Every 3 years the Copyright Office seeks exemptions to the DMCA’s controversial anti-circumvention clause. Under this clause, no one can bypass DRM or any other technological measure that prevents copying of a digital file. Because of the controversy over this provision, the DMCA was passed with a process that allows interested parties to seek an exemption.
After succeeding in getting an exception to jailbreak iPhones last year, the EFF is seeking to expand that ability to all smartphones, tablets and most interestingly game consoles. This last provision is something that will cause a lot of commotion.
Both Sony and Nintendo have been very active in blocking the ability for console owners from modding their consoles to run unsigned or region locked games. Nintendo has been on a worldwide pursuit of popular DS cartridges that allow for the running of homebrew and copied games. Sony made headlines this year by suing popular PS3 modder GeoHotz. Microsoft is not really a fan of allowing this either as it frequently bans consoles of those who have modded their console.
Despite the opposition from console manufacturers, this ability is something that plenty of gamers want. Instructions for hacking the Wii to add a homebrew channel are very easy to find and have been featured on sites like Joystiq and LifeHacker. Just recently, the work of a group called Operation Rainfall led to many people jailbreaking their Wii’s to play import copies of the game Xenoblade. While Operation Rainfall does not support the use of console modifications, the actions of game fans are pretty clear.
One of the primary arguments against this provision is that gamers would do bad things with them such as cheat or pirate games. This was raised recently in a Gamasutra opinion column in which Nick Brown raised just those specters. In this column he stated that the problems that rise from cheating will only be made worse and that more piracy will occur as a result. While these claims do have merit as they have happened through the use of mods, the facts don’t really agree with him. Illegal and unethical behavior rarely if ever waits for legal permission. Those that want to pirate or cheat are already doing so and there will be very little change if this provision was to be made active.
While the likelihood of the Copyright Office granting such a provision is slim, this request should make it clear to console manufacturers that gamers want more control over the software that runs on the consoles. Additionally, if the ability to do so is already available, what incentive is there to continue blocking these mods from consumers who wish to use this ability for fair use means? Why should they have to suffer because of the actions of a minority of gamers?