Everyone's favourite source of imported and otherwise obscure video game goodies, Lik-Sang.com, has been told by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Limited (SCEE) to front up to the High Court in Hong Kong as a result of selling PlayStation Portable (PSP) consoles to markets such as the UK & Europe, where the handheld is yet to be launched.

Lik-Sang have been totally taken aback by this lawsuit, given that the laws of Hong Kong are clear when it comes to parallel trade. Hong Kong's legislation is based on the fact that allowing parallel and free trade will restore natural competition and benefit consumers with lower prices. Hong Kong, one of the pioneering countries respecting worldwide exhaustion of trademark rights, allows free trade once an item entered the market for sale.

In short, Sony were caught with their pants down, and now they are looking to take legal action to protect potential sales in markets kept in the dark for nearly a year. The PSP launched on 12th December 2004 in Japan only, with gamers queuing up to 18 hours to get their hands on one.

Having under-estimated demand, and unable to ramp up production quickly enough, the electronics giant scrambled to assemble 1 million units for the North American launch on 24th March 2005. They originally planned to also launch across Europe before 31st March, but it was deemed too risky - demand was such that widespread shortages may have occurred. The European launch is now re-scheduled for 1st September.

European gamers unwilling to wait have been able to personally import a PSP from Lik-Sang for many months now. Adding fuel to the fire, on 18th July Lik-Sang bundled Free Worldwide Shipping as part of their deal, meaning UK enthusiasts can enjoy a PSP for approx £165 (225 euros), 6 weeks before launch and cheaper than the expected £179 (249 euros) official pricing.

Naturally, Sony aren't best pleased, and have wheeled out their legal rottweilers:

"Lik-Sang's sales are an unlawful interference with Sony's economic interests", stated Sony's legal correspondence. The case relies on Sony's claim, that Lik-Sang.com has advertised the PlayStation Portable products in a "dishonest manner". Lik-Sang.com will do its best to fight Sony's powers and appreciates any support from employees, friends and even customers.

It is hard to imagine much sympathy for Sony in this case: in a free market economy, the customer is king, and thanks to the modern marvels of the interweb and UPS, we simply refuse to have unreasonable restrictions imposed on what we can and cannot buy, and when.

This case is different to their victory over the PlayStation mod chippers, since Lik-Sang are just boxshifters; there are no modifications taking place. There is no "lost" revenue, since Lik-Sang are sourcing units through distributors in the Far East - an import sale is of the same value to Sony as a retail purchase in Toyko.

The news must surely cause some amusement at Nintendo. Having launched their DS handheld way back in March, the big N have enjoyed a 6-month head start on their Japanese rivals. Not only will the PSP launch at nearly double the price of their sub-£100 handheld, but Sony are now effectively attacking their most hardcore fans - the ones who paid over the odds to own a PSP ahead of launch.

Pascal Clarysse, Marketing Manager for Lik-Sang.com, summed up this lawsuit rather neatly:

"This is the most aggressive move against its own customers that a console manufacturer has ever taken in the 30 year history of videogames. Sony wants to completely cut hardcore gamers away from items released in Japan or anywhere else outside their own country. A very active part of the gaming community has been enjoying Japanese gaming culture for over two decades, and that's what the Empire is now willing to destroy."

We want to hear your view on this: will you boycott the official PSP launch as a result of Sony's bulling tactics? Maybe you already own an imported PSP, and want to share your experience with it. Grab your torches and pitchforks and head for the News Discussion forum.
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