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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 10:49 GMT
US seizes bootleg games site
Microsoft's Xbox
Xbox has built-in copyright protection
A website used by tens of thousands of people every day that offered information on bootlegged video games and movies has been shut down by the US Government.

The Justice Department took over the domain name, isonews.com, after its owner pleaded guilty to selling modification chips that would allow gamers to play bootleg video games on Microsoft's Xbox console.

The site's owner, David Rocci, fell foul of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which makes it a crime to distribute tools that can be used to circumvent copyright controls on digital products.

Some civil liberties groups have expressed concern about the free speech implications of the government seizing websites and domain names.

Despite the action by the Justice Department, the original site can still be reached on its numerical IP address.

Console chipping

ISO News had more than 100,000 registered users and was estimated to get up 140,000 hits each day.

David Rocci developed a public website that specifically catered to the underground piracy community
Michael Chertoff, Assistant Attorney General
The site did not contain illegal copies of video games, software and movies, but instead featured message boards where people could share tips about pirated material.

But the site was also used to market modification, or mod, chips. These have been a headache for game hardware makers for years,

Mod chips are grey-market add-ons that, once soldered to a console's main circuit board, defeat security systems and allow people to play games originally sent to different geographic markets, backup copies and bootleg discs.

The laws over mod chips are unclear. While they are illegal in some countries, they are not in others.

In July last year, an Australian judge ruled that mod chips sold for the original PlayStation did not infringe on Sony copyright protections.

New tactic

ISO News domain name was taken over as part of a plea deal with the US Justice Department. Rocci handed over the site and pleaded guilty to importing mod chips from Britain and selling them for between $45 and $60.

This could be equivalent to the death penalty in the context of free speech on the internet
David Sobel, Electronic Privacy Information Center
"David Rocci developed a public website that specifically catered to the underground piracy community," said Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff.

"He attempted to profit by marketing circumvention devices to that community knowing they would be used to play pirated games.

"He thought that there were no risks associated with his actions. He was wrong and everyone engaged in the warez [pirated software] scene should take note," said Mr Chertoff.

Visitors to the ISO News site are now pointed to a statement about the Rocci case as well as information about illegal copyright activity.

But the government's decision to seize the site has caused concern among some civil liberties groups.

"It's a far-reaching and radical approach in light of previous Supreme Court decisions that emphasised the importance of the First Amendment on the internet," said David Sobel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.

"Unfortunately it appears to be a new law enforcement tactic," he said. "This could be equivalent to the death penalty in the context of free speech on the internet."

Rocci is due to be sentenced on 7 March and could receive a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

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