George Hotz's lawyers say Sony can't prevent people who have bought the PlayStation 3 from doing whatever they want with the video-game console.

Antone Gonsalves, Contributor

January 15, 2011

3 Min Read

A hacker sued by Sony for circumventing the PlayStation 3's protections against pirated software is claiming he had the right to alter the video-game console he had purchased legally.

George Hotz, best known for hacking the Apple iPhone in 2007, was named as a defendant with two other hackers and 100 "John Does" in a complaint Sony filed Monday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. The suit asks the court to bar the defendants from developing and distributing technology to run unauthorized software on the PS3 and also seeks unspecified monetary damages.

Two lawyers said Friday they will defend the 21-year-old Hotz against the consumer electronics giant. Stewart Kellar of San Francisco and Yasha Heidari, managing partner of the firm Heidari Power Law Group of Atlanta, challenged Sony's contention that it had the right under its user license to prevent customers from breaking the console's copyright protection mechanisms to run unauthorized software.

"This case rests on Sony's misguided belief that it has the unfettered ability to control how consumers use the products they legitimately purchase," Kellar said in a statement emailed to InformationWeek.

Sony's 24-page complaint presents several arguments against Hotz and the other defendants. The company argues the defendants have violated the federal Digital Millennium Copyright Act by circumventing the PS3's copyright protection mechanisms and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act by accessing proprietary technology to use the console in ways not covered by the user agreement. Sony also says it has suffered "irreparable injury and damage" by the distribution of code to circumvent technology that prevents the running of pirated games and other software. "Unless the court enjoins defendants' unlawful conduct, hackers will succeed in their attempts to ensure that pirated software can be run on the PS3 system, resulting in the destruction of SCEA's business," the complaint says. SCEA stands for Sony Computer Entertainment America, the unit responsible for the PlayStation, a multi-billion-dollar business for Sony.

Kellar rejected Sony's arguments, claiming they are smokescreens for the company's real objective. "It's an attempt from Sony to send a message that any individual using Sony hardware in a way Sony does not deem appropriate will result in harsh legal consequences from a multi-billion-dollar company, irrespective of any legal basis or authority for such action."

The law is murky as to how far user agreements and manufacturer's intellectual property rights can be used to prevent people from hacking into electronics they legitimately purchased. Federal regulators last July ruled that it was OK to hack the iPhone to run software not approved by Apple, as long as no lawful copyrights were violated.

The 21-year-old Hotz, who goes by the name Geohot on the Web, gained notoriety four years ago when he hacked his iPhone in order to use it on multiple carriers' networks. Apple at the time had an exclusive deal with AT&T. In late 2009, he turned his attention to the PS3 and documented his attempt to hack the system on his Web site. Hotz's work prompted Sony to make changes to the system in order to boost security.

Also named as defendants in the complaint are Hector Martin Cantero of Spain and Sven Peter of Hungary, who are members of a group called FailOverFlow, which developed code for hacking the PS3 that Hotz used in his work.


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