Federal authorities raided three Washington, D.C.-area video game stores and arrested two people for modifying game consoles to play pirated video games, an industry group said on Wednesday.

The Entertainment Software Association said the Dec. 1 raids at three Pandora's Cube stores in Maryland and Virginia were a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Justice's computer crimes unit, the U.S. Attorney's Office for Maryland and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Authorities arrested two store employees on charges of conspiracy to commit copyright infringement and conspiracy to traffic in a device that circumvents technological protection measures, the ESA said.

"One of them is someone who has a more substantial role with the company," said Chunnie Wright, anti-piracy counsel to the ESA. She could not provide more details due to the ongoing nature of the criminal case.

Like other entertainment industries, the video game business has aggressively pursued the pirates that it says account for billions of dollars in lost revenue annually.

But because video games tend to have very large digital files, a large part of the industry's piracy problem stems from illegal hardware and illegal copying of game discs.

Pandora's Cube, Wright said, sold $500 "Super Xbox" consoles--modified versions of Microsoft's Xbox video game console that had been altered to hold larger hard drives and play pirated games.

The modified consoles, some holding 15 or more games already copied to the hard drive, were on open display in the stores.

"They were burning games onto the hard drive and equipping the hard drive with copying software so that the average consumer could just go ahead and copy the software themselves," she said. Pandora's Cube operates three stores, in Baltimore and College Park, Md., and Springfield, Va.

Company officials were not immediately available to comment.

Besides industry efforts, some individual game companies have recently taken steps to stop piracy. Last month Nintendo won a court order barring the sale of devices running pirated copies of classic Nintendo video games.

Game console makers have pursued a variety of legal and technological measures to defeat "mod chips," grey-market add-ons that allow consoles to play illegally copied discs. Microsoft bans modified consoles from its Xbox Live gaming service and reconfigured the console shortly after its release partly to thwart hackers.

The Justice Department last year seized control of a popular Web site used to distribute mod chips for the Xbox and Sony's PlayStation 2.

Source: CNET News

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