Federal customs agents Wednesday raided more than 30 businesses and homes, looking for devices that let pirated video games play on Sony's PlayStation 2, Microsoft's Xbox and Xbox 360, and Nintendo's Wii.
The alleged sale and distribution of illegal modification chips and copyright circumvention devices for the popular consoles and others included 32 search warrants in 16 states, said the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
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ICE declined to release the names of those targeted or any other details.
The illegal chips and other devices used on gaming consoles violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998. Sales of counterfeit or illegally obtained games costs the industry about $3 billion a year globally, not including Internet piracy, estimates the Entertainment Software Association trade group.
"Illicit devices like the ones targeted today are created with one purpose in mind, subverting copyright protections," Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary of Homeland Security for ICE, said in a release. "These crimes cost legitimate businesses billions of dollars annually and facilitate multiple other layers of criminality, such as smuggling, software piracy and money laundering."
The federal raids came after a yearlong investigation conducted by ICE's Office of the Assistant Special Agent in Charge in Cleveland, which coordinated with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Ohio and the Department of Justice's Computer Crimes and Intellectual Property Section.
ICE said it also received technical assistance from the software association and other industry members.
Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. issued a statement applauding ICE's efforts to reduce piracy and protect the gaming industry's intellectual property. A company spokeswoman would not divulge Microsoft's individual piracy losses.
Shares of Microsoft added 15 cents to $29.14 in afternoon trading, while Sony Corp. dipped 44 cents to $52.30.