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Three men have been charged in the US with selling illegally modified Xbox game consoles that allow the devices to play pirated video games, according to reports. Two of the suspects ran a video games shop in Los Angeles. Games consoles such as the Microsoft Xbox or Sony Playstation 2 include copyright protections that prevent them running pirated games or games subject to regional control (where a console bought in one part of the world cannot run games purchased in another).

Mod chips are designed to circumvent these protections. As such, mod chips and "chipped" consoles are in breach of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which prohibits the manufacture and distribution of products or services that circumvent technological protection measures designed to prevent unauthorised access to and copying of copyrighted materials.

According to a criminal complaint filed on Monday, Jason Jones, 34 and Jonathan Bryant, 44, both owners of Los Angeles-based ACME Game Store, used modified Xbox game consoles as demonstrators in their shop and would describe in detail to customers the advantages of the modifications.

Customers would pay from $225 to more than $500 for the modifications, depending on the extent of the modifications requested and the number of games that were pre-loaded onto the hard drive.

A third individual, Pei “Patrick” Cai, 32 from Pico Rivera, California, would pick up game consoles to be modified, modify the systems at his home, and then return the consoles to the shop, where they were picked up by customers, says the complaint.

The trio were caught after undercover agents with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) paid $265 to have a modification chip, a hard drive and 77 pirated games installed on an Xbox. ICE had been tipped off by trade group the Entertainment Software Alliance.

The three men have all been charged with conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and to violate the DMCA, and face a maximum of five years in prison.

They are due to appear in a Los Angeles District Court in late January. See also:

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