Great news for anyone who likes tampering with their game consoles came out of a federal court today. The judge in a high-profile Xbox modding case has allowed use of the argument that altering the device in your own home fits into the long-defined Fair Use legal doctrine.
28-year-old Anaheim, California resident Matthew Crippen found himself in hot water when prosecutors brought charges against him for charging to mod Xbox 360s. They said that by violating the official software put in place on the system, Crippen could be charged with copyright infringement violations.
However, the judge overhearing the case has said he will accept a defense of "Fair Use" in the case. It's the same defense that eventually led to the ruling that iPhone jailbreaking isn't illegal. Following that legal precedent to the letter may allow Crippen to get off scot-free.
Lead prosecutor Allen Chiu argued that any sort of evidence or arguments citing Fair Use are t irrelevant to the case, will be used to wrongly achieve a "not guilty" sentence from the jury despite the evidence, and should not be admitted. The judge didn't agree, saying, "Because fair use is a mixed question of law and fact, it is a permissible question for the jury."
Of course, modding your Xbox 360 voids its warranty and could render it inoperable or unable to play future games. Sony has taken the proactive measure of continuously updating its firmware to brick PS3s that are modded without authorization. Microsoft hasn't been quite so strict with its console.
The decision today is merely a small victory for Crippen, who still needs to undergo an entire trial before his fate is decided. If convicted of violating the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, as prosecutors allege, he could face up to three years in prison. But if the Fair Use defense holds, it may set a new precedent.