U.S. customs agents raided 32 homes and businesses early Wednesday, searching for hardware that allows pirated video games to play on the popular PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Wii consoles.
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, the search warrants were served in 16 states, including California, Illinois, New York, and Texas as agents looked for evidence of the importation, sale, and distribution of the modification devices made overseas and smuggled into the country.
The so-called "mod chips" and "swap discs" targeted by the searches let gamers play pirated titles or counterfeit copies on Sony's PlayStation 2, Microsoft's Xbox and Xbox 360, and Nintendo's Wii video game machines.
"Illicit devices like the ones targeted today are created with one purpose in mind: Subverting copyright protections," said Julie Myers, an assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, under which ICE operates. "These crimes cost legitimate businesses billions of dollars annually and facilitate multiple other layers of criminality, such as smuggling, software piracy, and money laundering."
ICE did not release the names of those served with warrants, nor did it provide any details of the cases.
The devices and software -- sometimes used in combination -- violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, said the agency. Estimates by the Entertainment Software Association have pegged losses due to counterfeit or pirated copies at around $3 billion annually, slightly less than half the industry's almost $7 billion in U.S. revenues last year.
Not surprisingly, Microsoft, one of the vendors whose consoles have been targeted by "modders," approved of the action. "Microsoft applauds ICE for its effort to reduce piracy and protect the intellectual property of Microsoft and its industry partners," the company said in a statement. "This is an important step in the continuing fight against piracy and the threat it presents to the global economy and consumers throughout the world."