Thursday 25th October/... A ‘businessman’, who traded under the name of ‘Mr Modchips’ today became only the second person in the UK to be convicted for distributing and selling the illegal technology that enables games console users to play illegally copied DVDs and CDs – the operation netted him an estimated £1million.
Neil Stanley Higgs of Speedwell Road, Speedwell, Bristol, was found guilty at Bristol Crown Court, on Friday 19th October, of 26 offences under Section 296ZB of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act – an amendment to the 1988 act that came into force in 2003 to tackle the burgeoning chipping offences problem.
Higgs, 39, was found guilty on three counts of advertising, supplying and selling a modification chip or ‘modchip’, designed to enable people to use illegally copied games in their consoles. In addition to this he was found guilty of 12 counts of possessing 19 chipped games consoles in the course of a business and another 11 counts of possessing ‘Executor’ modchips for Microsoft consoles in the course of a business. And Viper GC chip for Nintendo consoles.
Higgs was cleared of a further four counts of possessing chipped consoles in the course of a business because it was deemed that these were owned by friends and family. Higgs argued that all 19 of the chipped consoles found in his possession were owned by friends and family, but this was later dismissed by Judge Carole Hagen.
The court head that Higgs was tracked down by Bristol City Council’s Trading Standards after ELSPA (the Entertainment and Leisure Software Publishers Association) investigators unearthed illegal chips and modification equipment being sold through his website at www.mrmodchips.com and www.mrmodchips.co.uk.
Higgs set up his business in 2002 and it is estimated he enjoyed a turnover of £1million by the time the offenses were uncovered, where an estimated 3700 Executor modchips were found.
On 19th January 2006, Trading Standards officers from Bristol city council, together with ELSPA investigators, led a raid on Higgs’ parents’ flat above the shops in Speedwell Road where nine computers were seized. This was just one of three UK-wide raids carried out at the time by three Trading Standards teams simultaneously under ‘Operation Barnet’. The team also examined over 200,000 emails on the computers at the flat to harvest the evidence presented to the Crown Court during the two week trial.
Michael Rawlinson, managing director of ELSPA, said: “This case today sets a major precedent which marks a milestone in the fight against piracy, protecting the games industry’s investment in fantastic games. It sends a clear message to anyone tempted to become involved in ‘chipping’ consoles that this is a criminal offence and will be dealt in the strongest possible way. The modification of consoles is an activity that ELSPA’s anti-piracy team is prioritising – it is encouraging to see the UK courts do the same.”
Robin Whittle, Principal Trading Standards Officer, Bristol Trading Standards, said: “This is a very significant result following a complex investigation. The defendant has been running a business of providing the means to get around the copyright protection on games consoles and the jury have clearly recognised this in the guilty verdicts they returned today."
Following the jury's unanimous verdict, Mr Higgs' lawyers asked for leave to appeal, which was granted by the Judge. A date for the appeal hearing has yet to be set.
Further court proceedings are imminent and a financial investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) is underway. This can lead to the confiscation of illegally obtained assets including money, homes and other valuable property for the criminals involved.
Mainstream coverage of this implies he sold/distributed copied games, but this explicitly states that he was found guilty of selling mod chips and chipped consoles only. I thought mod chips were still a grey area due to their duel use, with Sony losing as many court cases as they win, so I'm surprised by the result. It isn't made clear whether 360 chips in particular were the reason for the conviction either.