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First arrest of Nintendo flash cart seller sets precedent

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Nintendo has been waging war for years against sellers of mod chips and flash carts, which allow users to run pirated games and unapproved software on game consoles. But until this May, there were no actual arrests made. A new anti-piracy law in Japan has changed that.

Flash carts (or "majikon," as they are called in Japan) for the popular DS and 3DS handheld systems, are ostensibly for running "homebrew" software — but can easily be loaded up with pirated games downloaded from the Internet. Nintendo alleges that use of these cartridges has had dire effects on their game sales, and indeed the devices are popular and widely available.

They've shut down retailer after retailer, but their capacity to punish the wrongdoers was limited. Importers of the devices could be (and were) jailed, but not people who simply sold them.

Japan's Unfair Competition Prevention Act, introduced in December 2011, prescribes more serious punishments for pirates, and Nintendo lost no time in tracking down the suspects. The result is that an arrest has been made and criminal charges pressed — a far more serious consequence than previously, when a cease-and-desist letter or store shutdown was all that could be expected.

Who was arrested is not disclosed in the press release from Nintendo, nor is the person's relationship with whatever company makes the flash carts in question. The arrest took place in the Aichi region in central Japan, midway between Tokyo and Osaka.

The devices, which are cheap and simple to manufacture, are banned in many countries, but available for purchase through Chinese exporters. It may be that the threat of actual arrest may cause some of these grey-market retailers to think twice about offering this particular type of item.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. His personal website is coldewey.cc.