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06.27.11

Anticompetitive Remote Kill Switches for Microsoft Xbox

Posted in Hardware, Microsoft at 9:26 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Scarlet and cream floral design

Summary: Red flags in Microsoft’s DRM-encumbered hardware, this time with prospects of (mis)using DMCA laws

There is not so much to say about the Xbox family of products anymore. The founders have all left Microsoft (last one to leave did so recently) and the rivals are doing a lot better, even in the United States.

Last year Microsoft started attacking companies that essentially complemented Xbox360 [1, 2, 3]. It is always a bad sign when a company sues in an attempt to salvage some profit, not at all minding the impact on public opinion.

Ars Technica now asks,”[c]an Microsoft use the DMCA to kill competing Xbox 360 accessories?”

Can Microsoft remotely disable third-party accessories from working with the Xbox 360 and get away with it?

The Redmond, Washington software- and console-maker did just that, and claims copyright law gave it the right. At issue is Microsoft’s 2009 remote disabling of Datel memory cards, which prompted an antitrust lawsuit that lives on today—litigation that has morphed into the latest test of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

The 1998 DMCA makes it a crime or civil violation to offer a product or service that circumvents a technological measure designed to protect copyrighted material.

Consoles are essentially a single-purpose computer whose sole purpose is to run games (and there is DRM to enforce this restriction). Kill switches on such consoles is a subject we explored here before. This whole trend helps rationalise the need for software freedom.

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