In a move sure to restore the faith in the legal system for millions of gamers worldwide, six Australia High Court judges unanimously ruled that it is not illegal to install a mod chip in a console for the purposes of playing imported games.

The judgement ends four years of legal wrangling between Sony Computer Entertainment and Sydney-based small business owner, Eddy Stevens. Sony filed suit against Stevens in 2001, because he ran a mod chipping service for PlayStation 2 owners. While many console modders closed shop rather than risk similar lawsuits, Stevens refused to back down, ultimately prevailing over the Japanese giant.

"Well, you can say I'm pretty happy with the verdict. We always figured we would win because we were in the right," he said. "The whole point is, what we are doing helps consumers."

The court accepted Stevens' argument that while making a pirated copy of a game is illegal, playing a game by using a mod-chip is not. If you are fluent in legalese, you can read the full judgement for yourself.

While unscrupulous gamers use chipped consoles to play full release console games downloaded for free, many simply want to play games imported from other countries, such as Japan, which are never released in western markets.

Others are quite happy to pay full price for games, but object to the region locking of games that forces enthusiasts to for wait up to six months for the game to be released in their local country. Some publishers combat this 'grey market piracy' through simultaneous worldwide releases, a tactic that most gamers suggest would eliminate the need for region locking altogether.

It is unknown at this point what Sony and Microsoft have planned for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 respectively in terms of copy protection and region coding, but one suspects they will be more aggressive than ever. The sheer size of some next generation games - some 30-50GB - will deter a certain level of piracy, as will price and availability of writeable HD DVD / Blu-ray drives and media.

While a minority will always pirate software given the chance to do so, most gamers are happy to play within the law if given the chance to play imported games without restrictions.

Have your say on this controversial issue: should people have the right to buy games in any country they want, or can Sony impose any restrictions they like on their own hardware?
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