A tiny Beverly Hills firm has developed and is about to begin shipping a new software product to retailers that has industry giant Sony Corp. seeing red.

Bleem Inc.'s new software, currently in final testing and due to ship in a few weeks, will enable video-game enthusiasts to play Sony Playstation games on the Sega Dreamcast video-game console. Until now, anyone wanting to play a Playstation game also needed to purchase (or otherwise get access to) a Playstation console.

And this isn't the first time that nine-person Bleem has provoked the industry's 800-pound gorilla. In fact, Bleem and Sony have been embroiled in legal battles for more than a year over Bleem's existing software that allows PC users to play PlayStation games on their computers.

Analysts and industry insiders expect Sony to initiate further litigation over Bleem's software for Dreamcast owners.

Bleem and other so-called "emulators" have become a major source of controversy in recent months. The debate has become so heated that the Interactive Digital Software Association, a major trade group for the video-game business, declined to comment on the issue beyond a statement posted on its Web site.

"If the sole purpose of an emulator is to allow the playing of a console game on a PC, and the owner of the copyrights in that console game has not authorized the copying, performance, display, or derivative work created when a console game is played on a PC, then the creation and use of that emulator constitutes an infringement of the copyrights in the console game," the site states.

Sony did not return calls for comment, but the company is likely especially concerned about emulators now because the U.S. debut of its next-generation Playstation 2 system is slated for October, and sales are expected to be huge. (Playstation 2's debut in Japan in March drew throngs of consumers to electronics stores.)

"The official view is that (console manufacturers) are discouraging this (emulator software)," said John G. Taylor, a video-game analyst at Arcadia Investment Corp. "Every game of Sony's has a software lock (so the system won't play pirated games), and games are designed and intended to only be available for the PlayStation hardware system."

Once the Playstation 2 system is released in the U.S., emulator programmers will likely waste little time in taking up the challenge of cracking its programming codes.

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