Saturday, February 19, 2011

Is Sony only loaning you the PS3?

Wired's Threatlevel blog reports that George Hotz has been ordered by the court (PDF) to turn over all of his computer equipment to Sony. He has also been ordered to recover any and all devices or instructions for getting around the security that keeps you from installing software you want on your Xbox but that hasn't been approved by Sony. Software such as a different operating system - something that was permitted until recently. That's bad enough, but the Sony has already released a firmware patch that renders Mr. Hotz's hack ineffective. Yet one of the reasons Sony wanted all of his equipment and data because his keeping it would do them irreparable harm. The irreparable harm of allowing people to make full use of the equipment they've paid good money for. The jailbreak is a massive 100k. The equipment Sony wants contains terrabytes of data. Yet less than a week after the judges ruling, a patch is out that prevents the jailbreak from working, meaning Sony will suffer no further harm. That there was any harm in the first place is arguable.

Worse, the judge ordered "the Defendant Hotz, with notice of this Order, shall retrieve any Circumvention Devices or any information relating thereto which Hotz has previously delivered or communicated to the Defendants or any third parties."

Folks, the instructions were posted on Youtube. They've been posted and reposted all over the web. Mr. Hotz and removed the Youtube video and any other copies of the information he can, but the genie is out of the bottle. Short of shutting down the internet, George Hotz can no more retrieve all copies of his PS3 jailbreak than he can put out the sun by spitting at it. That demand is impossible to comply with.

But all of this really hinges on one question: Who owns your PS3 after you've handed your $300? Software companies started the idea of licensing their products instead of selling them outright. I don't like the idea with software, and I can't stand it with hardware. The idea that when I buy a computer I can't decide to change it without permission of the company I bought it from is ridiculous. It also would have cost Sony money, had they forbidden modifications to PS3's a couple of years ago. The Department of Defense bought several thousand PS3's and installed Linux on them to create a bargain basement price supercomputer. That couldn't have happened under the current Sony rules.
How long will it take for the government to realize that the DMCA is too vague and is easily abused, and that abuse stifles innovation, opposite the intended effect of intellectual property laws?