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Government Tries to Block Expert Testimony in Mod Chip Case

| 25 Oct 2010 20:01
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Prosecutors in the case of a man charged with violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act by modding Xbox 360s are trying to block the testimony of "celebrity geek" Andrew "Bunnie" Huang, the author of the 2003 book Hacking the Xbox: An Introduction to Reverse Engineering.

Matthew Crippen of Anaheim, California, is charged with violating the anti-circumvention regulations in the DMCA after installing mod chips in Xbox 360 consoles for undercover agents belonging to the Entertainment Software Association and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. It's serious business - he faces up to three years in prison if convicted on both counts - and so he's enlisted the help of Chumby designer and "hacking pioneer" Andrew Huang to testify on his behalf.

"Basically, what he did was insufficient on its own to violate anything," Huang said in a recent interview. The DMCA should allow for "fair use" exemptions, he continued, which would allow for the installation of mod chips in consoles for legitimate purposes. He also pointed out that the U.S. Copyright Office recently legalized jailbreaking cellphones and said that consoles should get the same treatment.

"The bottom line, I would like to see the scope of the DMCA limited to an appropriate statute that respects fair use, one that respects traditional rights," he added.

But prosecutors are doing their best to block Huang from testifying, arguing that his opinions are not legally admissible and that the "continual reliance on 'fair use' as a defense" is irrelevant because circumvention is prohibited by the DMCA regardless of the reason. The judge in the case has yet to rule on the matter.

Three years in prison for installing mod chips in game consoles is an absolute obscenity and Electronic Frontier Foundation Legal Director Cindy Cohn said the case highlights one of the many flaws in the DMCA. The Library of Congress only takes requests for exemptions to the law every three years, a glacial pace that would be laughable if it wasn't so damaging, and while it agreed to allow iPhone jailbreaking, apparently nobody thought to ask about game consoles. Now we have to wait another couple of years until the process comes around again. "This is why the DMCA process, it's a pretty inefficient way to think of how the law should be," Cohn said.

Crippen's trial is scheduled to begin on November 30.

Source: Ars Technica

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