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Game on: Players zap Sony, Microsoft over digital rights policies

Jay MacDonald

Angry gaming aficionados stormed the in-boxes of the industry’s two predominate dream weavers, Toyko-based Sony and Seattle-based Microsoft, threatening a credit card boycott of their new gaming consoles, Microsoft’s Xbox One and the Sony’s PlayStation 4.

What’s their beef? It seems that both new consoles contain “digital rights management” (or DRM) technology that messes with the way gamers play, share — and perhaps most importantly, resell their “World of Warfare,” “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield 3” video adventures.

What impact will this have, if any, on my game-free existence?

Potentially plenty, though fair warning: It gets a little weedy to sort out why.

Gone, apparently, are the days when gaming was a fairly straightforward pastime: You bought the CD, popped it into your (or a friend’s) computer, and when the thrill was gone, you sold it used.

Instead, Sony and Microsoft have deployed what some are calling draconian DRM controls that, among other things, restrict or prevent gamers from sharing their games with friends and reselling them to used-game stores or on eBay.

In fact, because games on its new console now require both a disc and an online service, Microsoft gamers will be unable to play games if their console goes offline for more than 24 hours. The company also announced it will allow gamers to share a copy only once, and only with mates who’ve been on their friends list for at least 30 days. If you sell the game to your friend, DRM will then block them from selling it.

Rising up, gamers have flooded social media websites to urge people to remove the authorization to use their credit cards. I’m no expert but that sounds like the makings of a fairly decent video game right there. Maybe “Hail, Robot Overlords 3.”

The bigger picture emerging from all of this, the one that’s going to land in laps not occupied by gaming consoles, is the showdown over digital rights, which is just the fancy term for figuring out how to balance private ownership rights against the need to prevent widespread piracy, now that music, books, TV and movies all have gone digital.

Two U.S. District Court cases, one involving the MP3-reselling platform ReDigi, the other the digital TV streaming service Aereo, both appear headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

And it’s high time they were.

Because until we figure out a way to protect the digital copyrights of our musicians, authors, actors, directors, screenwriters and yes, video game creators, our culture will only be worth what we pay for it.

Update: Monday night, Sony unveiled its PS4 console, and the company pointedly announced it would not follow Microsoft’s path on DRM. In a 22-second video, Sony personnel demonstrated the way it wants games to be shared:

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