The Amibox Project

The legalities

If you are one of ‘those-people’ of the mind set to throw caution to the wind with regards to the legalities involved regarding Copy Protection or Anti-Piracy measures, then you are welcome to skip this page, so long as you first read the following disclaimer, which applies to anyone reading this.

Your legal responsibilities are your own. I believe that everything I’ve done, with regards to this project, is entirely legal. I am about to explain my own understanding of the legalities involved, however, I am not a lawyer and did not consult one. I am not accountable for any legal issues that you may incur in your projects, either based on the information here-in, or otherwise.

I should also mention that my understanding is based on having read the regulatory materials pertaining to the United States, and while these materials are the bases for the laws in several nations, you should do your own research if you have concerns.

A final point to mention here, for my own gratification, is that as a I am a commercial software engineer by trade, I do NOT approve of, or condone software piracy. The food that my family and I eat, is paid for by the licensing of software that I’ve contributed to, and I therefore have a very dim view of anyone that would pirate software. I won’t apologize for that.

Amiga Legalities…

Most in the Amiga community will know, piracy of Amiga software was rife back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Today, I don’t believe anyone is chasing down software pirates for 20-30 year old software, but none the less it remains illegal to pirate Amiga software, and “Abandonware” would not be a legal defense. It is however legal to make backup copies of software that you have licenses for, for your own personal use.

The Amiga Emulator (UAE) ships with everything required to run an Emulated Amiga, other than the ‘kickstart rom’. This is because the kickstart rom is copyright protected software. The UAE can however be used legally using a backup copy of the rom from a legally purchased Amiga, since you own a license to use that software and may legally make backup copies.

Having backed up your Amiga kickstart rom and installed it into the emulator, you’ll be presented with the floppy-loader screen awaiting the installation of Workbench (the operating system) or some game, and again you can use back-up copies of your legitimately purchased software.

The Amiga software that I use in this project is legitimately my own legal software, which I’ve had on backups for decades (Yes, I backup everything. If you’ve ever sent me an email I still have it.)

XBox Legalities…

The more concerning part of the project involves the XBox copy protection mechanism. You see, the Amiga never had a copy protection mechanism, making backing up software entirely legal. So long as you weren’t selling it, you were fine to make copies. The XBox copy protection mechanism takes away this flexibility thanks to a little regulation known as the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) – part 1201.

Fully understanding the remainder of this page may depend on you having read the “The trouble with XBOX is…” page for the technical details.

Each XBOX game is digitally signed, that-is, there’s a piece of information in the game on disk which can be decrypted and tested to see if it’s a legitimate XBox game. The XBox dashboard is able to decrypt the signature and test that the game is signed, and will then load and run the game. An important thing to notice here is that the game it’s self is not encrypted, it’s just signed. Software pirates discovered that if they could insert their own replacement for the XBox dashboard, they could make copies of those games, but the digital signature could not be copied and therefore, copies of XBox games could not be run on other XBoxes, unless, those other XBoxes also had a custom replacement for the dashboard.

The problem for our emulator is that, the original XBox dashboard will not run unsigned code. While it is technically possible to install a custom dashboard onto the XBox which will run unsigned code, it’s also Illegal, sort-of…

You see, the DMCA strictly regulates the circumvention of copyright protection mechanisms….

No person shall circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.

(Excerpt: DMCA Part 1201)

(A) to “circumvent a technological measure” means to descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner; and
(B) a technological measure “effectively controls access to a work” if the measure, in the ordinary course of its operation, requires the application of information, or a process or a treatment, with the authority of the copyright owner, to gain access to the work.

(Excerpt: DMCA Part 1201)

So, if we modify the Microsoft Dashboard to run unsigned code, we’ve effectively circumvented a technological measure that controls access to copyrighted works. So we’re done for right? – Well don’t give up quite so quickly.

You see, we don’t want access to any copyright works that would otherwise be protected by this technological measure. This project is to build an Amiga, I do not want the machine to play XBox games, original or backup or otherwise. In fact, I’m basically trying to break the thing so that it’s no longer an XBox, and do not care about access to those protected works. So, what if we modify the XBox in such a way that it’s no longer able to access protected works at all?

The wording of the above DMCA 1201 is quite strict, it essentially says that to even “remove” the technological measure is illegal, however, we can argue that we’re not removing a technological measure to gain access to copyright material, we’re in-fact removing access to copyright material entirely. This still felt a little thin to me, so I researched further…

The XBox modding community would have you believe that “intent” does not matter in legal cases regarding the DMCA because of a case involving Michael Crippen, who was arrested in August 2009 for modifying XBox consoles, making them capable of playing copied games. I understand the cries, despite being against software piracy in principal, I do feel that parts of DMCA are overreaching (in particular, paragraphs I’ve not yet covered, but will do shortly).

