EFF: Sony PS3 hack lawsuit sends a “dangerous message”

The lawsuit brought by Sony against hacking group Fail0verflow and George “GeoHot” Hotz is the most recent in a series of legal actions by electronics manufacturers in an attempt to control the way in which an end user can utilize a product. In a new commentary, the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) explains why this latest lawsuit filed by Sony sends a “dangerous message” and could have some serious repercussions for consumers in the future if the company gets what they’re asking for.

EFF: Sony PS3 hack lawsuit sends a "dangerous message"

EFF representatives Corynne McSherry and Marcia Hofmann point out why Sony’s lawsuit against Fail0verflow and Hotz embodies the very issues the organization has been trying to warn citizens about for years: that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) could be misconstrued to silence the publication of research and that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) could be “abused” to make contract violations into criminal actions.

“These two things are precisely what’s happening in Sony v. Hotz,” McSherry and Hofmann claim. “The security flaws discovered by the researchers allow users to run Linux on their machines again — something Sony used to support but recently started trying to prevent. Paying lawyers to try to put the cat back in the bag is just throwing good money after bad. And even if they won — we’ll save the legal analysis for another post — the defendants seem unlikely to be able to pay significant damages. So what’s the point?”

The two also point out that Sony’s request to impound all “circumvention devices”, including all of Hotz’s computer equipment and documentation associated with the PS3 “root key” leak, would only serve to deprive Hotz of his own research information since it is now freely available for anyone to view on the internet.

McSherry and Hofmann go on to describe Sony’s use of the CFAA as “outrageous” and expose the issues with the company’s claims: “Simply put, Sony claims that it’s illegal for users to access their own computers in a way that Sony doesn’t like. Moreover, because the CFAA has criminal as well as civil penalties, Sony is actually saying that it’s a crime for users to access their own computers in a way that Sony doesn’t like.”

Finally, they cite other legal cases, United States v. Drew and Facebook v. Power Ventures, where attempts to turn violations of terms of use into criminal acts have been denied. “As those courts have recognized, companies like Sony would have tremendous coercive power if they could enforce their private, unilateral and easy-to-change agreements with threats of criminal punishment,” McSherry and Hofmann point out.

We are currently living in a time where consumer’s rights in regards to the digital products they own are just being established. Corporations like Sony are going to try to gain as much ground as they can, but it is on the shoulders of the consumers to fight back and let them know that we will not stand for being told what we can and cannot do with our purchased products in the privacy of our own homes. The EFF can only do so much with their warnings and advocacy. It’s time for consumers to stand up and let their voices be heard.