Curmudgeon Gamer
Curmudgeoning all games equally.
23 April 2006
What's illegal about Swap Magic?
What part of Swap Magic discs is illegal? That's what came with my fliptop case. In a story on importing games, GameSpot says (on page 2):
PlayStation 2: There are no 100-percent-legal work-arounds to playing Japanese games on a US PS2, so access to the Japanese library of games requires investing in an additional system.
Oh? That caught me a little by surprise. I'd never investigated the magic in Swap Magic, but best I can figure is this bit from Wikipedia:
The PlayStation 2 first boots the Swap Magic disc; the user must then "swap" the Swap Magic disc with their back-up, pirated or import disc, and press the X button. This allows the manually burned CD to fake authorisation with the Playstation 2 as the authorisation is performed on the Swap Magic disc, which is taken from a real PS2 disc. (The CD sometimes used is Crazy Taxi.)
Emphasis there on the important bit: they've copied something off a legal PlayStation 2 game. If this is true, why Crazy Taxi? Was it's authorization somehow weaker and easier to copy than other games?

This bit from Wikipedia is also puzzling to me:
Swap Magic discs cannot be backed up as they are pressed using the same copy protection used in Playstation 2 game discs.
So how's that happen?

Beyond that, are mod chips held to be illegal in the United States? Sure, people selling them have been found guilty in court, but I thought they were usually paired with material that was explicitly pirated, like Xboxes with giant hard drives preloaded with ripped games. Is there a case of a person selling just the chips (or even just installing them) and nothing else and being found guilty? Or do the chips contain some copyrighted bits, as in the Crazy Taxi example above?

Anyway, I guess I'm still a criminal, sitting here with my fliptop and Swap Magic discs.
--Matt Matthews at 08:40
Comment [ 6 ]

Comments on this post:

The point of using the ID of a legit game is so that the console makers cannot disable this ID in a future hardware revision.

IANAL, but isn't any device which circumvents copy protection systems illegal in the USA under the DMCA?

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 23 April, 2006 09:24  

Yes, the DMCA is nasty. Yes, I've "circumvented a system", but not so I could use illegal copies. I've used my fliptop and Swap Magic to play homebrew software and use emulators with only public domain ROMs and ROMs of games that I own. (As if i needed to tell regulars around here, but not everyone will have read earlier screeds...)

By Blogger jvm, at 23 April, 2006 10:04  

Sure, but your intentions are not relevant from a legal POV. If the Swap Magic verified the copy protection then that particular objection would not apply, but importing and circumventing regional protection is not clear-cut legally either (what's the status of circumventing region protection of DVDs in the US? The same applies here.)

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 23 April, 2006 10:20  

Is there a case where an individual has circumvented a copy protection system for his own use, without infringing copyright itself (i.e. not the DMCA part), and been prosecuted? Not that I'm aware of, and I doubt there will be one. If I have to be the test case, then so be it.

By Blogger jvm, at 23 April, 2006 10:39  

Circumventing the copy protection system is the DMCA part - you're in violation simply by being able to do so. Actual copyright infringement is covered under normal copyright laws.

In the DeCSS cases at least Jon Johansen was prosecuted for circumventing the CSS encryption of DVDs, but charges against him were ultimately dropped. Eric Corley, the editor of 2600 Magazine was barred from either posting or linking to the DeCSS code.

Dmitry Sklyarov was arrested after giving a talk on how to circumvent Adobe's ebook protection. Charges against him were dropped in exchange for his testimony and at a trial the jury found his employer not guilty of wilfully violating US law.

The authors of BnetD were successfully prosecuted by Blizzard.

There's also been a ton of cease-and-desists sent under the DMCA, but very few of them ever reach a court. The Chilling Effects website is a good source of info here.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 23 April, 2006 11:34  

Strictly on topic, the question's asked, answered, and analyzed:

What's illegal about Swap Magic?
The DMCA might make it illegal.
Yeah, but who's gonna prosecute me for just breaking the DMCA without infringing copyright?
Examples given, and see Chilling Effects.

Apparently, however, I can't restrain myself from making a couple of trivial further points:

Whether the law's typically enforced or enforceable doesn't have anything to do with the original question. I'm a little surprised to see jvm switch blithely from "illegal" to "whether I'll be punished for it", since he normally seems so law-abiding.

Furthermore, while _you_ might not get prosecuted, it's quite possible the producers of Swap Magic might, for making and selling circumvention devices. Your otherwise legal use of it doesn't mean other people are using it so scrupulously.

Although, of course, whether Swap Magic is really a circumvention device would have to be argued in court. The DMCA isn't terrifically clear on whether "using a different key" really counts as circumventing the access control.

Now, my personal experience: I use Swap Magic to run games bought in the UK on my PS2 bought in the US. This is blatantly circumventing the region encoding. Financially, it's just plain dumb for anyone to prevent me from doing this: there's no way I'd actually buy a UK PS2 just to play World Championship Snooker, and there's no way Sony's ever going to release it in a US version.

It's worth noting that the DMCA is not about copy protection, so much as it is about "access control circumvention". In the DeCSS case, the judge (according to this site) said that it didn't really matter if the primary purpose was for people to play legally bought DVDs under Linux. The program was clearly circumventing an access control, and that's that.

So, I assume, it doesn't matter what purpose the access control is for: region encoding, copy protection, or whatever. The only place copyright enters into it is that the thing whose access is controlled has to be copyrightable. So the DMCA doesn't cover you breaking my clever encryption of the works of Shakespeare, but arguably does cover you using Swap Magic to play your legally purchased copy of Tomb Raider, even though you could have just stuck it in the PS2 without Swap Magic at all.

By Blogger Bob, at 23 April, 2006 23:08  

Contact Us

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]



Warm bile sold separately:

Browse Curmudgeon Gamer Memorial Library


Internet game search:

Classic: 02/2002 to 10/2005

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?