The XBox modding community defend Michael because his claim that he was merely “backing up” games, not selling them would have changed his intent from “accessing protected works” to “backing up legally obtained software”, which is legal. What the XBox modding community aren’t telling you however, is that Michael was selling consoles that were capable of playing copied games, and there-by effectively providing a service to “circumvent a technological measure” that controls access to a copyright work.

Here’s the overreaching part of DMCA Part-1201 that I’ve not yet shown you…

(2) No person shall manufacture, import, offer to the public, provide, or otherwise traffic in any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof, that— (A) is primarily designed or produced for the purpose of circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title; (B) has only limited commercially significant purpose or use other than to circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title; or

(C) is marketed by that person or another acting in concert with that person with that person’s knowledge for use in circumventing a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title.

(Excerpt: DMCA Part 1201)

This is what Michael Crippen had actually done that was illegal, he offered a service that allowed others to violate copyright protection, using software with that primary use. So this does not demonstrate that “Intent does not matter.” As it turns out, intent actually does matter.

Nothing in this section shall affect rights, remedies, limitations, or defenses to copyright infringement, including fair use, under this title. (2) Nothing in this section shall enlarge or diminish vicarious or contributory liability for copyright infringement in connection with any technology, product, service, device, component, or part thereof.

(Excerpt: DMCA Part 1201)


Nothing in this section shall enlarge or diminish any rights of free speech or the press for activities using consumer electronics, telecommunications, or computing products.

(Excerpt: DMCA Part 1201)

In fact, there have been cases in which the Federal Court decided that “the distribution of a circumvention device did not violate the anti-circumvention provisions because its use did not lead to any copyright violation” – see,_Inc._v._Skylink_Technologies,_Inc.

The cited case also covers the use of “circumvention devices”, it appears, that if the distribution and use of a circumvention device does not lead to a copyright violation, nor demonstrates the primary purpose of violating copyright protection, then the court does not consider this a violation of the DMCA part 1201.

There are several other such cases, but this post is already long enough. I hope what I’ve done here is to demonstrate that I’ve researched the legal issues and understand what I’m doing to be entirely legal. My project is to create an XBox which is not capable of playing copied games, nor is it capable of playing any signed content – and therefore essentially re-enforces the copy protection mechanisms in place. This is further validated by the legal distribution of mod-chips, which ‘mod chips’, which I’ll get to in a moment.

So, my understanding is that if I modify the XBox in such a way that it simply cannot provide access to a copyrighted work, then I’m complying with the law. But this is not the only legal hurdle.

As I mentioned earlier, my intention is to replace the BIOS software in the XBox with a BIOS capable of loading Linux instead of the stock Microsoft Dashboard. There are several BIOS replacements available for the XBox, which are usually included in the distribution packages of tools designed to soft-mod the XBox. Unfortunately, most of them are actually just hacked copies of the stock Microsoft Dashboard, and are therefore illegal.

Thankfully, there is one BIOS replacement which is entirely legal. It’s called Cromwell (or xromwell) and was written from the ground up from source code, by engineers that had reverse engineered the Microsoft Dashboard. You see, reverse engineering software is also legal to do, with various restrictions that I’ll not go into here. Suffice to say, Cromwell is a legal BIOS replacement for XBox that can load Linux. Several manufacturers created ‘mod-chips’ for the XBox which effectively override the BIOS, and in order to distribute these chips legally, their replacement BIOS was either Cromwell or based on it. Cromwell does not serve to violate Copyright Protection mechanisms.

Now I would have really loved to write a step-by-step guide to modifying the XBox , and I will still write just as much as I can in that regard, but unfortunately I am also restricted from completing this post as a guide. Why?

  1. In order to get our replacement BIOS into our XBox we must use a tool designed to write to the TSOP chip. For obvious reasons, Microsoft did not include such a tool in the XBox dashboard, and so we need to use an exploit (also legal) to install the tool. The problem is that TSOP writing tools are distributed with, and depend on a soft-mod.
    ALL of the available exploits that I could find are designed to soft-mod an XBox in such a way that it can violate copy protection, and so, it is illegal to distribute those tools. This means that I cannot provide you with links to download the tools that you’d need to follow a guide if this were one. It is however legal to USE soft-mod tools, so long as you are not doing so to violate copy-protection (which you can ensure by replacing the BIOS and removing the dashboard left behind by the soft-mod tool). More on this later
  2. It is still somewhat unclear to me if providing a step-by-step tutorial that includes soft-modding would count as ‘providing a service’ to circumvent a copyright protection mechanism. So I simply will not do it. I know it’s unlikely that anyone would hunt me down for it, but others have provided materials on this and so I see no real need to.

If you made it this far, thank you! As someone on facebook recently insinuated to me, you may now receive your pat on the head from Bill Gates for having been responsible with regards to software theft. (sarc)

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