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George "geohot" Hotz, circa 2007  (Source: ISEF on FlickrGeorg)
Sony plans to put the DMCA amendments and its foes legal budgets to the test

About a week and a half ago, George "geohot" Hotz and the team of firmware hackers dubbed fail0verflow (Hector Cantero, Sven Peter, "Bushing," "Segher," and other anonymous members) released the root keys for the Sony PS3 via a smart phone hack.  Those keys allow virtually any app to be run on the PS3, a critical step to re-enabling the Linux support that Sony abandoned.

Needless to say Sony was less than enthused.  Claiming the release would promote piracy; Sony yesterday filed a restraining order [blog] against geohot and the members of fail0verflow citing Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act violations and copyright violations.

Today they followed up that up with a full copyright infringement lawsuit [Scribd].  The suit was filed in San Francisco District Court.

Sony claims that geohot, in circumvent its copy protections.  It says that the geohot and the other named defendants:

  • Violated section §1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which forbids bypassing access control measures;
  • Violated section §1030 the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which forbids accessing computers without authorization;
  • Contributed to copyright infringement in violation of section §501 of the Copyright Act
  • Violated trespass, "common law misappropriation", breach of contract, "tortious interference with contractual relations" as per Penal Code §502 of the California Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act (commonly referred to as the California Computer Crime Law)

We're not lawyers, but as Jay-Z says we "know a little bit".  But all of these charges seem pretty tenuous.

The DMCA accusation is weakened by the Library of Congress's recent addition the DMCA, stating that in the cell phone arena it is permissible to:

Computer programs that enable wireless telephone handsets to execute software applications, where circumvention is accomplished for the sole purpose of enabling interoperability of such applications, when they have been lawfully obtained, with computer programs on the telephone handset. 

If it is permissible for cell phone apps, it seems unclear why it wouldn't be similarly permissible for gaming consoles.

Similarly, the Computer Fraud accusation seems tenuous, given that geohot and others reportedly owned legally purchased PS3s and thus should be authorized to access them.

Lastly, the California Computer Crime Law violations seem somewhat hard to prove, given that Sony will have to establish their business was being significantly harmed via the distribution of the root keys.

Still Sony is a company with a lot of money and power so geohot, et al better retain top notch legal aid and better find someone(s) (quickly) to bankroll that legal campaign.  Of course, given all of his clashes with Apple, we're guessing Mr. Hotz has a pretty good lawyer on retainer.



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RE: Too late
By MozeeToby on 1/12/2011 5:39:23 PM , Rating: 5
Yes, but before that there was an ever clearer message going in the other direction: "Give the homebrewers decent access and there will be no one with both the skills and motive to hack the system".

Seriously, 5 years with Linux available and hardly a peep out of the hacking community. Remove Linux and less than a year later the entire system, top to bottom, is compromised. Learn from your mistakes Sony, your DRM would have lasted through the whole generation if you hadn't pulled the bait and switch on the hobbyists.


RE: Too late
By zmatt on 1/12/2011 7:20:12 PM , Rating: 2
I have a book dedicated to hacking game consoles for extra functionality and the PS2 and PS1 are featured. Sony obviously had no problem with anyone messing with those. I hope they loose this, I was PO'ed when they dropped Linux support, not that I was using it for that, but I felt like my rights as the owner of the physical console was being taken away. When you sell the console you shouldn't be allowed to change the terms of service and bar people form doing what they want with it.


RE: Too late
By Samus on 1/13/2011 2:59:16 AM , Rating: 3
They lacked a large online user base, so their wasn't as much of a threat. Also, by the time the PS2 was hacked with Messiah, and refined chips surfaced, Sony was already going through revisions to cut costs making modchips incompatible as future generations of PS2 were released (10 versions of the PS2 were made, and it wasn't until the PS3 was released that a universal modchip made it to market.)

The online nature of the PS3 and XBOX 360 threaten Sony and Microsoft far more than in the past with 'offline' consoles. Even the original XBOX, which was hacked and modded by many, didn't threaten Microsoft nearly as much as the XBOX 360 hacks because back then, Live wasn't what it is now, an brand that sells consoles. If it is threatened, like Playstation Online is with this hack, the online eco-system of the console is threatened. Hacking/cheating in games running unsigned code is just the obvious paranoia these companies have.

However, this lawsuit is ultra lame, and honestly, I don't see how sueing them is going to resolve anything. The exploits are posted and Sony should work on a firmware that simply disables them. Sony spends a lot of time updating firmwares on PSPs without sueing DarkAlex (although they've threatened) but honestly, I don't know exactly what laws they are breaking. They're not profiting from this.


"People Don't Respect Confidentiality in This Industry" -- Sony Computer Entertainment of America President and CEO Jack Tretton














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