EFF lambastes Sony over PS3 cracking suit

Digital rights group says electronics company's litigious efforts place chilling effect on security research, alleged contract violations aren't crimes.

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Early this year, iPhone jailbreaker George Hotz and a hacking group known as fail0verflow successfully defeated Sony's security measures for the PlayStation 3, making it possible for people to install and run unauthorized software on the system, from homebrew applications to pirated games and custom firmware. The news was not met kindly by Sony, which promptly filed a lawsuit again Hotz and multiple members of the fail0verflow contingent.

The PS3 is (un)officially an open system.
The PS3 is (un)officially an open system.

In turn, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is none too pleased with Sony's aggressive move against Hotz and fail0verflow. In a blog post this week, the civil rights group charged Sony with placing a chilling effect on security research. The EFF also censured Sony for attempting to illegalize alleged contract violations.

"For years, EFF has been warning that the anti-circumvention provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act can be used to chill speech, particularly security research, because legitimate researchers will be afraid to publish their results lest they be accused of circumventing a technological protection measure," the EFF wrote. "We've also been concerned that the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could be abused to try to make alleged contract violations into crimes."

"We've never been sorrier to be right. These two things are precisely what's happening in Sony v. Hotz," the group continued.

According to the EFF's analysis of the situation, the implications behind Sony's suit are that security researchers can be punished for publishing their results. In this specific case, the EFF notes that Sony has asked the court to confiscate all "circumvention devices" related to Hotz' research, including his computers, research, and findings. As Hotz posted these findings online, granting the order would mean that everyone other than Hotz and fail0verflow could access the work.

As for the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the EFF contends that the claims amount to the electronics giant attempting to make it illegal for PS3 owners to use their systems in a way that Sony does not approve.

"That means Sony is sending another dangerous message: that it has rights in the computer it sells you even after you buy it, and therefore can decide whether your tinkering with that computer is legal or not," the EFF wrote. "We disagree. Once you buy a computer, it's yours. It shouldn't be a crime for you to access your own computer, regardless of whether Sony or any other company likes what you're doing."

Further, the EFF notes that even if Hotz and the fail0verflow team had used Sony's network to crack the PS3, they still did not commit a crime. "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."

Sony had not returned GameSpot's request for comment on the EFF's commentary as of press time.

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