Pirated videogames installed in hard drives.

Federal prosecutors charged two store owners and a third man with criminal copyright infringement for selling modified Xbox game consoles that allowed the machines to play pirated videogame copied onto a hard drive installed in the console.

The criminal complaint, filed yesterday (Dec. 19) in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, accuses the three of conspiring to commit criminal copyright infringement and conspiring to traffic in a technology used to circumvent a copyright protection system. The three charged are Pei "Patrick" Cai of Pico Rivera, Calif., and ACME Game Store co-owners Jason Jones and Jonathan Bryant of Los Angeles.

According to the complaint, Jones and Bryant had modified Xbox game consoles running as demonstrators in ACME Game Store and would describe in detail to customers the advantages of the modifications. Customers would pay from $225 to more than $500 for the modifications, depending on the extent of the modifications requested and the number of games that were pre-loaded onto the hard drive.

The complaint alleges that Cai would pick up game consoles to be modified from ACME Game Store, modify the systems at his home, and then return the game consoles to ACME Game Store to be picked up by ACME Game Store customers.

The case began after the Entertainment Software Alliance contacted federal law enforcement and reported that undercover private investigators had purchased a modified Xbox game console, pre-loaded with several copyrighted games, from ACME Game Store in May 2005.

During the investigation, undercover agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement paid $265 to have a modification chip, a hard drive and 77 pirated games installed on an Xbox, according to the complaint.

The charge of conspiracy carries a maximum possible penalty of five years in federal prison.