii is not as cuddly when you are taking their money. Jodi Daugherty, senior director of anti-piracy at Nintendo America, assembled an elite five-person task force that assisted law enforcement authorities in seizing over 60,000 modification devices for the Wii worldwide since April. How do you get a job as an anti-piracy director? No doubt Jodi was also a hall monitor in elementary school. Daugherty stated, “Piracy losses for Nintendo and its game developers and publishers likely totaled $762 million last year alone.” Losing that much money makes Mario one angry little plumber.
Wednesday’s raids came after a yearlong joint investigation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Office of the Assistant Special Agent in Charge in Cleveland, which worked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio and the Department of Justice’s Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section (the DJCCIS?). Hopefully, the departments can also find ways to make their names longer and more confusing. “The DJCCwhaaa is raiding me???”
Not to be outdone, the office of Homeland Security (yes, homeland security) threw their hat in the ring as well. Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers stated, “Illicit devices like the ones targeted today are created with one purpose in mind, subverting copyright protections." Myers went on to say, “These crimes cost legitimate businesses billions of dollars annually and facilitate multiple other layers of criminality, such as smuggling, software piracy and money laundering.” Undoubtedly, the charges levied against the distributors and installers of modification chips are serious. Indictments of smuggling and money laundering sound more typical of the Corleone crime family then video game owners.
No one is debating that software companies and record labels have a right to be paid for their products. No matter how craptacular Red Steel or the new Fergie album was, you still have to pay for it. The problem arises when these huge (and highly profitable) companies attempt to evoke sympathy by stating how much money they are losing because you use torrents or cracked open your Xbox and soldered a chip to its guts. Interestingly enough, it is constitutionally protected and legal to modify any personally owned electronics. The illegal aspect is not the modification chip, it is the modified source codes installed on those chips.
Julie L. Myers is severely misguided in her assertion that the only reason someone would buy a mod chip is to pirate software. There are many amateur programmers that love to tinker around and make new OS’s for existing systems. The modification chips enable users to have increased functionality and let the consoles do what users wanted them to do in the first place. Also lost in the argument is that hacks and modifications address additional consumer needs. To this end, companies should take note on not only that the underground modification trade exists, but also why it exists outside of piracy. After Wednesday’s raids one aspect is abundantly clear as far as the government is concerned. If you modify your Wii, the terrorists have already won.
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