In the 1999 case Sony Computer Entertainment America, Inc. v. Gamemasters, Sony sought a preliminary injunction on Gamemasters’ distribution of accessories for the Sony Playstation game console. Sony alleged that Gamemasters violated anti-circumvention regulations of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) as well as state and federal unfair competition laws. Gamemasters, a retail store in California, was sued for selling a game enhancing device. The court granted the injunction and essentially eliminated all sales of such devices by Gamemasters.
This external device performed two primary functions when plugged into the Playstation game console. First, the game enhancer allowed users to temporarily modify aspects of the game, similar to the Game Genie, manufactured by Galoob Toys for use on the Nintendo. Nintendo v. Galoob Toys, as decided in 1992, declared that the Game Genie was not in violation of copyright laws as it was not a derivative work of the Nintendo console and the Game Genie was a fair use of the Nintendo game system. Second, and most importantly, this game enhancer permitted players to play Playstation games sold in Japan or Europe which were intended by Sony for exclusive use on Japanese or European consoles. The game discs contain electronic check codes which are checked by the console when inserted. Discs with codes that do not match the region in which the console operated were rejected. The game enhancer overrode this protection.
By invoking the DMCA, Sony stopped the use of potential copyright and trademark violating technologies. However, critics of the DMCA noted that this decision also allowed Sony to continue its controversial business practice. Sony divided its game distribution and operations into separate international regions. By disabling games from one region to be played in another, authentic Sony Playstation games played in one part of the world suddenly became illegal versions after crossing borders. With increasing video game products offering multiplayer and global competition, these restraints pose legitimate threats for the future of fair gaming, especially online games. Such restrictions enabled Sony to protect its anti-competitive business model and possibly promote price discrimination between different areas of the world.