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Sony Computer Entm't Am. v. Hotz: Sony Settles Lawsuit with PlayStation 3 Hacker

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Sony Computer Entm't Am. v. Hotz, No. CV11-0167 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 11, 2011) Final Judgment hosted by Electronic Frontier Foundation

On April 11, 2011, the United States District Court for the Northern District of California entered a final judgment for plaintiff Sony Computer Entertainment America (“Sony”), granting Sony a permanent injunction against defendant George Hotz. The injunction prevents Hotz, a notorious hacker, from engaging in any unauthorized access to Sony products, circumventing security measures in those products, or trafficking and posting any information, service, or product that would lead to such circumvention.

While a motion to dismiss regarding Hotz’s claim over lack of personal jurisdiction is pending, this final judgment comes on the heels of a March 31 settlement agreement between Sony and Hotz. Both parties have agreed to accept this judgment and to waive their rights to appeal.

Ars Technica provides an overview of the case. PC World criticizes the judgment, stating that the injunction’s effect will be constrained by other sites that have already listed and can continue to include information from Hotz’s hacking efforts.

This judgment is the resolution of a controversial case that has mired Sony’s public image. Sony alleged that Hotz’s public hacking efforts, designed to penetrate the PlayStation 3 and documented on his blog, violated the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the California Comprehensive Computer Data Access and Fraud Act, and also constituted trespass and common law breach of contract. In regard to the claims and as part of its effort to prove the popularity of Hotz's site, Sony won a subpoena, which drew criticism for giving Sony access to the IP addresses of the site’s visitors. In addition, Electronic Frontier Foundation suggests that Sony may have more insidious motives for limiting lawful research and communication on Sony products; Sony’s use of the broad term “circumvention devices” in its complaint would include Hotz’s original research, and the restrictive terms of the settlement prevent him from sharing Sony information that was obtained legally. Electronic Frontier Foundation argues that by limiting “lawful communication and investigation,” the settlement’s terms go further than the mere prevention of hacking.

The settlement between Hotz and Sony may be the best solution to the company’s suffering public image. reports that Hotz himself says it “was never [his] intention to cause trouble or to make piracy easier”, but Anonymous, an online hacker community, has already attacked Sony servers in response to the litigation, and has planned a boycott of Sony stores on April 16.

Vivian Tao is a 1L at Harvard Law School.