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Sony to Geohot: See you in court

Fail0verflow hackers also targeted.

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Image credit: Eurogamer

Earlier this morning, hacker George Hotz posted legal documents from Sony on his website, revealing that the PS3 platform holder is now taking legal action again him and the Fail0verflow hacking team.

Based on the contents of the documents, Sony believes that the hackers have infringed areas of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA) and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in obtaining the encryption and decryption keys of the console without authorisation, and that the defendants are directly responsible for enabling piracy via the tools they created and released online. Curiously, in invoking the CFFA, Sony likens the PS3 to a protected computer that has been illegally compromised, as opposed to a device legally owned by the person who has paid for it - the argument hackers traditionally put forward.

There are some eye-opening elements within Sony's legal paperwork, particularly where the PSN user agreement is invoked to suggest that both Sony and Geohot "submit to personal jurisdiction in California and further agree that any dispute arising from or relating to this Agreement shall be brought in a court within San Mateo County, California."

There is also the contention that Hotz has benefited financially through his work by accepting donations via PayPal, and asserts that his suggestion to Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo that he helps in designing the security of their next console is another means by which he sought to profit personally from the recent hack.

Sony's allegations against the Fail0verflow team are also comprehensive, though the basis for claiming legal jurisdiction in California is under-developed in comparison - perhaps because several members of the team are not resident in the USA, and others remain anonymous, known only by their online hacking aliases. The legal docs also suggest that there are over 100 more people involved in jailbreak development and Sony seeks leave to add them to the suit as and when their identities become available.

The legality of hacking has been bolstered recently by a handful of high profile cases and rulings, but the concept of jailbreaking got a powerful shot in the arm via a DMCA amendment that made iPhone modification exempt from the act and thus legal - but it should be pointed out that this exemption applies only to mobile telephones and even the iPad is currently not covered. However, another DMCA exemption allows for "the cracking of videogame digital rights management controls to probe security flaws" but quite how this relates to the precise issues of PS3 security remains to be seen.

Updated: George Hotz has spoken to the BBC.

"I am a firm believer in digital rights. I would expect a company that prides itself on intellectual property to be well versed in the provisions of the law, so I am disappointed in Sony's current action," he said.

"I have spoken with legal counsel and I feel comfortable that Sony's action against me doesn't have any basis."

Fail0verflow member Marcan, aka Hector Martin posted on Twitter, saying "Ah, so Sony decided to sue everyone under US law. Guess I won't be visiting the US in a while... No further comment on Sony, the PS3, or anything related until I can talk with a lawyer."

The Fail0verflow website also has a comment:

"Our motivation was Sony's removal of OtherOS. Our exclusive goal was, is, and always has been to get OtherOS back. We have never condoned, supported, approved of, or encouraged videogame piracy. We have not published any encryption or signing keys. We have not published any Sony code, or code derived from Sony's code."

Mathieu Hervais, front man for the PSGroove open source jailbreak team (not named in the documents), posted a range of arguments against Sony's allegations on his Twitter account, kicking off by saying, "I've just read Sony's legal document, it's full of crap and the guy who wrote that doesn't know s**t about how the PS3 works."

According to the paperwork, the first hearing is set for 9am today in California (5pm GMT) "or as soon as can be heard".

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