California man goes to court for modifying Xbox 360

Modifying XboxIn the first trial of its kind, Matthew Crippen, 28, is being taken to court today for modifying Xbox 360s. Crippen was arrested in August 2009 after he was paid to install chips in consoles in order for users to play pirated games.

An undercover agent approached Crippen and offered $80 for the service, and recorded a conversation in which Crippen admitted to modifying three Xbox 360s a week. According to the prosecution, Crippen was running a small business with this operation. He was arrested and released on $5,000 bond. If convicted, Crippen faces a maximum of three years in prison for violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

As the trial starts, Crippen’s defense is already weakening. Last week, a judge declared his team cannot argue “fair use.” The judge determined that “fair use” doesn’t apply seeing as the DMCA makes no mention of it. Crippen’s attorneys wanted to compare modifying a console to jailbreaking an iPhone, which fair use advocates argue have become more similar devices.

And as things couldn’t get worse for Crippen, there’s the possibility that video evidence of Crippen allegedly in the process of modifying a console will be used against him. In his corner, however, is infamous hardware-hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang, who (if permitted) will defend Crippen. Huang contends that Crippen’s modification methods did not technically violate the DMCA. However, the federal government does not plan to take Huang’s testimony into account.

What adds an air of controversy to the debacle is the stance Microsoft has recently taken on hacking regarding its new Kinect. A year ago, Microsoft put modifiers on blast, and began banning worked-on machines from Xbox Live. And when a similar situation arose after Kinect’s release, the company initially threatened legal action against users who tampered with the device’s hardware. However, after the “hacks” become more and more innovative and were largely praised by media outlets as revolutionary, Microsoft suddenly changed its tone. Microsoft argues it left the Kinect open source for the very purpose of modifying the device, which strangely contradicts the company’s original accusations — as well as everything else it’s ever said about modification.

Whatever the company’s true feelings on the subject, Crippen is facing extremely dire consequences for his own actions. Something gamers everywhere would be wise to take heed of.

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