As many gamers probably know by now, Sony decided to sue the hackers who “broke” the PlayStation 3 security. The team of hackers known as fail0verflow, recently released the root keys which allow for almost any application to be run on the PS3, even unmodded ones.
The effects of this “jailbreaking” are already being felt as Modern Warfare 2 is reportedly being “hacked to shreds.” You might think this is all just fun and games. After all, what harm is there in a silly “drug mode” being added to a game? In reality, this will severely hurts the PS3 by making piracy much easier and thus more rampant. Piracy, among other things, was one of the major factors for the Sega Dreamcast dying. When console manufacturers cannot curb piracy, developers don’t want to waste their time and money making games on it. Although the guys at fail0verflow did not specifically intend to break the PS3 for pirating purposes, it is an inevitable consequence. The PS3 being broken is bad news for gamers.
One hacker named George Hotz (also known as geohot) actually lives within the United States. On January 11th, he was served with papers and had his PS3 jailbreak site shut down (which has since been mirrored by University Professor and internet freedom of speech advocate David Touretzky). Releasing the PS3 root keys may not protected speech as Touretzky claims since this right does not encompass speech that causes harm to others. The common example often cited in the media is yelling “fire!” in a crowded movie theater. In this case, Sony alleges they were harmed by the release of this information.
Hotz isn’t the only one who could be held liable, however. Sony also decided to name the rest of the fail0verflow team in the lawsuit. Another member of fail0verflow, Marcan42, Tweeted that he won’t be visiting the United States any time soon implying that as long as he stays out of the country he will be safe from consequence. Not so fast.
Simply because a hacker resides in a different country does not necessarily immunize them from penalty (although it does make it much harder to pursue them). There is a legal precedent where other countries have upheld civil (as well as criminal) violations like this one as a matter of international law. Several years ago three hackers from abroad were indicted for stealing credit card information from people in the United States. The fact one lived in Ukraine and another in Estonia did not protect them.
The globalization of the internet age means that Sony has not just suffered damages in the United States but worldwide. Fail0verflow might be underestimating the long arm of the law. If other members of fail0verflow are brought to trial in different countries, it may actually work against them if their country does not provide the level of freedom of speech protection that the United States does thus making such a defense impossible.
While it is true that small companies would probably be powerless in a situation like this, it should be considered that Sony is a giant global corporation. Let’s not forget that Sony has a 35.9 BILLION dollar market cap. They clearly have the financial means of pursuing someone overseas. The question here is whether or not they have the legal means to do so. Sony probably has a team of the best lawyers advising them so the very fact other members of fail0verflow were even named in the lawsuit should be a sign that Sony thinks they will be able to go after them.
It will definitely be interesting to see the outcome of this situation. If Sony is successful then it could redefine what we currently think of as hardware ownership rights. If fail0verflow comes out on top, however, this could also redefine ownership rights and show that people can do whatever they want with the electronics that they rightfully own. Which side do you hope wins this legal battle? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.